This episode features Bentley McBentleson, Digital Marketing Director for Long John Silver’s. The discussion takes a deep-dive into social media practices, finding your brand voice, and how engaging content can build affinity with brand audiences. What can higher ed learn from fast food marketing? A ton, it turns out.
Learn more about Bentley and connect with him. He is @mcbentleson pretty much everywhere.
A note from Joel: So I totally failed to ask Bentley to plug his stuff, but he did offer help and connection to anyone who wants it. Just connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, find him on Facebook and he’d love to chat about this stuff with you.
Digital Engagement Lessons from Quick Service Restaurants Transcript
Joel Goodman: Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast. This is episode 21. I am Joel Goodman. With me as always is the incorrigible, Jon-Stephen Stansel. We are so excited to have Bentley McBentleson on the show with us today. If you spend any time online, if you spend any time paying attention to major food brands, you’ll definitely have seen work that Bentley has done. Bentley, we’re, super excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for being with us.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Joel Goodman: So to start out, can you kind of give us, a little bit of your background in terms of how you got into the work that you do, the digital marketing that you do in the, in the food / fast food space.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, most certainly. So, the majority of what I’ve done over the years has been in the QSR space. So Quick Service Restaurants, fast food. so if you are a vegan or vegetarian, you likely would not have seen anything that I’ve done. if I’ve done my job correctly. but I’ve definitely touched on and worked on some very interesting campaigns over the years.
So I used to be a digital marketing manager over at KFC U.S., and then I was a Social Marketing Manager for Longhorn Steakhouse. Currently, I’m the digital marketing director for Long John Silver’s in charge of digital and delivery, based here in Louisville, Kentucky.
My, uh, career trajectory was a little bit weird. I am the tender age of 36, which means that I came into being right around the time that the internet did. So, as I was growing up in eighth grade, one of my teachers taught me how to write very, very simple HTML. So I started writing basic websites and by the time I was in high school, the internet started to become more of a revenue generator and I was able to create banner ads for people and be able to actually plug them in because I knew how to write HTML.
Also during this time, it was before cable, internet was the thing. So most people had dial-up. Some few folks had DSL. But video on the internet didn’t exist, because it was just too, it was too much information to pass over such a, light tube. So, I ended up getting a very weird niche where I was really great at video compression. so I could get a two megabyte, like, six-minute file, online and have it not look, you know, artifacted to hell, which was a very unique, situation, back then, uh, that was something that a lot of people couldn’t do.
So I ended up getting hired to do a lot of those sorts of jobs. And then when I graduated high school, I ended up going to film school cause I wanted to be a filmmaker and I specialized in film and video production. And while I was there in Manhattan, I started doing freelance work and, video very much just started taking over the internet and I got more and more into the marketing world.
After I graduated, I actually got a job in higher ed in the instructional technology department. So I built online classes for about a year and a half. And then I moved into a market research role with an Omnicom agency.
While I was with this agency and I was with this agency for five and a half years, it was not very creative work. So I would just kind of do fun projects on the side. And I started making videos about KFC because I love Colonel Sanders and I love Original Recipe Chicken. and, I would make videos, about KFC and then post them online. And eventually, I ended up actually getting a KFC tattoo. So on the back of my leg is a picture of Colonel Sanders with, cross chicken bones. with a banner that says “Original Recipe.”
Joel Goodman: And it’s awesome.
Bentley McBentleson: Thanks.
So when I got it, the next week, the New York Times put out a social post asking for pictures of New Yorkers, or of their tattoos. So I submitted it to an online gallery of about like, I think 270 people ended up submitting to it. and then about a month later, they picked three of those people to actually print, in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. And I was one of those people.
So, uh, KFC at that point had known who I was because I’d been creating all this content, for free for them. They asked me to submit to like an online competition of creating a bunch of videos and photos around various dares around the Double Down sandwich. and I’m not sure if you guys are aware of what the Double Down sandwich is.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: I’m in the South. I’m well aware.
Bentley McBentleson: All right. So for the listeners who do not know what the Double Down sandwich is, whenever you get a chicken sandwich, what’s the biggest issue that you run into? I’ll tell you what the biggest issue that you run into, it’s all that bread. All that bread getting in your way between you and that delicious chicken. So what the Double Down sandwich does is it gets rid of that middleman. It gets rid of the bread. And just is two pieces of fried chicken breasts, with, cheese, bacon, and cheese sauce in between.
And it was delicious. It was absolutely amazing. And it’s still huge overseas. They don’t sell it in the US anymore. Unfortunately.
But, I ended up submitting a few videos. If you go to my YouTube channel, you can see, some of those, videos. Um, one of them was, um, like “what’s your Double Down dance?” So I ended up, doing the Charlie Chaplin thing with like two forks and making the, uh, Double Down’s “feet” and doing a little dance.
And then another one was, “My Double Down date.” So like I swiped right on a Double Down sandwich and ended up going on a date with it. Then another one was just a day in the life, “your day with a Double Down sandwich.” So it was me waking up with a double down sandwich and then going into work with it. And it was ridiculous.
So the majority of this stuff I filmed, like, uh, in my off time or just on my lunch break. so a lot of it was filmed in the office that I worked in at the time. But after I did that, they flew me down to Louisville. and then, said, Hey, if you’re ever interested, like if we ever had a job opening, would you be interested in working for us.
