Denny's, Inc.

Denny's Drives Hungry Mobile Diners Through Restaurant Doors with the Yext Knowledge Engine

Denny's, America's Diner
Denny's John Dillon

“Truth be told the enormity of what Yext offers is not something that the folks within our four walls have the bandwidth to focus on. We had to find a vendor who'd be our watch dog for us — hold our hand, ensure we are doing the right things. Yext has done that for us, and then some. Everyone on the team from top to bottom is fantastic.”

John Dillon, CMO
870k Average Monthly Driving Directions Requests
290k Average Monthly Phone Calls
174% Growth in Local Pages Impressions

What began as one 24-hour donut stand has evolved into Denny’s, America’s Diner, a global restaurant chain with over 1,700 franchise locations worldwide. “Our founder in 1953 was asked why he started Denny’s restaurants and said simply, ‘I love to feed people,'” recounts Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon. “As a brand, we have poignantly held on to that love of purpose over the years and embraced it internally. We feed people, literally and emotionally, from all walks of life in the United States and around the world. We feed people’s souls. Anyone can walk in and connect with us in a different way than he or she would at a fast food place or even at a normal sit down restaurant. We have CEOs sitting next to plumbers at the diner counter. Everyone’s equal. Our restaurants are unique places of local connection. We are America’s Diner.”

Ironically, Denny’s as a brand has become almost too familiar to American consumers. “Almost everybody has been to a Denny’s at some point in life,” explains Dillon, “which is a great thing in terms of brand awareness, but it can also present a challenge – often people’s memories of visiting a Denny’s is from 5, 10, 20 years ago. We want to bring past memories into the present and encourage more recent experiences.” As such Denny’s has enhanced its digital presence to serve today’s mobile-empowered consumers of all ages. “Clearly everyone is talking about millennials, and we are no different. We’re highly focused on presenting our restaurants in more relevant ways to all generations,” says Dillon. With such a wide-range of menu items and hours that are 24/7, Denny’s has an unusually wide swath of competitors. “Our breakfast competition is different from our dinner competition, which is different from our late night competition. Weekday breakfast differs from weekend breakfast, and so on,” claims Dillon. “We recognize that consumers — not just millennials — are more mobile, so our digital presence is key to winning and keeping attention and loyalty.”

Using Yext to Drive Diners to Restaurant Doors

According to a recent Yext study, winning that attention and loyalty is particularly challenging in the food service industry. Not only is food service the most highly-searched vertical, but it is also the most competitive, with 93% of consumers reporting that they considered more than one option when searching for a place to dine, and 65% claimed to consider at least three before making a final decision. Dillon and his team realized they needed to invest in a comprehensive, scalable technology solution that would strengthen the visibility of Denny’s local listings in search results thereby ensuring that hungry customers searching for food nearby always found the Denny’s brand. “Yext came on our radar because frankly we were not getting the sort of traction we needed from our previous attempted technology solution. We knew we needed a comprehensive and effective upgrade,” explains Erik Jensen, Senior Director of Brand Engagement.

The Yext Knowledge Engine enables brands like Denny’s to manage the digital knowledge about their people, places, and products across their websites, mobile apps, internal systems, and the entire PowerListings® Network — over 100 maps, apps, search engines, GPS systems, and social networks including Google, Apple, Facebook, Bing, and Yahoo. “Yext offers unique advantages through its technology platform and proprietary publisher integrations,” Jensen continues. “First and foremost, it enhanced our local search in terms of breadth and depth for our digital presence.”

Empowering Local Franchises with a Customized Yext Platform

The unique flexibility and deep customization of access controls that the Yext platform provides, as well as extensive consultative services offered by its Yext account team, greatly appealed to Denny’s corporate marketing team. With 273 franchisees, which make up the majority of their 1,700 locations, Dillon and his team consider local franchise empowerment to be a key aspect of its strategy to improve engagement and strengthen relationships with local diners. “90-92% of our system is franchised, so locally relevant and locally owned is important to us. Having a unique presence with local communities is a critical part of the Denny’s brand,” explains Jensen. “We wanted to enable our franchisees to update their own local web pages and local social channels, particularly on Facebook, and actually reach out to their specific customers, which we just can’t do at a national level.”

The Yext account team customized Denny’s instance of the platform to meet the restaurant chain’s unique local marketing needs. Specifically, the team embedded Yext’s platform into Denny’s existing franchisee portal system and developed customized access levels. “We wanted both to allow deep customization of each local Page and also to ensure that franchisees could easily access their Yext Pages,” recalls Jensen. “Yext helped us accomplish this by tying its platform into a system we already have, which means that our franchisees actually access Yext Pages and Yext Facebook listings through our own internal portal! From there, franchisees have different levels of access within this portal depending on their role in the organization.” By taking advantage of advanced customization capabilities of Yext’s technology and embedding those into its existing system, Dillon and his team are able to retain control of the corporate brand and messaging, while still giving franchisees the freedom to localize their own digital presence and thereby enhance local customer engagement.

