With one single Tweet, the IHOP chain changed the course of its future. People may remember the famous Tweet a year ago when the restaurant company known best for pancakes sent out a teaser through cyberspace that it was about to change its name to IHOb. The public reaction was immediate and robust. What could IHOP be thinking? What most people don’t know is that the entire campaign was orchestrated down to the tiniest detail and, at the end of the day, it really worked.

“It was probably one of the most successful marketing campaigns we ever did, and it was the cost of one Tweet,” explains Michael Chachula, executive director, head of IT for IHOP, who spoke May 18 at an educational session during the National Restaurant Association Show 2019. “This was planned like putting a man in space.”

The lesson here for retailers and foodservice operators is that social media can be a powerful and highly cost-effective tool to get your brand noticed.

Chachula listed off the many positives:

  • 1.2 million Tweets the first 10 days
  • 100-plus brands and celebrities joining the conversation
  • $113 million earned media impressions (Earned media can include press coverage, social media mentions, shares and retweets, product or company reviews, and blog posts authored outside your company.)
  • 500,000 burgers sold per week at peak

“Be bold and take risks,” Chachula advises. “Think differently and build new customer muscles.”

For independent retail bakeries, there are valuable lessons here that can be translated to your business. In 2018, IHOP was in a pinch, Chachula explains, with negative year-over-year sales and struggling to build sales beyond the morning hours.

“We had to go big. We were famous for breakfast, but for lunch and dinner, not so full,” he says. “We knew we had to do something.”

Market research showed IHOP that burgers remained the No. 1 selling entrée among adults in the United States. So the chain changed its burger to USDA Choice 100% Black Angus and offered a compelling menu price of $6.99. The new lineup of Ultimate Steakburgers became an instant hit.

Still, the chain had to show customers how serious they were about burgers. That’s when plans went into place to send out the famous Tweet and then go so far as to physically change the “P” to a “b” on the IHOP sign at one of its stores. What followed was a rush of conversations about IHOP, pancakes and burgers. Not long after, IHOP announced that it was never really changing its name.

“At first, we got phone calls, people yelling at us, you are insane,” Chachula says. “We actually froze the Internet. We got everyone talking about the new burger. A week later, we revealed why.’

For outsiders looking in, IHOP offers a lesson in how cost-effective it can be to start a new conversation about your brand. Have a little fun with social media marketing, and remember to plan out every last detail before you start.