And I said, yeah, I think that’d be super cool.
Joel Goodman: You’re like, no, no, I don’t know. I don’t think I really like KFC that much.
Bentley McBentleson: Exactly. “I’m not sure if you guys have a successful business model…
But the cool thing about it was while I did work for a market research company, and we did do some light social listening, and emails, I did not have brand experience whatsoever. So over the next three years, I, uh, really learned the ins and outs of what goes into digital marketing for a large QSR brand. Uh, figured out sort of the ins and outs of how all that worked. the creative agency that they worked with Weiden+Kennedy is a world-renowned, excellent creative agency that came up with a lot of ridiculous, great ideas. and I did a lot of really cool stuff there.
After the three-year mark, I had wanted to get some experience leading people. so I ended up going down to Longhorn Steakhouse, which is a part of Darden. So they own Olive Garden, Capital Grille, all that stuff, and ended up, leading the social team down there. and the social creative agency, for them, was FleishmanHillard, who’s another excellent, agency. And then, uh, about eight months ago, I switched back up to Louisville for Long John Silver’s, being their director of digital and delivery. and our creative agency is now Baldwin&.
Joel Goodman: So Bentley, you’ve had an illustriously fast career where you’ve done all kinds of great things. And this has been over the span of like, how many years has this been from KFC to Long John Silver’s.
Bentley McBentleson: Probably about five years.
Joel Goodman: Five years. Yeah.
Bentley McBentleson: something like that.
Joel Goodman: The primary course of your work is engaging with audiences over social media and websites, and I mean, with physical products and things like that, I’d love to hear like, kind of your thought process of you, as you’ve approached these different jobs are there certain things that you’ve kept in mind in terms of how to engage these audiences? Especially because like, I mean, Long John Silver’s is way different from Longhorn Steakhouse, which is pretty different from KFC in terms of even just the product that they have. You know, not even considering that, like, you know, you actually go and sit down a Longhorn Steakhouse versus doing fast food for Long John Silver’s and KFC.
What drives you in terms of trying to figure out how best to engage those audiences and, how do you think about those, those processes?
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, well, there’s a with digital marketing with, uh, restaurants, there’s a few different aspects to the interactions with people online. The first is, the very basic one which is customer service, social customer service, digital customer service. People expect nowadays to be able to reach brands, to reach help, through Facebook, through Twitter, through Instagram, through email, through a website. And making sure that that’s a cohesive ecosystem where somebody can reach out to you, get an, an immediate response and then getting very quick resolution is something that’s incredibly important in our industry.
And it is also something that’s incredibly underlooked. A lot of people think, Oh yeah, you can just respond to people and like get their information. but it often ends up being a fairly involved process. There’s a good amount of people who will just reach out and say, I had a bad experience, you know, at your brand. And then your job is to figure out what that bad experience was, where it happened, when it happened, and then also get contact information so a resolution can be put in place. Whether it’s a call from the manager, of gift card, or a refund. which ends up taking a good amount of time.
One of the most impressive things about Darden is they have entire groups dedicated to just social customer service. So when I was down there, I think there was something like 16 people employed just to do all of the social guest recovery, for all of the Darden brands. When I was at KFC, there was an entire, agency dedicated to it.
Joel Goodman: Wow.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: So, yeah. for our, for our audiences, mostly in higher ed. We’re all teams of one doing this. Like, and especially, I think it’s important like that he’s talked about like 16 people doing this where I think, especially for higher ed leadership, they don’t understand that. They, you know, don’t think that it requires so much time and effort and, and manpower to be able to handle those sorts of things.
So 16 is, makes my jaw drop.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah. So like right now at long John Silver’s, it’s also just a team of one it’s, uh, me and, occasionally, uh, the, the VP of marketing, crazily enough, will jump in and actually respond. just because they haven’t been, you know, prepped for that sort of a thing. but when it comes to higher ed, especially when there’s a crisis, that gets put in place, you definitely need more than a team of one on social.
My mind immediately goes to Penn State, who every like two or three years has some sort of like major crisis or controversy um, happen with them. I can only imagine how, deluded they get with, people reaching out to them. Some of them, with, you know, valid complaints about tuition reimbursement, or, maybe like a class got dropped from the schedule. And then some people just complaining because they just hate the university. but, all of those people need to be heard, and they need to be recognized and they need to be, resolved whatever the issues are.
And when it comes to, fast food, you know, a lot of people come in through the doors. Uh, so like, any of my QSR jobs or casual dining, which is a Longhorn Steakhouse is, they’re volume plays. People aren’t sitting there for hours on end, even if you come to a steakhouse to sit down, you’re not going to be there for more than an hour or two, uh, and it’s really a numbers sort of a game. So with that sort of a volume of people, issues do arise, and, figuring out how to properly, um, speak to these people is incredibly important.
Another aspect of, uh, digital, interactions with people are just basic questions. Are you open? What’s your menu? What are the allergens in X, Y, or Z? Things that you think would be incredibly, incredibly basic. people want to be able to, again, reach out to a brand and immediately have it answers to their questions. If it’s on your website, they want somebody to respond, or they want it to exist within the platform that they’re reaching out for you on.
