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Red Lobster Expands Reach


The Red Lobster restaurant chain launched a Spanish micro site yesterday to serve the growing needs of the Hispanic online market. The site is part of a holistic strategy the company is taking to appeal to its diverse customer base.

Through a partnership with Captura Group, a Hispanic interactive marketing consulting company and BlueHornet, Red Lobster’s long-standing eMarketing partner, Red Lobster successfully developed an in-language and in-culture experience for Hispanics online.

“Red Lobster’s commitment to the Hispanic market is evident in its strategic approach to this Hispanic online initiative,” says Lee Vann, principal of Captura Group.

“BlueHornet is proud to extend our relationship with Red Lobster to empower them to reach out to this growing and lucrative segment of the online population” adds Tim Marusich, CEO of BlueHornet.

Mike Friedman, interactive marketing manager for Red Lobster, talked with iMediaConnection about the company's approach to Hispanic online marketing:

iMediaConnection: What was the thought process behind developing an in-language and in-culture micro site for the U.S. Hispanic market online?

Friedman: Red Lobster recognizes that the Hispanic consumer actively supports our restaurants in great numbers. We have an extremely diverse workforce within our restaurants, among hourly crew and general managers as well as at the corporate level -- and as such have taken steps to ensure that our commitment to hospitality you can taste and touch extends to every American. The Hispanic micro site is the first of several steps we are taking online to deliver a robust Web experience, rich in-menu content, featured recipes, special opportunities and fun.

The Hispanic consumer has actively supported RedLobster.com and we felt it was time to begin to develop and share a more complete online experience with all our valued guests, that recognizes their interests and enthusiasm for our brand.

iMediaConnection: Is this the first time Red Lobster has delved into multi-ethnic marketing?

Friedman: For several years, Red Lobster has believed that our large population of Hispanic guests has warranted significant marketing and promotional support. From Spanish-language menus to Hispanic cast television advertising in Spanish, we have actively explored several mediums to deliver the appropriate brand message to our valued consumers. Further, several of our talented general managers have performed cooking demonstrations on topics such as fresh fish and other great featured menu items with regularity on “Despierta America” on Univision and on Telemundo. Better utilizing online to complement this mix was a logical progression.

iMediaConnection: How is Red Lobster taking a truly holistic approach to its Hispanic marketing and not doing this as an isolated program?

Friedman: We will continue to actively pursue opportunities where we can reach out and touch our guests in a meaningful way, whether through broadcast media, online or community outreach programs.  Red Lobster’s core principles as well as the core values of our parent company ,Darden Restaurants, pave the way for our belief that a truly diverse workforce and multi-cultural audience yields far greater results culturally and economically for the short- and long-term success of our brand. Our restaurants have been serving great food and beverage across America for over 36 years and we intend to continue the practice now, and for generations. Recognizing and respecting our diversity is a significant component of our past and future success. 

iMediaConnection: What were some of the challenges the Captura Group and BlueHornet faced when building this micro site?

Friedman: Ultimately, anytime you develop content for a specific audience, it must speak to that audience genuinely, while still supporting the brand. This project was no different. We actively sought to include robust content with more than a simple translation. Captura Group and BlueHornet worked close with our team to ensure the integrity of the site from a language and cultural perspective, while making sure it was entertaining as well.

One thing that made this project unique was that we were developing the content for a national Hispanic audience while there are many regional variations in seafood terminology. It was critical that Red Lobster’s Hispanic online program speak to all Hispanic nationalities, regardless of country of origin. In addition, extending Red Lobster’s brand online in pan-regional Spanish proved to be a challenge due to the tone and messaging in English. Ultimately, we believe the content on Red Lobster’s Hispanic Web site appeals to both the language needs and cultural nuances of the Hispanic online market.

iMediaConnection: What were the responsibilities of each of the groups involved in building the site?

Friedman: Captura Group’s Hispanic online expertise was a great complement for BlueHornet’s creative and technical expertise in developing an in-language and in-culture user experience for Hispanic online consumers. Red Lobster worked closely with both teams to ensure that the Hispanic online program delivers customer value while balancing business objectives.

iMediaConnection: Have you noticed that the demand for Spanish language ecommerce has increased?

Friedman: We have not specifically seen any requests for such from our guests, but as leading brands continue to offer experiential content to the Hispanic audience, it is important to recognize that their participation online is not an isolated incident and spans all across the entire Web experience.

iMediaConnection: Please describe the Hispanic interactive strategy, operational considerations and technology limitations the three groups experienced.

Friedman: Online, our strategic priority is to deliver comprehensive content to our online guests, keep them engaged with the brand over time, foster an enthusiasm for our great food and allow them to explore new opportunities involving recipes, education and entertainment. Regardless of our specific audience segment, be it Hispanic, African American, etc., we strive to ensure that all content is valuable and meaningful, that we respect the time commitment each and every site visitor has made in sharing their passion for seafood with us.

Red Lobster’s in-restaurant operations are set up to extend the experience to our Hispanic patrons with Spanish menus and an overall dining experience that appeals to their culture. From a technology perspective, Captura Group and BlueHornet did not experience any specific limitations in developing the site for the Hispanic online market. Rich media such as Flash was successfully converted into Spanish, the restaurant locator functionality was translated into Spanish and the Hispanic micro site contains Spanish navigation. By addressing all of the strategic, operational and technical implications up front, we believe we more effectively delivered a valuable and integrated experience to Hispanic consumers online.

iMediaConnection:  What more can we expect from Red Lobster' online Hispanic initiatives?

Friedman: Currently, we are exploring testing opportunities to drive further targeted content to our Hispanic guests. Some efforts include evaluating our Overboard Club newsletter format as well as online advertising opportunities. While we are anxious to move forward, we are engaging users, seeking insight and testing scenarios that will grow our brand for the long term.

