When Hanft made the move to BWW, he brought Brand Champ with him, but since it was far from a one-size-fits-all program, he and his team had to do some tinkering before rolling it out. The process required not only a good deal of self-reflection but also a revamp of the brand’s values and purpose.
BWW’s very own Brand Champ debuted at the company’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida, in March 2019. “The purpose was really around the what of the changing landscape, who we are as a brand, and what we have to do to be competitive,” Hanft says.
Just a year later, Brand Champ and other employee-engagement programs would be kicked into high gear, catching the coattails of the operational changes precipitated by the pandemic.
“Ironically from a timing perspective, it’s really what COVID pushed us into. ... COVID has accelerated a lot of the trends that we saw out there and made them come to fruition now—like mobile ordering, carryout and delivery, and other fun stuff,” Hanft says. “But really those were the trends that were working against us in 2018 when we launched it so that was the ‘what’ in the need for us to change.”
The 2020 version of Brand Champ focused on the “how” behind legendary experiences that went beyond just food and beverage and could also include entertainment and service elements. Obviously the “how” had to change as dine-in restrictions swept the country, but BWW continued to flex its creative muscles as a sports-centric brand. In July it partnered with Major League Baseball to turn its restaurants into virtual ballparks, in September it created a special special “Dog Pound” section of its bar for Cleveland Browns fans, and in February it promised to give away wings if the Super Bowl went into overtime, though that quickly proved unnecessary.
While those initiatives were original, they weren’t the real innovation point for BWW. The restaurant had just debuted its first “GO” concept mere weeks before the pandemic began, and that infrastructure served as a springboard for pivoting—time and again—last year.
In the midst of such chaos, it’s understandable why many restaurants had to press pause on soft initiatives like employee engagement; they had to devote all energy and resources to simply staying afloat. As with operations, Inspire Brands’ well-established brand culture proved capable of withstanding the stress test that was 2020.