You know, any, e-commerce expert will tell you that the more clicks somebody has to do, or as soon as you click out of a website, the bounce rates are incredibly high. The same is also true with this sort of stuff. If it takes time for somebody to figure out, when you’re open or what your closest location is, they’re just going to give up, And that’s one of the things that companies like, cable companies rely on, you not wanting to click around or search enough in order to find a number in order to actually reach out to somebody because that ends up costing them money.
And then, another aspect of digital marketing is awareness. And that’s where the cool stuff comes into play and also where the advertisement stuff comes into play. So, on social media, every brand is vying for attention. That’s why hashtag holidays are even a thing because brands do them.
And then, advertising is also, something that is done a lot for attention. And then stunts is another, thing that’s done for attention. Stunts slash PR plays. so I’ve had experience in, in sort of all of those aspects, of the digital interactions with consumers.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah. Oh man. Okay. I’ve got one from social media standpoint, I’ve got a ton of questions. Two, you know, back to what you’re saying about, you know, searching for the website and going to social it’s, it’s such a, it’s such a common practice in higher ed, because all of that relevant information that students, prospective students, their parents want is often so hidden on our website. You know, just to find out what day the first day of classes is, is not anywhere on most universities’ homepages. So rather than going, you know, three or four clicks down to find it, the first response is go to social media and ask that, So I think that’s something we all have to be real cognizant of, especially like the time allotted for your social media manager, who’s answering those sort of questions,.
Joel Goodman: Like a lot of times the social media manager or the person whoever’s behind the account for the university, they’re not even trained in the same way as that recruitment officers are that, you know, they’re your admissions officers are. Or, I mean, they have to be a person that knows every single thing about the university.
And so many times you’re not provided the education to do that, or the training to do that sort of a thing.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah, well, I mean, one person can’t know it all. Like I, I used to run social for the Texas Department of Transportation and people would tweet me and say, you know, what’s the, what’s the traffic like on main street today? And it’s like, I’m in Austin, Texas. You’re in El Paso. Like, I have no idea. Um, But anyhow, let’s, let’s talk a little bit more, more Bentley about you mentioned stunts and I think stunts is one of the things that gets the most, most attention.
Can you talk a little bit about some of the brand awareness stunts that you were involved in and which ones you’re most proud of?
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, most certainly. Uh, so, between KFC and Longhorn Steakhouse, I’ve done quite a bit. Long John Silver’s I onboarded right when COVID hit. So, all of those have definitely been put on hiatus until we’re out of the current pandemic. But with KFC, I did a lot of very interesting things.
The one that I think I’m most proud of is probably the interaction with WWE and Colonel Sanders while I was there. So the actual first stunt with them started right when I got hired. So I didn’t have a lot of input on that, but all the ones afterward, I was usually the go-to WWE guy.
And my favorite thing that happened was on one of the shoots, I was up in, I want to say it was Pittsburgh, having a drink with our WWE contact and we were just kind of talking and he was talking about how WWE2k is going to be coming out, in about like nine months. And, I think I was two or three bourbons deep, and I was like, Keith, like, what do we need to do in order to get Colonel Sanders in the WWE video game? And he just goes, “Oh, you’re interested in getting Colonel Sanders, WWE video game?” And I say, yeah, of course, I’m interested in getting Colonel Sanders in the WWE video game! And, he’s just like, “alright.”
So then we ended up getting Colonel Sanders in the WWE video game, and it was like one of the lightest lift, highest impact things that I’ve ever done for the brand. Because it ended up being like just an incredibly great Easter egg and fun thing for, you know, the fans. And that’s really what it’s all about is you want to be able to surprise and delight people, make people kind of chuckle a little bit and, just enjoy your brand just a little bit more because you show that you understand them and are able to connect to them on a level outside of, “here’s chicken, buy this chicken.”
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah. And that’s one thing too. I’ve noticed a lot, especially with your work on KFC is so many collaborations with other brands. And like you said, that was kind of a light lift, too, but such a profound impact. And, you know personally, seeing some of those myself, I’ve kind of racked my brain. Like what sort of collaborations can we do as a university with local businesses to kind of delight our audience and have that sort of connection.
Cause you know, every college town has that certain, you know, local restaurant or something that people are really attached to. How can we build those connections? So, can you address a little bit more of that and some more of the collaborations that you’ve taken part in?
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah. So, nothing exists in a silo, is really the moral of this entire story. The reason that digital is so interesting is, something doesn’t just exist on YouTube. It doesn’t just exist on Facebook. It doesn’t just exist on the .com. Uh, it needs to be an entire package. It needs to be an entire personality.
And when you’re able to collaborate with somebody or something and, um, break out of, the sort of, rut isn’t the right word for it, but, uh, pattern. The normal pattern of, “Oh, here’s a commercial. They’re going to advertise a product. We’re going to go in and get that product.” People get excited, people get excited when they recognize something and love something, and then they see it interact in another section of their life that they also love.
Another, a really good example of that, that KFC had done was, I think it was Days of Our Lives? Um, at the time George Hamilton was the Colonel, and, I forget if it was Weiden+Kennedy or our media agency at the time, Spark, who came to us and said, “Hey, we have this opportunity, to have Colonel Sanders be an actual character in the soap opera.”
