If you traveled back in time 10, 15 years ago and said the technology team would be sitting at the table alongside the marketers, people probably would have laughed. The collaboration in today’s world, however, is very necessary.
A group of restaurant industry insiders discussed the topic “When marketing met technology” at the recent NRA Show in Chicago, outlining how marketing is becoming a technology-powered discipline, from FOH to BOH, and providing best practices on how to extend the brand experience to those technology platforms, namely social media and mobile.
“Mobile is the top priority for restaurant marketing today,” said Heidi Liebenguth, managing partner of Crone Consulting and the panel moderator. Her statement was backed up by Marty Boyer, director of Marketing at Tom+Chee, Karley Hofer, director of Brand Development at Orange Leaf, and Doug Reifschneider, VP of Marketing at Firehouse Subs.
Building loyalty through experience
Boyer said in order to push technology and mobile together toward a harmonious marriage, operations has to be involved.
“If you do things right in your store, the customer will extend that experience into the social space,” he said. “For example, our customers take some of the best food shots that we don’t pay for. It’s such a rich source. For us to amplify and attribute their contributions, it’s incredibly powerful.”
The buzzword in marketing is “engagement,” Reifschneider added. But you have to be careful on how you approach it; the panelists advised against heavy-discounting loyalty programs.
“Discounting is a dangerous path. We don’t want to train our customers for discounts because that’s not loyalty,” Boyer said. “It’s about emotion. If I delivery an incredible, fun customer experience, they won’t care as much about a discount.”
To deliver, it’s important to ensure your technology platforms are an extension of the in-store experience. Hofer said Orange Leaf puts everything through “brand filters” so that anything introduced, like the brand's mobile apps, has the same feel as the stores.
“Our app has a gamification piece because it's fun. And dessert is fun. We pride ourselves on providing unique and delicious froyo. With technology, we approach it the same way,” she said. “Make sure you pick partners that encourage you to define what your brand filters are and can grow with you. And understand each platform’s point of view.”
Committing to social media
That point of view, for example, is different from channel to channel. Orange Leaf’s Twitter followers are more “witty and sarcastic,” and on Instagram, they’re more “hip and cool,” Hofer said.
Social media is tricky, however, because of sites coming and going. Firehouse Subs, for example, had a MySpace page through 2009, the same year it created a Facebook and Twitter page. In 2010, the brand added a devoted employee for social media, and in 2012, a second person. Last year, Firehouse removed Pinterest because it “couldn’t get enough going there,” Reifschneider said, but it added Vine. At the beginning of this year, Firehouse added Google Plus.
“A lot of techies hang out there (Google Plus) and we may or may not stay on the space. You have to make sure you get engagement if you go there,” he said.
And wherever you plant your social flag, you have to make sure you’re committed to keeping the channels active.
“You have to think about these (social media sites) as committed relationships and develop them, spend time on them and engage deeply with your customers,” Boyer said. “Spend time with the people who are there, retweet them, syndicate their content, thank them and show them respect. If you can’t do that, don’t bother starting.”
If you’re a smaller brand, social can be especially beneficial because it evens the playing field. You can also use the analytics to find out if paid social ads are worth it. For Hofer and Orange Leaf, this is the case.
“We saw a direct correlation to paid social and sales growth and we got the executives on board with this investment,” she said. “That’s where we see the best return. We don’t spend money anywhere else for marketing. But you have to understand why you’re there. I’d rather have a smaller number of followers with high engagement. The benefit of social is you don’t have to spend a lot of money and you can get fun and creative.”
In addition to brand engagement, it’s also important to use social media for “customer recovery,” as Firehouse calls it.
“Social media is where customers tell you what they think,” Reifschneider said. “When the customer says something on Facebook, it’s our philosophy that it’s just like they’re in the restaurant tugging on your sleeve to tell you they enjoyed something.”
Photo provided by Flickr user Yoel Ben-Avraham.