The Olive Garden and How Their Marketing Made Them Whole

Christina Frei Celebrators, Generous Marketing, Innate Marketing Genius

You’re doing your best to grow your business. I commend you for it. Raise your glass!

At the same time, I also know how challenging marketing can be.

That said, someone pointed out something to me recently about this: Getting out there and sharing the value of your work (marketing!) makes you whole as a business owner.  Isn’t that powerful?  If you’re not out there standing up for your work, you might as well be a corporate drone in the back office plugging along.  I know this might be a bit controversial, but really, when you’re “out there,” you listen. You listen to your people, specifically to their evolving needs. This keeps you lean and toned as a business owner, meeting needs that are actually there.  This makes you whole. Yes!

So let’s talk about the Italian restaurant chain, The Olive Garden. Yeah. They happen to be a great example of this in play.

It would be very easy for this chain to rest on its laurels and just showcase their tasty dishes in TV ads, like Applebees and The Cheesecake Factory do.  But they went further. As a Celebrator brand (see here for a full definition of this Innate Marketing Genius), they excel in bringing the good life to people. 

One hot summer day, I was walking on the High Line in New York City.  It’s a 1.5 mile-long elevated garden built on old train tracks.  While strolling with friends, I encountered a table that extended a couple city blocks along this city garden space. It was filled with people happily eating Italian food, and if I squinted my eyes, I could pretend I was on a Florence country hilltop eating with a very large extended family.

It turns out that this bustling, food-filled, happy scene was created by The Olive Garden.  They were serving free dishes to introduce a new menu, and called this promotion The Never-Ending Table. A dozen staff bustled around with dishes wearing black t-shirts with #neverendingtable on them. On one end stood an enormous screen and whenever someone uploaded a photo to Instagram with the hashtag #neverendingtable, it refreshed on this screen. So good. The screen was covered with hundreds of photos of people smiling and eating this food.

Why did this make The Olive Garden whole?  Because they totally put themselves out there. They stood tall in their brand and they lived it out to the fullest. This table setup changed 15 years of impressions I had of this corporate chain in less than 5 minutes. Instead of seeing it a cheesy, suburban brand, I now wanted to engage with the warm, Italian-countryside atmosphere they created.  All this took work, but the right kind of work.  Instead of just producing a bunch of pretty ads and then tracking the numbers, The Olive Garden lived out their Innate Marketing Genius (Celebrator), the way they truly connected with their people to the fullest.

Let’s also tip our hat to a promotional team that figures out how to use Instagram in a way that everyone wins (the screen). Not easy and very cool.

Your first step to generating your version of this: identify your Innate Marketing Genius.  You can do that here and you can also apply to speak to me. That way, we can reflect on how is translates to your marketing now.

Let’s get to work, my friend.