Ben Benson

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I am loath to admit it, but What’s The Idea? is a small batch brand strategy consultancy.  The market has been conditioned to think a large corporate brand strategy has to cost $100,000; add another $150k for naming and logo design. Most of my clients don’t have that kind of money. My clients tend to be small and mid-size or start-ups.

My framework for brand strategy – one claim, three proof planks – is tight and enduring.  But for some larger businesses, helmed by multivariate-obsessed MBAs, it may seem overly simplistic.  And inexpensive. Simplicity is the beauty of the framework, frankly. It mirrors what consumers remember.

In small batches, with only 40 or 80 hours invested in research and planning, the process has to be relatively simple.  The information gathering metaphor I use is the stock pot. My cognitive approach, the “boil down.”  When you work in small batches, you self-limit your ingredients. You know what not to heap into the pot.

I’ve done small batch brand strategy for crazy-complicated business lines. A global top 5 consulting company with a health and security practice and a preeminent hacker group who helps the government keep us safe. Small batches both.

Try the small batch approach. As Ben Benson used to say, “I think you are going to love it.”



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tgi fridays

TGI Fridays is doing a big brand refresh in the hopes of slowing its revenue downturn. Recently sold to a new investment group, TGI Fridays launched as a single restaurant on the upper east side of Manhattan decades ago by Ben Benson and Alan Stillman. Some credit these two gents with inventing the “single’s bar.”

As part of the brand refresh there is lots of talk about talking tchotchkes off the walls, replacing frozen with fresh ingredients, updating the menu and removing potato skins from consumer muscle memory. All of which are good ideas, especially the food upgrade. But there is something about the original concept that might endure if the brand planners dig deeply enough. Places where the vibe is conducive to meeting people is not a bad business model. Look at online dating services. Look at the Axe strategy. Read a Millennials magazine.

Were I the planner on the business I’d try to understand what made the original Friday’s Fridays. What made it different from Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday (other Stillman and Benson brands). Only Friday’s made it.

Readers know I’m not big on rearview mirror planning. But I am about providing consumers with experiences that meet needs and desires. So a little look back might help with Fridays look forward. Peace.


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Ben Benson 

Ben Benson is a New York steak house legend and a very smart businessman.  Talk about personal branding?  Ben and partner Alan Stillman double handedly invented the “singles scene.” Friday’s, on the upper east side of NYC, was the branded place to pick up members of the opposite sex when it first opened.  The bar and its sister bars Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, which didn’t fair as well, eventually evolved into the TGI Friday’s chain, now with different owners.

Ben and Mr. Stillman parted ways with Mr. Stillman becoming a corporation, a publically traded company (I think) with lots of restaurant properties around the city and country.  Ben stuck to his knitting, stuck to his store (123 West 52nd Street, NYC, “I think you’ll love it.”) and has built a brand the old fashion way: One steak at a time. Mr. Benson, who has had some health problems (Who wouldn’t being surrounded by sirloins all his adult life?) has outlived many peers in the business world. Literally and figuratively.  Thousands of captains of industry who used to dine at Ben Benson’s ordering $400 bottles of wine are long gone and forgotten. Not Ben.

A Marketing Lesson. 

I once told Ben he should give away umbrellas on rainy days to his best guests who had been caught unaware by the weather. (Ben has a wonderful, striking logo.) The umbrellas cost about $19.00 a piece and would be walking billboards around the city I told him. “You know how many steaks I have to sell to pay for one of those umbrellas?” was his response.  “My steaks are expensive — I only make about 2 dollars a steak. I’d have to sell eight steaks to pay for one umbrella.”  The lessons I learned from Ben resound. When I ask clients to spend their money I think of steaks jumping across plates and it grounds me.  Ben is a Harvard Business Review case study. Study him.  (But buy a steak first.)

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