What Marketers Can Learn From Zagat

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The Iconic Zagat Survey

When I was a pre-teen, I spent a lot of my time in New York City. I was enrolled in a challenging academic enrichment program at Stuyvesant High School’s Math & Science Institute. After school was out for the day, I would walk around the city, eat amazing Chinese food on Canal Street, and use what allowance I had to buy gum and candy in magazine shops before heading home. One of my most distinct memories in the pre-Internet age, was seeing the icon burgundy-red Zagat guides at virtually every counter. Often, I would find myself thumbing through the guides as the clerk rang me up. I distinctly remember trying to imagine the dishes and atmosphere of the restaurant descriptions that caught me eye, but it was difficult to visualize these incredible setting because I had little to no context or experience as a 12-year-old. I couldn’t envision the plates of food or the high-scale diners I would one day be sitting next to at a restaurant like Le Cirque. At the time, Food & Dining seemed completely inaccessible; it was an adult privilege that I wasn’t a part of except family weekend breakfasts at diners and after-school Wendy’s frosty runs with my friends.

About the Guide

The  Zagat Survey was established in 1979 by Tim and Nina Zagat as a way to collect and rank restaurants by diners. By 2005, the Zagat Survey had spread to 70 cities and featured the input of 250,000 individuals rating everything from restaurants, hotels, zoos, gold courses, and theaters. Fast-forward to 2011, Zagat is acquired by Google and gets a major face lift; with book production forecasts looking bleak, Zagat transitioned into the digital age, and has used its brand’s legacy to appeal to a new generation of foodies. Like many brands, Zagat realized that it had to shift its brand position in order to stay relevant.

Today, Zagat not only provides recommendations and plenty of text-based content for location-based services, but it’s also creating popular content in the  realm of video. The brand is using video to reach out to a new generation: the Millennials. The brand due in part to its reputation also continues to retain Baby Boomers and others who relied on print before digital food review sites like Yelp! emerged onto the scene.

How Zagat Video Attracted a New Following 

Zagat How to Write a Great Video shows how the brand has shifted its strategy to appeal to Millennials. The video injects humor, comedy, and features a younger, more trendy foodie crowd. The host they’ve chosen for the role is the right balance of quirky sophistication and knowledge; she doesn’t come off as stuffy like most traditional food critics and makes food-writing universally accessible to restaurant lovers. It’s  no wonder that Zagat has over 45k subscribers as it continues to churn out compelling video content in the form of lists, mini-documentaries, restaurant and bar profiles, and more.

Zagat isn’t the only food authority that has transformed its identity to embrace entertainment. Food&Wine magazine now has a digital arm, FWx that features colorful, high-resolution photos and quality content that includes video. The Food World much like other industries is shifting its focus to a new type and generation of diner. The reason that Zagat has been so successful is that it realized the limitations of print and embraced change in a digital age. Today, the brand continues to grow in popularity and is reaping the benefits of tailoring content to a new demographic.

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