Elizabeth M. Lloyd is the director of corporate marketing for Netblue, Inc., an online direct marketing company based in Silicon Valley. Previously, Elizabeth was the director of marketing for opt-in email provider, NetCreations, in New York City. Prior to NetCreations, Elizabeth was responsible for the PR department of ValueClick, Inc.


Q: Can you put up more posts that will go viral?

Why it's annoying: First off, you should stop using a word if you don't know its definition. Volumes have been written about the term "viral" and the varying degrees of annoyance that it sparks in marketing circles. But it's still commonly bantered about haphazardly as though everyone in the room will instantly know what's being discussed.

When this question comes up, the first discussion to have is regarding what exactly the person means by "go viral." Surely the person is asking whether the social media team can produce content that will be shared. But to what degree? Is the asker expecting the next Harlem Shake? Or would the person just like to see a YouTube video get a few hundred views rather than a dozen? Set some expectations.

The second discussion to have is around the nature of viral sharing. Years ago, social media managers might simply tell someone, "You can't predict viral sharing." But over the years, we've made a lot of progress in this area. (Just Google "how to predict viral sharing" and watch the articles pour in.) There are factors that help enhance the shareability of content. And some people claim they can measure that. But few will deny that there is still plenty of lightning in a bottle happening when something truly "goes viral" -- things no one foresaw and can't replicate.

Furthermore, while some viral phenomena happen all on their own, many that happen -- especially on the brand marketing side -- are a result of very strategic content seeding and media buys. Putting a little money behind a favored piece of content can produce exceptional results. But usually the people who ask, "Can you make it go viral?" have something a little more organic in mind, in which case you're facing an uphill battle.

The better question to ask: What types of posts can we put up that people are going to want to share? And what can we do to increase the likelihood that people will find that content?

Q: Social media -- that's free, right?

Why it's annoying: Believe it or not, this assumption still gets thrown out there. I know I'm not the first to palm my face over it, but it must be included in the context of this article given its continued prevalence.

First, the response: No. It's not free. Facebook and Twitter might not charge you to set up an account. But that's about where the freebies end. Social media takes time, and time is -- everybody together now -- money. Advertising and sponsorships in social media cost money. Proper social analytics tools cost money.

When this question was first routinely asked, it was often mere ignorance talking. But these days, when social media managers hear it, it's hard not to take downright offense. "Is it free?" they think. "Well, this is how I make my living, so no. It's not free. (In fact, you're paying me, so why are you even asking that??)" Social media has value. And thus, it carries a price tag.

The better question to ask: What kind of investment will it take to have the social media presence we want? And where are the costs?

Q: Can't we have the intern do that? (Worse: Can't we have my nephew do that?)

Why it's annoying: This is another oldie but goodie. And today, it's even more prevalent than the question around the cost -- or assumed lack thereof -- of social media. But it comes from the same place -- a perceived lack of sophistication required when managing a brand in social media.

Young professionals -- those right out of college -- did grow up with "this social media thing," yes. So they get it better than anyone else, right? Wrong. That's like assuming that because a person grew up watching TV that they can write, produce, and edit an amazing commercial right out of the gate. It obviously doesn't work like that.

Social media marketing takes time, training, and a level of savvy and maturity that often isn't present in the most junior of employees. As such, social media departments must be structured according to levels of seniority, and responsibilities must be metered out based on who has a proven track record in proper execution. Yes, your intern might rock a social media gig right out of the gate. Great! Give that person a promotion and more responsibility. But don't just give the keys to your social media program over to the first young person you find and hope all goes well. (It won't.)

The better question to ask: What is the proper way to structure our social media team and divvy up responsibilities?

Q: Can you create us an account on [insert latest social media darling]?

Why it's annoying: The annoyance related to this question is one of nuance, but it's an important one regardless. The short answer to this question is almost always, "Yes." But the reason it makes your social team crazy is the underlying assumption -- the idea that every brand must be on the latest social media platform. Or, more importantly, that the social media team has the resources to be on every platform.

That said, depending on your brand, it might very well make a lot of sense to explore the new platform in question. But be sure to approach the issue with your team as a conversation rather than a mandate. There's no point in diving into a new social sphere if you're going to have to half-ass it. And spreading your social resources too thin could set you back when it comes to other platforms where your brand already has a strong presence.

The better questions to ask: Should our brand be on [insert latest social media darling]? If so, what do we need to do to make that happen?

Q: Can you get us more Facebook fans/Twitter followers?

Why it's annoying: As with the previous question, this one requires a little qualifying. Because, frankly, every social media manager should expect to hear this question. And they need to be prepared to answer it. And, if they can't increase followers to some extent, they're probably not going to have a job for very long.

But, that said, there are plenty of ways that social media managers can artificially inflate follower numbers when backed into a corner -- but they aren't necessarily going to get your brand any closer to its goals.

This question -- often repeated in broken-record fashion -- can become quite irritating when asked by a colleague who thinks the only measure of social media success is in followers. For one, not all brands can garner Starbucks-level social followings. And most of them shouldn't. A lot of brands are niche, local, or both. As such, their follower levels should reflect that. And regardless, the size of a brand's social following doesn't mean a thing if that audience isn't engaged. So there are better questions to be asking.
The better questions to ask: How can we get more loyal Facebook fans/Twitter followers? And how can we drive more engagement with them?

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Group of business people holding a question mark" image via Shutterstock.

Elizabeth M. Lloyd is Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of 9Global, Inc. (www.9global.com), an international online marketing company focused on lead generation and customer acquisition. Elizabeth´s work on international online marketing...

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