And I don’t know if you guys have seen it or not. It was, it was a very, it was a very intriguing, uh, sort of, a partnership where soap opera fans are incredibly rabid. They’re some of the most addicted, just like out there, like loyal fan base that you can ever run into. And, our creative agency, Weiden+Kennedy, was able to, research the soap opera sort of landscape, figure out the proper characters for Colonel Sanders to interact with, and then actually created, portions of the story that he interacted with that are still on the show today.
So the plot of it was there’s two women, I want to say one of them was a reporter and I forget what the other one did. They’re talking. One of them gets a phone call or text from Colonel Sanders and then Colonel Sanders pops over with a bucket of chicken. And then they have a conversation where he talks about how he interacted with like a spy agency that’s part of the show. And then also dropped the name of some, like, villains that are on the show.
And then, uh, he asked, one of the people to keep the secret recipe safe. So she took a book off the shelf, slid the secret recipe in there. And I believe to this day, that book is still there. So technically Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe is still on that set.
So like this, to like you or me, probably isn’t the like biggest thing in the world cause you’re like, Oh yeah, like, I guess that kinda makes sense. But uh, you know, people, people get incredibly excited when you as a brand, see another aspect of their life or another interest that they have and then are able to interact with it and make it better than it previously was.
And being able to do that is something that, outside of just the QSR, anybody who’s doing any sort of, activation like that needs to consider when they’re going forward.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah, and I think that’s something higher ed can learn so much from because we have our populations in our alumni aside, you know, current students are, they’re a captive audience on our campus and there’s so many opportunities to provide that, that moment of delight, from, you know, some sort of activation on campus. I know, Texas A&M has done some really cool stuff of like, having claw machines on campus with like their mascot. And they’re just popping up at random spots throughout, the beginning of Welcome Week. But there’s so many opportunities for that. And I think we, we miss a lot of them, of, of actually having digital and in person activations, coincide. And I think we, uh, kind of miss that in higher ed a little bit.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah. And that’s, the in-person aspect is something that is, I would say, even outside of higher ed, just in marketing in general, missed quite a bit. there’s a lot of really good ideas out there that don’t feel real because there’s no real physical aspect to it.
So with the majority of the stuff that, I’ve worked on, and I learned this from, I think it was John who was like our account person at Weiden+Kennedy, he would always say let’s make a physical access aspect of this in order to make it real. so even if it’s just like, I don’t know, a Long John Silver’s, branded, I dunno, car.
Like, let’s say we made like a car. We made like a whole bunch of like DeLorean-esque style graphics, but it was actually like a pirate ship with wheels and we’d drive around, throughout social. Let’s say we create a whole bunch of digital stuff for that. That’s cool. Like that’s like a digital thing that exists, but if we are able to actually create one of those cars, just one of them, and actually drive it, be able to meet up with press, be able to drive it around town, then it stops being a concept and becomes a reality. and that’s where it gets really cool because people realize, Hey, like this stuff doesn’t just exist as a stunt. It exists in reality.
Joel Goodman: You were able to do, and I’m assuming that you’ll be able to do similar at Long John Silver’s, but at KFC, like you are given latitude to do some crazy things, over the time that you were there. And I’m wondering, like, what’s overall thinking behind that.
So like, if you’re coming from an industry that may not be able to view itself as irreverently or feels like it has to take itself seriously, is there a way of thinking about getting out of that, or are there ways that other industries can make similar connections? But maybe, you know, maybe without having to be as, as outlandish. Or is the shock value of the thing that’s really, you know, helpful in those cases?
Bentley McBentleson: So I was actually not the one doing the majority of that stuff. The way that marketing teams kind of work in brands is you have the brand, okay? So VP of Marketing CEO, CMO. So that’s on the left side.
On the right side, you have, uh, your creative agency. so the people on the left side, who are Brand side, they want sales, they want marketing, they just want word out there that surrounds the company’s values.
On the creative side, they just want to do cool stuff. That’s it. My job is to sit in the middle. And take whatever cool stuff, the creative agency wants to do and figure out how to keep that cool while still accomplishing the goals of the left side. and that’s, that’s really where it gets complicated because business people tend not to be creatives and creatives tend not to be business people.
Joel Goodman: Sure, yeah.
Bentley McBentleson: So a lot of the time I would find myself being pitched by the creative agency to do an idea. And this is true at, at Longhorn Steakhouse and also true with Long John Silver’s, and then my job is to figure out how we can position that so that the people on the business side will understand that this is good for business, or shift it enough to be like, okay, this is how we can accomplish what we need to as a brand, but still being able to do cool stuff to get attention.
Like you can do a whole bunch of cool stuff to get attention. one of the big trends, and I’m sure it’s still going on with creative agencies, is how can you like infuse whatever product you’re creating with marijuana, because now that marijuana is being legalized, like that’s a huge thing. If you can make like, you know, a marijuana Mountain Dew, uh, will that be big? Will that explode?
However, it’s very difficult to align that to any sort of brand’s values. Outside of maybe White Castle, I feel like White Castle could probably get away with it. So figuring out how, how to massage creative people, to get to that business outcome or how to massage business goals to make them fit into a concept that’s going to be absolutely awesome, ends up being the challenge.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: I think that that’s an important thing to note because one thing I see a lot of when I talk to, especially I go out to a lot of classes and talk to college students who want to go into social media or go into marketing. And when I asked them, you know, well, what brands do you follow? And who do you, who do you like, or what, what advice do you have for our university social media? What would you like to see from us?
