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"Marketing from 30,000 feet." Flying high with a marketing plan that is simple to use.

In our last Marketing segment, we looked at the concept of trial and frequency to explain the change in the number of user occasions. In this segment, we will explore the concepts you can implement to 'drive the bus' and create an urgency in your customers to return and experience your restaurant on a more frequent basis.

First, remember the concept of increasing the number of user occasions from 1.7 to 2.1 user occasions per month? By now, most managers with whom I work have put pencil to paper, computed the average check size, and determined what an increase of .4 visits per month per customer times average guest check would mean to their top line sales, and computed the bottom line impact. Don't forget how additional visits can stimulate trial of new products and incent employees to suggestively sell higher-priced products.

That got your attention, didn't it?

What types of promotions are "frequency-builders" and how can you implement them in your restaurant?

First and foremost—prior to making any decisions about WHAT promotion to run, you must first ask yourself how well you know your customer. If you don't understand your target audience, you'll never run the most effective or efficient promotion.

If you understand the motivations of your customer, it is much easier to develop positive marketing programs which are both effective and cost efficient. If you don't know your customer, it's certainly time that you learned about him/her. Get to know what triggers their visit. Get to know what they think about the inside, the outside, the employees—you, as the manager.

Understand that the entire customer area—as well as the customer-visible areas—help market your restaurant. Items as small as table tents or table stands, successful color coordination of the seats, the window treatments, the carpet or floor covering, the wall covering, the menu covers, employee uniforms; all of these items have a subconscious effect on your customer, and can impact his decision to return. Items such as the choice of music (what era is reflected by your music—and is it background or foreground?) Even items such as the temperature of the dining area and the smells coming out of the kitchen can intensify the customer experience.

If you have an excellent training program, you will find that your staff can be very effective in bringing customers back again and again. It's no stroke of luck that a customer returns more regularly when he knows the staff on a first name basis, and they greet him cordially--more as a guest than as a customer.

Enough of tactical thinking. Strategically, what can you do to improve the number of user occasions of each of your customers? Strategic planning, as you know, is the mid-to-long term thought process which helps to establish plans and programs encouraging an increase in the number of customer visits.

Great managers think strategically.

My first suggestion to enable you to move from tactical planning to strategic thought is to be certain your employee training program is the best program possible. Find ways to encourage employee retention. Offer in-house incentives to drive tenure and retention rates upward.

My next suggestion is to develop a written plan. Sure, you can do this with a plan in your head, but why not make it simpler on yourself? With a written plan, everyone can participate and everyone will have equity in the program developed. You will have developed a stronger discipline in forcing yourself to commit a plan to paper, and you will set written, tangible goals for your own performance, as well as the performance of your subordinates. Everyone prospers.

The development of a written plan should contain specific goals and objectives. You must understand what you plan to accomplish in order to realize when you and others have attained the targeted goals.

Another aspect of a written marketing plan is the assignment of accountability. If you have primary responsibility for the execution and goal attainment, you should identify others who can assist you in achieving your goals. Use the plan and its execution to generate belief in your leadership, your abilities, and your strength of character.

After you've determined the promotion most appropriate to drive frequency; be it a tie-in, a frequency builder, or a discount promotion based on targeted sales during specific hours, put a plan in place and communicate it to your employees. Be sure to consider the promotion costs, the pricing impact, and the distribution scheme for the promotion—and be sure to include all the costs you will incur in the plan. You can determine the cost of the promotion in terms of the overall numbers of guests it drives into your location relative to a basic sales trend for the previous six weeks to determine the success of the frequency builder.

What if you can't control your marketing environment? External factors such as the impact of a competitor opening for business, the impact of a local industry closing with a subsequent loss of jobs, or the loss of non-competitive but volume-generating business can be devastating to a positive sales program. There is no specific answer that can be given to these scenarios. Each situation will be different and will offer unique opportunities.

In this overview, we've tried to look at marketing from a strategic global perspective. Keep in mind that the key to success in your venture is good communication and goal setting for your peers and subordinates. With good communication, plans can be attained; challenges can be met, and profits can soar!

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