Inside the Push Rebrand for Sonny’s BBQ
on Nov 20, 2015
Sonny’s BBQ, struggling to stay relevant among a new generation of discerning consumers, looked to Push, an Orlando-based creative agency, to reinvent the brand into a digital world. We talked to CEO John Ludwig, CCO Mark Unger and Chief Brand Officer Chris Robb to take us through the process.
What is Push? What makes Push different from other agencies?
Push is more than a group of people. Instead, it’s a mindset; a belief system we share with each other. In our “round table” culture, everyone has a seat at the table and can provide their POV about solving a client’s problem. But you need to be strong and informed, and have some pretty thick skin. It’s that constant challenging of each other that develops amazing work.
Like most agencies in the mid 1990s, we got our start filling media holes. As we evolved over the past 20 years, we created a model that allows us to approach clients with a holistic view of their brand. This model demands that we dive deep into the world of our clients, and it’s allowed us to become specialists in a few industries that truly are experiential — restaurant, retail, hospitality, education, etc. Sonny’s BBQ is a great case study of exactly how deep and wide we can go when re-inventing a brand.
What were the expectations and goals for the Sonny rebrand?
As a business, Sonny’s actually wasn’t doing too bad. But the brand had become generic and there was zero growth in new guests — especially those under 35. The team at Sonny’s realized this and wanted to re- think everything from top to bottom.
What media did you use to enhance the rebrand?
With experiential brands, “media channels” include the location itself, as well as items such as uniforms, signage and vehicles.
Since our strategy was to reclaim the credibility of Sonny’s BBQ, we brought the pitmasters — true competition pitmasters — from the back kitchen to the forefront of both the marketing and the restaurants. Today, customers can actually see the same pitmaster they might have seen in a TV spot, at work. Guests are starting to say, wow, these guys really are pitmasters and they’re damn good.
This lent a genuine credibility to their product, and it’s become a tremendous part of their internal culture. Team members compete in company-wide barbecue contests, with the winner receiving a reward, as well as recognition in menus and advertising efforts. Sonny’s is even hosting their own invite-only national competition. It’s part marketing, part team building, and all about credibility.
Take us through the steps that you took to achieve these goals.
First we did the research that got everyone on the same page. Then we told the truth about the brand, which no one could argue with — Sonny’s is a pitmaster-driven barbecue experience. But that did not mean a barbecue-themed brand. We had to be authentic in what it means to be a pitmaster — Guide, Connector, Teacher, Leader, Expert, Supporter and Mentor.
After the first massive remodel, corporate found another location where we could design and build from the ground up. We’ve even designed the uniforms that differentiate different staff members and their roles, and we’ve designed badges and patches that people earn as they reach different accomplishments within the company.
We spent an incredible amount of time looking at plating, silverware and barware to find colors and textures that complemented the food instead of just blending in with it. And we took barbecue to the streets with fully branded smokers, strong presences at competitions and a very rewarding cause-effort called Random Acts of BBQ. It’s been almost three years and we are still finding locations and experiences that have yet to be fully re-branded, so it’s a long journey that we are very prepared for.
What was one or two achievements or techniques that you really were proud of from the whole process?
For us, it’s the complete body of work and the way it has been embraced and enacted by the Sonny’s team that makes us proud. One thing that really proved the effectiveness of our approach was the influence we can have on the architecture and store design. Now we aren’t just measured on driving people to the brand, but also how we make them feel once they get there. This challenge has opened some great doors for us.
What kind of results or responses have you seen from the rebrand?
We fully understood the impact we had when we walked into the first brand-new location a month after it opened. The usual customers were still there, but so were new guests — everyone from hipsters to businessmen and families to cowboys. It brought the entire experience together in a very pure sense.
Any final thoughts?
As you create a brand, you have to fight for consistency while allowing for shifts in tone. I think you can see a real shift between the brand TV spot and the Random Acts of BBQ video. These had very different goals and approaches, but together give a nice depth, versatility and warmth to the brand.
CEO/Strategy: John Ludwig
Chief Creative Officer: Mark Unger
Chief Brand Officer: Chris Robb
Creative Director: Ron Boucher
Design Director: David Whaite
ACD/Writer: Kevin Harrell
Senior Art Director: Chris Ladwig Account
Director: Chris Bare
Account Supervisor: Jessica Leyva
Account Executive: Chase Wilson
Production Director: Laura Dagner
Studio Production: Joe Ciaramella
Production: Tiffany Findley
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