And inevitably they always tell us they want us to be more snarky, like Wendy’s. And I roll my eyes every time, because I’m like, well, do you really want your university dunking on you? You know, that brand voice may work in one area, but it’s not something that you can just do all out and you have to work towards a goal.
And sometimes doing those outlandish things are incredible, but it’s not for everybody. I think it’s put, there’s a lot of copycats out there too that think, okay, well, this is just what we do. So what advice would you give to, you know, a university marketing team or, you know, smaller, smaller business, or organization who’s looking to find their own unique voice on social media or digital in general.
Bentley McBentleson: Okay. So with the Wendy’s example, that’s something that I’ve heard a lot. Any brand needs to find their voice, a brand voice is just a very real thing. I think there’s a chart of it somewhere out there where you have to pick four attributes, and then you can apply that to create a brand voice.
And there’s a lot of different ones out there. So Wendy’s is out there. They’re like a snarky, sassy, snippy. I think probably one more thing that starts with S. Nike is a really interesting one because they are inspirational, they’re empowering. KFC, when I was there, focused very much so on sort of a, uh, we were just trying to be like an old, like a door-to-door chicken salesman, uh, was kind of like the theme that we had with that. At Longhorn Steakhouse, it was the mysterious stranger from The Big Lebowski.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Oh my goodness! No, that was my brand voice for TXDOT.
Bentley McBentleson: Yup.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: At UCA, for us, it’s the MythBusters Build Team.
Bentley McBentleson: And currently a Long John Silver’s brand voice is a Buddy the Sea Elf. So Buddy, from the film Elf, but he’s sea-themed. (laughter)
Jon-Stephen Stansel: But that helps out so much when you can kind of pick a character and especially, you know, I’m a team, I’m a team of one where if I’m taking three days off next week, so, you know, my boss is taking the reins, I can just say, you know, MythBusters Build Team and automatically he knows kind of the voice to assume.
So, um, it’s, a useful strategy, I think, to have.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, it’s great for content creation, copywriting, and then also for response. Because a lot of people do get sucked into that. Oh, like, it’d be really cool to save this mean thing to this person. But I read a study and I’m sure somebody who’s listening to your podcast is going to research this. I haven’t looked into it for a while, so I might’ve dreamed up the study, but somebody did a research study on like whether or not Wendy’s snarky attitude ended up contributing to sales. And there, there was not a correlation that was found there. so what that means is that, does it get attention? Yes. Does it generate sales or income, which at the end of the day is what we’re trying to do? No!.
So, maybe the social voice brand affinity was a thumbs up, but if somebody is at a stoplight and to the left is a Wendy’s and to the right, is the Burger King, if that voice isn’t going to help you go left, then it doesn’t matter. Like it’s not, it’s not contributing to the goals at the end of the day.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: You’ve kind of taken the words out of my mouth right, right there. Cause it’s, it’s something I hear so often. and I, I see often in, in kind of the world of social media where, you know, there, there are times, I think we’ve seen something like Wendy’s and gone, as a personal social media manager going, oh, I wish I had the leeway to say that to somebody on social. But it’s not the best thing for our brand in particular and kind of being aware of that. And that kind of goes back to what you’re saying about hashtag holidays too, where, you know, do those fit your voice, you know, or are you doing it, you know, content for content’s sake? Posting for national donut day when you’re a university, it doesn’t really….
Joel Goodman: Posting for National Donut Day when you’re not going to post for National IPA Day, which was what, yesterday?
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Oh was it?
Joel Goodman: Well, I think there’s also a part of this too, where, in higher ed like, you know, we talk about the homogeneity of, higher ed websites, but I think there’s a level of that in how institutions tend to present themselves. And it’s, I wonder if it’s more, a matter of finding those unique traits and surfacing them into a voice or into this, the type of content that you’re creating on social platforms, creating for your, your websites and webpages and, and other digital properties, versus just trying to be… you know, J.S., you and I have said this a lot, it’s are you, are you marketing the concept of going to college or are you marketing your own college? and how do you, how do you differentiate that stuff and, and set yourself apart.
And I think, you know, I mean, higher ed, it’s kind of a crowded market. There are a lot of, a lot of voices there, but. Kind of the same thing in, food service in general, like there’s, there’s a lot of restaurants, you know, like, you know, get again into QSR it’s probably a little, you know, a little less, like there’s defined brands there, but still, you’ve got to find a way to, to be unique.
And like you were saying, Bentley, make that person turn left when they’re coming up against you know, a choice between your establishment and another one across the street.
Bentley McBentleson: so what you’re referring to is, uh, is just value proposition. So there’s going to always be. a need out there to advertise college as a concept, to advertise a brewery as a concept, to advertise fast food as a concept. but the secondary messaging on that is, okay, you need to go to college. This is why you should go to this college. that is something that needs to be out there. And then also messaging around, um, Assuming people have already gotten step one, which is you should go to college or you should eat fast food, that’s when you put content out there that is already assuming that people know that stuff.
