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TGI Friday’s CMO on getting the ‘forgotten and tired’ food chain back on the radar

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By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

February 28, 2024 | 9 min read

A former Dunnhumby and Body Shop marketer, Rhiannon Scarlett was hired to rescue the forgotten Americana restaurant chain with a data and digital transformation. A judge for The Drum Marketing Awards 2024 Scarlett reflects on her progress and the challenges ahead.

TGI Friday's restaurant decor

TGI Friday’s restaurant decor

TGI Friday’s hired Rhiannon Scarlett as chief marketing officer in April 2022 after a recruitment drive to find a marketer that understood how to use data to drive decision-making – a first for the brand.

With over 86 restaurants in Britain, TGI Friday’s is remembered fondly as a place for birthday parties and cocktail nights, but Scarlett would be the first to admit the chain has “lost its edge”, and is a bit “forgotten and tired”.

Her task: “To get TGI Friday’s back on the radar.”

Scarlett is something of a CRM guru after a 14-year stint at Dunnhumby holding roles like head of Tesco CRM & loyalty.

As a self-confessed lover of a transformation project, Scarlett spent five years at The Body Shop, first as its head of CRM and then UK marketing director. In those roles, she led the team through a £10m three-year digital evolution and launched the cosmetic brand’s loyalty scheme.

“I find it a bit boring when you’re just refining things. I love the excitement of driving progression, driving growth driving change,” she says on the move to lead another ‘brand revival’.

But turning around TGI Friday’s will be no mean feat with its current YouGov popularity rating on the floor at just 36% in contrast to a fame score of 92%. The UK chain was hit hard by the pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis, by May 2022 shares in its parent company Hostmore plummeted by 15% in May 2022 with its like-for-like revenue 6% lower than 2019.

Having lived in the US for six years and traveled to over 40 states, Scarlett revealed that her fondness for Americana culture also cemented her decision to join TGI Friday’s. “It’s a great brand with a strong heritage in US Americana and transformation opportunity,” that drew her to the job, she adds.

Loyalty and data transformation

12 months into the role, a key priority for Scarlett has been “going back to my home territory which is loyalty,” by overhauling the TGI Friday’s membership scheme. “In a recession, you have to protect and look after your loyal guests.”

The loyalty app was rebranded to the Stripes Reward Programme and updated to make it easier to earn rewards, along with more items to claim and better personalization. The new loyalty scheme has already improved sales penetration by 6%, improving from 9% in May 2022 to 15% a year later.

To improve the personalization and data capture Scarlett has planned to relaunch the TGI Friday’s website in June which will be integrated into the Stripes Reward Programme to “connect the digital journey”. By the end of 2023 Scarlett plans to have a single customer view.

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Putting the TGI back into Friday

In 2020 the restaurant chain ditched TGI from its name in a bid to refresh the brand but just months into Scarlett’s appointment the TGI was put back into Friday’s. “My initial question [when joining] why would you change a brand name after a success 50 years,” she says. “It’s got such a strong heritage and emotional connection; I just didn’t feel that that was the right thing to do.”

She ran tests and found 92% of Google searches were for TGI Friday’s and that customer awareness and consideration had dropped “significantly” without TGI. “The data spoke for itself. It was a very easy decision for the board to support that decision.”

Scarlett’s appointment drew mixed results among peers with some being shocked the chain still existed and others just keen to find out if a transformation could save the business.

“The way that [TGI Friday’s] was talking about itself wasn't relevant, it wasn’t modern, and it wasn’t fresh,” Scarlett says. “When I first came in, I thought, I don’t feel the substance here and I don’t understand why a 2022 consumer would seek to come here.”

Her first move was to appoint the agency Boldspace to look back over TGI Friday’s brand strategy and guidelines. Boldspace dug into TGI Friday’s history to discover that its original Manhattan restaurant opened in 1965 was one of the first bars in the US where women went to drink by themselves. This founding story fed into TGI Friday’s refreshed strategy to market itself as a welcoming and socially liberal venue, which lead to Scarlett’s first above-the-line campaign, Show Your Stripes. The campaign, Scarlett says, was about “bringing back a strong personality of the brand and you come to enjoy yourselves and be confident about who you are.”

The second part was to hammer home TGI Friday as an entertainment destination rather than purely a place to eat this led to the launch of bottomless brunch, mixology classes, and reaffirming its birthday celebration offering. “If you’ve got a heritage brand then leaning on your heritage is one of the most important things that you can do,” Scarlett adds.

What’s next for TGI Friday’s

When asked about her plans for her second year in post Scarlett says delivering on all the above – “I’m a true believer in following things through”. With a new website launching in June, the integration with the rewards scheme is pegged for August and the single data view is aimed for completion at the end of 2023. “I need to just to make sure that everything works as it should and that we’re then able to use the data to deliver more personalized communications and experience,” she says. “That is a significant project I need to see through that needs to be successfully delivered.”

Her next phase, once everything is up and running, of course, is to introduce more personalization for TGI Friday’s broad 18-45 demographic. “Once I have the digital transformation and the data integration it will be thinking about how I communicate differently to those different groups, and also then deliver the experience that they want when they actually come to the restaurant,” she concludes.

This article was originally published by The Drum in May 2023.

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