Repositioning a 63-Year-Old Restaurant Brand with Tailored Technology Prowess

Dillon and his team’s minds are at ease knowing Denny’s digital presence is consistent, accurate, and optimized for hungry mobile consumers searching for a place to eat. “Our digital knowledge simply must be accurate for us to be in, if not stay ahead of, the game. Missing phone numbers, incorrect addresses — that is unacceptable in this day and age,” states Dillon. “The cost of inaccuracies is difficult to quantify since we don’t know exactly how many customers we were losing due to incorrect information. Regardless, at a baseline correct listings is an infrastructure issue, and Yext provides a uniquely reliable platform to address that.”

Beyond the basics of match-and-lock compilation technology for accurate listings, Yext’s deep analytics and reporting mean that Dillon and his team can now quantify the previously unquantifiable. They can measure the impact Yext has had on Denny’s digital engagement.

Among the most striking results are that Denny’s Listings on Google powered a monthly average of 870,000 driving directions requests and 290,000 average monthly phone calls over 10 months.

In the first year after Denny’s switched from another local pages provider to Yext Pages, they saw a 100% increase in local page impressions. Yext Pages are continuously optimized for SEO best practices and are synced with Yext Listings for consistency, so their performance improves over time. In fact, two years after launching Yext Pages, impressions on Denny’s local pages had increased 174% from their original level.

The partnership with Yext continues to evolve as Denny’s explores how it can leverage the Yext Knowledge Engine — and the dedicated Yext account team — to deploy and measure new marketing strategies for significant impact on the customer-brand relationships. Yext’s team is currently working on an API integration to simplify the process of adding and subtracting store location information from within Denny’s own system, and it has begun working with Denny’s agency to ensure the agency integrates promotional messaging into its own listings.

Denny’s Encourages Customer Feedback with Yext Reviews

Denny’s uses Yext Reviews to display a more complete view of its brand experience online. Yext Reviews enables businesses like Denny’s to generate and manage location reviews across sources including Google, Yelp, Facebook, and more. Reviews makes it easier to encourage customers to review restaurants, providing credibility and visibility in search.

“Yext Reviews has allowed Denny’s to tap into an important source of guest feedback — those who have visited us most recently,” said Luis Martinez, Senior Manager, Brand Engagement. “By encouraging our guests to share their experiences with us, we have gained a more accurate picture of our current in-restaurant experience. By leveraging these new ratings in our local store pages, we have also seen a lift in our local SEO. Implementation was seamless and an important step towards maximizing the opportunity presented by other Yext products and services.”

Denny’s has an average rating of 3.5 across the PowerListings Network. After using Yext Reviews for two months, Denny’s first-party reviews (i.e., reviews submitted directly to its company website) beat the third-party rating by over a full point.

“What’s remarkable is that if you proactively ask for reviews, you’ll generate really good reviews from happy customers who might otherwise have stayed silent,” explains Martinez. “Yext Reviews provides an easy way to invite our guests to review us online and spread the word.”

Edifying a Restaurant-Technology Partnership with the People Part of the Equation

Dillon notes that key to his satisfaction with Yext is its willingness to go above and beyond the contracted agreement to help Denny’s optimize its digital marketing. “We unveiled Yext at our most recent national convention, and Yext was the only partner or vendor we invited to present personally its technology to the franchisees,” notes Dillon. “Yext is now fundamentally embedded into our marketing initiatives and digital presence system, so it was crucial to us that the franchisees fully understand the opportunity and value Yext can provide when leveraged correctly and consistently.” Dillon adds, “Yext helped us get our franchisees efficiently trained, and the majority of them do use it on a regular basis. Yext is also coordinating a series of webinars to keep our franchisees engaged.”

“Truth be told the enormity of what Yext offers is not something that the folks within our four walls have the bandwidth to focus on. We had to find a vendor who’d be our watch dog for us — hold our hand, ensure we are doing the right things,” says Dillon. “Yext has done that for us, and then some. Everyone on the team from top to bottom is fantastic.”

Looking ahead, Dillon and his team recognize that physical location is the ultimate context. “Location matters because people have to walk through brick-and-mortar doors in order to experience our brand — we are not an online vendor. The purpose of our digital presence is to drive diners into our actual restaurants time and again, and that is where Yext’s platform is invaluable,” concludes Dillon.