And that’s when it gets, it can get pretty complicated. And that’s also where data in general, on the internet comes in handy. Being able to target people who you know are already affiliated with your brand, people who have already raised their hand saying they’re interested in what you’re doing. And that way you can dig deeper into you know, the conversation.
When I did work in higher ed myself, I started working for my college’s hybrid program. So one year was, people were doing it online. And then second, the second year … Oh no, it was a one year program, the first semester was online, second and third semesters were in person, and figuring out how to propose that during a time when our leadership was very much so against the online classes — it was an art school. They’re very much so like, Oh, we need to be, we need people in front of you. we, we need teachers to be in front of their students. How are they going to connect otherwise?
But then also convincing students that what you want to achieve is capable on a digital platform. Uh, it was a challenge and it still is a challenge. There’s a lot of people who nowadays don’t think they can do a digital class because they don’t feel like they’re, they have enough, discipline or they’ll have enough resources or they’ll learn enough, at the end of the day.
And all, all of these sort of layers need to be addressed and need to be figured out. but you have to look at it as a multi-touchpoint system. There’s some sort of marketing rule out there where I think it takes seven impressions in order to generate one a recall. So if you get one ad in front of somebody or have like one touchpoint, likely they’re not going to remember you, but after seven times, that’s when they’re going to remember you and start to consider you.
And the same is true for any sort of sale out there. Heck I, I would argue the same is probably true with like online dating. You probably have to have at least seven messages back and forth in order to generate an actual connection. So like, knowing that and knowing that likely social is not going to be that one touchpoint seven times, you need to be able to come at it from all different angles. And with these different angles, you can provide different value propositions each time, as long as they’re all tied to the same theme.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah. The online experience is a big issue right now, of course, and that kind of makes me think too, not just, just getting people to sign up for online courses. Right now we’ve got so many students who are — every campus is at a different state right now, and some are in flux, so it may, you know, they’re planning on returning to university and they may be doing in-person, they may be doing hybrid, they may be going all online, but they’re already enrolled in our universities and, we want to keep them connected. And I think that kind of goes back to you know, one way we could do this is kind of going back to what you were saying earlier is finding some of those, those moments of delight, where maybe they can’t come to our campus, but they can see some sort of representation in another way. You know, I mean, I’m never going to get my mascot on General Hospital, but like finding, finding some sort of a, an Easter egg to kind of create an affinity for, for, for our students. do you have any thoughts, ideas of how a university might be able to do something like that?
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, most certainly. So, I would argue that you might be able to actually get your mascot on General Hospital. So the concept of product placement, which that general hospital idea was, has been going back to like the ’50s. So it’s a pretty regular concept and in anything that you watch, there’s going to be product placement.
I was just watching the New York Islanders who just won 5-1 against the Florida Panthers and now they’re a seed in the playoffs. But you know, the entire arena is lined with advertising there. I watched a Shazam! the movie the other day, and there was a, uh, I think it was a burger company that like the police were eating and there was a very prominently featured soda cup there. I want to say it’s Bud Light is the sponsor for, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and that’s the only beer that they’re actually going to drink on screen. Um, so all of these, various creative outlets, need physical things involved in that.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, another great example, Uh, uh, they had, um, uh, what’s the name of that weird green thing? The funny, The Phanatic, the Philly Phanatic. They had a, an episode with, with him on it. realistically they, you know, they, they could have had to be anything else but they need those sorts of bits of reality because every Phillies fan, as soon as they saw that I can guarantee got excited.
So if you’re able to figure out what niche is, what’s that connection between your college and some sort of creative outlet, then you can do it. What, uh, uh, what is your college, uh, sort of like, what are their best programs, I guess?
Jon-Stephen Stansel: We’re really big on nursing right now. And we’ve got a large business school.
Bentley McBentleson: Okay. so, like I actually don’t know a lot about nursing and I guess you can’t really like, brand IV bags. But the immediate thing that came into mind, would just be like the donation side of things. So doing food donations, two nurses that are currently working because they’re essential workers right now. A lot of fast food places I’ve been doing that and, it’s just a great way to get sort of like that welcome news out there.
But, if you approach any sort of local or perhaps even national, production company, that you think there could be a connection with, your school, they would at least kind of throw that into consideration and it might come at a cost, uh, that General Hospital thing wasn’t free, WWE wasn’t free. But it definitely ended up paying itself off, you know, a thousand fold.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Well too, you know, it doesn’t have to always be something enormous or, you know, it doesn’t have to be a General Hospital level or, you know, your mascot as a character on there. And even for smaller schools, it can go a long way.
You know, one example, uh, we had an alumnus who worked on, I shouldn’t say how bad the movie was, but it wasn’t quite a big hit, but they were on, on the Nicholas Cage Left Behind movie. They worked on set and, uh, got one of the characters to wear a UCA jacket, not even like a full, you know, giant logo on there, just, just over the shirt pocket and our students went nuts for it when we announced it, just because one, we’re not a major university, like a Texas A&M or UT Austin that everybody knows the mascot and everybody knows, you know, the school.
