Most Angelenos know NORMS Restaurants as an iconic purveyor of quality food at very reasonable prices.  A wide mix of customers ranging from the very late-post club hipsters to the octogenarian early bird special crowd regularly fill their tables.   This family owned operation has been in business for over 60 years.

And yet, this somewhat traditional restaurant chain has also recently undergone a decidedly progressive face-lift.  They’ve taken their existing slogan of “Where Life Happens” to the forefront of digital media marketing while conducting a very modern and sophisticated social media campaign.  How did this restaurant chain go from 1.0 to 2.0 in such a startling fashion and what is their secret digital sauce?

For that and much more I sat down with Paige Gillingwater & Holland Henton of Black Labs Inc., NORMS’ longtime strategic & creative agency and key drivers in NORMS’ most recent push.  Gillingwater & Henton first recognized the benefits of social media while the Black Labs team was bringing one of their own consumer goods products to market.  This product garnered viral heat in large part due to other blogs evangelizing its merits.   As a result of the products entry to market, the team developed what they term a “holistic” approach which utilized all platforms that their customers were using including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube as well as blogging.  This was a direct realization that with the ubiquity of social media, their product similarly needed to be relevant in all these venues, in a manner that was native to the way in which these venues operate.

From these observations Black Labs quickly recognized that NORMS was similarly situated to capitalize on “social media.”  Heading into 2010 Gillingwater & Henton strategized with the NORMS team, and collectively they made a determination that “social” was going to be a critical component of 2010 for NORMS.  Rather than taking a bifurcated approach, the Black Labs team suggested a unified vision to ensure that the chains entire marketing efforts would play in a number of environments while delivering a consistent message.  In addition to crafting the strategy with NORMS, in it’s capacity as a creative agency, Black Labs also produces all the video spots for NORMS, allowing for a very streamlined approach to production as well as a very consistent brand message in all mediums.

In addition to the chain now being very active in the digital space, NORMS has doubled down with a television ad buy to support their latest communications push.  As many of us here in the Southland may have noticed NORMS has recently launched a series of TV spots, all heavily focused on driving people to their Twitter and Facebook pages.  From a marketing perspective, the overt emphasis that NORMS has placed on moving people to social media channels within their TV spots is very revolutionary, and quite possibly these spots represent a first of their kind for television.

For their digital efforts the team employs a strategy of focusing on the user experience rather than being fully centered on a product vision – NORMS wants to relate to their customer on a personal level, in an environment that is comfortable for their customer.  Their direct market research showed that a regional brand is important to consumers, particularly today, and that people are very interested in spending their limited funds at places that actively care about them.  This thinking has always been evidenced in the core values of NORMS, and these same core values are featured heavily in their digital efforts.

The NORMS Blog is a very notable effort regarding NORMS regional approach, where the company offers up a very Southern California specific experience including a surf report, as well as widgets showcasing the entertainment industry and local sports.  Tonally the blog strikes a very interesting balance between a local laid back feel while also voicing a comedic tone.  The tone is very atypical for a corporate blog, with corporate blogs usually focused on the corporate messaging.  The NORMS blog also features giveaways with a variety of entry points including holiday (St. Patick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving etc…) as well as giveaway geared more toward having fun (a great example being their Clapper giveaway), further solidifying the view that NORMS is a fun place.

Norm’s has also extended their personalized approach directly to their presence on Facebook & Twitter.  The company is very active in social media, regularly encouraging their followers to both interact with NORMS and also to voice opinions about the chain.  The team felt that Facebook in particular was a wonderful entry point for them as it affords NORMS tremendous flexibility to express its voice in a variety of manners including photos, posts, videos.  In addition to offering customers the latest deals, NORMS also utilizes its Facebook Fan Page to provide updates with a decidedly local flair

NORMS Restaurants: NORM lovvvvvesss that it is going to be lighter longer! More daytime to enjoy everything that happens in SOCAL! Isn’t this time of year great? Before you know it, summer will be here! Sweet!

Facebook Post by NORMS, Sunday March 14

The company’s Twitter approach also employs a comedic element but puts an emphasis on the moment, Tweeting out an array of daily specials focused on specific venues, and continually providing their followers with direct responses to their queries.  The company has also been very encouraged by what they’ve seen with Twitter in terms of providing them another great touch point to connect with their fans.

More recently NORMS has also developed a number of video spots exclusively for digital consumption.  These digital spots have provided the company with yet another opportunity to once again connect with their customers in a very fun manner.

The entirety of their social media efforts have also been a great avenue for the company to be active in the CRM space, allowing the chain a direct channel to both monitor customer feedback and also to communicate directly with their customers in a much more real time manner.  As the company’s efforts have evolved, so too has their approach to social, which in turn has allowed many of their customers to view the company in a different light.  As observed by the comments on both Facebook and Twitter it appears that the team is doing a great job connecting with their customers.

When the team was asked how they were going about measuring the success of their current entry into social media the team responded:

“The audience responding has been our benchmark.”

NORMS is a great example of a very traditional brand living at the forefront of digital communications in order to modernize their approach to their customers. As social media continues to mature, more and more businesses will likely be assuming variations on model NORMS has employed.

Norms Restaurants are open 24 Hours, with 17 locations throughout Southern California.  The company has been in business for 61 years and and is family owned and operated.

Black Lab Inc. is a full service Marketing/Broadcast Production/Product Development and Social Marketing company, based in Los Angeles, CA.  Black Lab specializes in marketing and broadcast production for comedy, family/kids and food.  By bringing their own products to market, Black Lab realizes the importance of a holistic approach to marketing challenges and utilizes all mediums available that will increase awareness and sales.