So for a smaller university, those students seeing their university logo on even a smaller motion pict — a Nick Cage movie, right? Still very cool, was a big deal for them. So, you know, reaching out to, to your alumni and finding some of those opportunities for, for, you know, I don’t think I’ve ever had, I’ve heard people talk about product placement much in higher ed, but I, I think there’s a big avenue for it.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, most certainly. And you know, people are very excited to talk about the colleges that they graduated from. I know the majority of alumni programs will just send out a letter, maybe once a year or twice a year asking for donations to the college. And I certainly know mine does.
Um, and, uh, I haven’t given to it, and I can’t see myself giving to you anytime soon. but, if they instead asked me to come in and give like a uh, talk. to, some of the students, I would consider that. If they asked me to do like a video testimonial for uh what was valuable about going there, that’s something that I would do. And I am by no means a famous person, but if you had your friend who worked with Nick Cage, do it. I don’t know if he had any screen time or if he was, behind the camera. But that’s something, definitely to consider, putting out there.
Testimonials and first-person, um, actual real people speaking about their experiences whether it’s, going to a school or honestly even getting team members into our restaurants, it’s an incredibly important thing. One of the things I really valued about Longhorn Steakhouse was they were incredibly team member-centric and they have something called the Steak Master Series where, there are various challenges, for cooking steaks in our restaurants and all the grillmasters. compete in it, and then each district nominates or ends up getting one person who goes to, Orlando, Florida gets full expense, paid trip there, and then they get to grill steaks and then give it to the C-Suite of a Longhorn Steakhouse. And then the winners get, I want to say it’s like $10,000 and like a week free vacation in Disney or something like that.
So, what that ends up doing is being a good content for social, because it shows, Hey, we actually care about our team members. We’re not just saying this. And then it also ends up being direct people who work with us and for us, saying how good it is to work with us and for us. and that that’s, you know, those testimonials, there’s a reason why websites still have testimonials, there’s a reason why movie posters, uh, still have quotes on them.
Um, it’s because people trust actual people talking. That recommendation from a friend or at least a known entity is always going to be better than any sort of commercial that can be put out there.
Joel Goodman: Awesome.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah, I think that covers it. That’s awesome.
I would feel remiss though if I didn’t say that the 11 herbs and spices following is one of my favorite social media things that’s ever happened. And, and, and I’m a snob about social media stuff. Like to me, that was that that’s absolute gold. I loved it.
Bentley McBentleson: Well, the funny thing about that was, uh, when I first got hired at KFC, I got put down in front of a computer, during my second week. Cause they didn’t really know what to do with me. It was a new role that they had made. So, uh, my boss put me down in front of the computer and was just like, Hey, I have a whole day of meetings, can you just like, look at our social profiles and digital properties? And like, what would you do to plus them up?
So one of my recommendations was to, at the time I think we were following 35,000 people on Twitter. Uh, I said, OK, like, why don’t we just like unfollow all these people? And let’s just follow 11 people. We can either make it like a bunch of team members that can be really, people that are actually like, important to KFC history or, maybe we could just follow Salt-N-Pepa and like people need like Rosemary, Thyme, and whatnot. my boss was just like, okay, cool. Pitch it to the creative agency.
So I gave to the creative agency, they said, we like this concept, but like, let’s make it the five Spice Girls and six guys named Herb. And I said, go for it. so then between, the creative agency and myself, we unfollowed everybody. I personally unfollowed about 5,000 people. Twitter does not have a bulk unfollow, even if you spend millions of dollars with them, there’s no way to bulk unfollow. So it was a very manual process.
Um, and then even when you get to zero, we had to wait several months to start following people because if you deactivate your profile or get it suspended, and then it gets reactivated, You get added back into that follow list. So we didn’t go like three days where we were at zero and then all of a sudden somebody would pop up. And generally speaking, the accounts that get temporarily deactivated, do so for causes that you don’t really want to be associated with a brand.
So it ended up taking, I don’t know, maybe six months in total to actually get to it. But then when we finally got to it, I remember I went up to the VP of Marketing and I was just like, “Hey George, like, look, look at, look at what we did.”
And I showed it to him and he just went, Oh yeah, that’s, that’s funny. Uh, And then, uh, I went up to, our PR people are just like, Laurie, look, look at this. And she goes, yeah, that’s funny. Like, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a story in there. Um, but yeah, it’s funny. So for about three months after that, it was just my bar joke.
So like people would be like, Oh, what do you do for a living? And then I’d say, and go to KFC’s Twitter and see who we follow. and then, uh, the day that it exploded, was when a Buzzfeed had written an article about it. A few other people and discovered it, previously, but, Buzzfeed ended up getting wind of it, and then it just absolutely exploded and became, the biggest social activation that KFC had ever done for effectively $0.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah. And it’s so subtle is what I appreciate about it, and I think a lot of people do. Is that, you know, it was there for a while before anybody really noticed it. And kind of like you said, I don’t think, you know, you take it to your boss like, Oh, whatever, but, it’s such a, such a clever use of that real estate, to, to, to make an impact.
It’s really one of my favorite moments on social media.
Bentley McBentleson: Thanks man. Yeah, it was, it’s definitely lightning in a bottle and I will likely never be able to be recreated, but I’m glad to have been a part of it..
Joel Goodman: And you were all really smart to capitalize on it too with, with, you know, getting that oil painting done and everything like that. I, that seems like one of the, kind of the turning points in, in how KFC’s Twitter voice entered the, the mass, uh, the mass noticeable mind of the consumer, sort of.
Bentley McBentleson: Well, that, 100% was Weiden+Kennedy was able to execute that very, very quickly. I think they ended up getting that painted in five or seven days. And I remember we had a huge, we had a huge meeting about it. That’s kind of like one of the things you don’t realize. Like, before you start to work in this industry, how many meetings you have about things that are really effectively stupid.
And, we had like three dozens of dollars worth of salaries, like sitting in a room being like, okay, how can we reward this person? My idea was just to get a giant trophy because I think trophies are funny. And then, uh, Weiden+Kennedy was just like, Hey, listen, we had this oil painting done. And then there was a huge debate whether they were going to be able to get it done in time. but, they, they were absolutely masterful, about planning out. Like there’s like a little like Twitter blue bird in there. There’s like a Lochness Monster. There’s a whole bunch of Easter eggs in that painting itself.
And then that did start to become part of the strategy while I was still there. And I don’t know if they’re still continuing it or not, where there’re, even when I left, there was a few things that we had done. that still hadn’t really been figured out or discovered. Um, and I’m not going to blow any of it on, on this podcast.
But like there’s, there’s definitely some funny stuff that was left, behind, and hopefully still continues to happen, over on that side.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: Well, that brings up a really good point, and I’ll let you go right after this, but I’m going to ask you, you know, you’ve talked about this with your working relationship with your agency. And I think in, in higher ed, we see a lot of, of marketing departments working alongside agencies and not having the best relationship are being able to, express their needs to the agency or vice versa.
So, do you have any advice for establishing a better relationship with the agency that you’re working with?
Bentley McBentleson: So one of the things that I think ended up working out really well for us, was that I was the middleman between business side and creative side, a lot of people, or a lot of, companies end up cutting out that middleman who can sort of resolve both things. because I exist in a very like weird and stupid world.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: We all do.
Bentley McBentleson: Where like, um, so like if you, if you go on like Long John Silver’s Instagram feed, you can very clearly see where I started working for the company. And, that’s stuff that I primarily just did. But when you have like an entire team of creatives working, they end up coming up with like absolutely wonderful, brilliant, crazy ideas. But the business people are, they don’t think, Oh, wow, this is just absolutely amazing. They think, how is this going to contribute to the bottom line.
How is this going to get us to accomplish our business goals? And if you don’t have somebody, either on the creative side or on the brand side who can resolve those two things, then you just get disagreement and discord. The company is not happy with the agency. The agency’s not happy with the company, and figuring out how to create that bridge is, the most important thing in the world.
And hopefully some of your listeners will start to like look at brands, and then figure out who their agency of record is, see what their agency of record celebrates, and then see what the brand is actually putting out. And when there’s discord between the two, when the two don’t match up, chances are somebody in that relationship just isn’t happy. Something there is not coming together. You’re not making music together. They’re just sort of going through the motions and probably butting heads more than one thing.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: That’s awesome. That helps out so much. I appreciate that.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah. And, one more thing I do want to bring up. So one of my favorite social interactions was when I was at KFC, a friend of mine. I think he still is the number seven, Smash Brothers player for Sonic. Super Smash Brothers players for Sonic [the Hedgehog]. And, uh, he, uh, reached out to me—he works for Crunchy Roll now—but he reached out to me and was just like, Hey man. Like, I was thinking about just like tweeting that KFC, would you mind responding? and I’m like, sure, what are you going to ask? He’s he was like, Oh, I’m just going to ask, like, “who do you main?”
I don’t play Smash Brothers. So I don’t know what that means. so I looked into it. Tried to like figure out all the different characters that were in it and saw one that kind of looks like a chicken, named Falco. And then, um, when he sent me a tweet saying like, “Hey, Colonel Sanders, who do you main?” I just said Falco, and then something about how he reminds me of chicken. And then that ended up blowing up because Smash—this is one of those things where like, maybe not partnerships, but at least recognizing other people’s industries and sort of interests ends up creating brand affinity between the two brands.
So, uh, that, that ended up absolutely exploding where, you know, a whole bunch of blue check people went to like retweet it. And then for at least two years, people would just message these accounts saying like, “Hey, who do you main?” And, and then would plug in some sort of video game. But that type of stuff, like super small, super light lift, but it shows that you recognize who your consumers are and then just create sort of those, those likes, not just with like a little heart, but with a, you look at the brand and say like, Oh yeah, that’s the brand for me.
Jon-Stephen Stansel: That’s awesome. Yeah. And there’s so many, I think higher ed, we have so many opportunities to do that, especially with our audiences. So again, I think those little light lifts go so far.
Bentley McBentleson: Yeah, most certainly.
Joel Goodman: Thank you so much for listening to the Thought Feeder podcast. If you enjoy listening to our show, we would appreciate a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. We’d appreciate a follow on Spotify. You can follow us, actually, we’re everywhere you, you listen to podcasts. I mean, if you listen to podcasts on three different apps, we’re probably in all three of those apps. in any case, we do appreciate you listening, and we want to say an extra special thank you to Bentley for being on the show today and giving us his insight into digital marketing and social media.
Thanks a ton, Bentley. We appreciate you..
Bentley McBentleson: Thank you.
Joel Goodman: Thought Feeder is a production of University Insight.