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Let’s talk for a minute about new trial. No, not the court kind, but the kind that every restaurant wants … new consumers trying out your restaurant for the first time. They might have stepped through your door because of your marketing, or perhaps because one of your existing customers recommended you. Which one do you think drives most of your new traffic? And which one is easier to generate? The answer might surprise you.

Market Force conducted consumer research a few months ago, and not surprisingly, found that 1 in 3 consumers said they tried a new fast casual restaurant in the last 30 days because of a referral. Half that number said they came in because of a coupon or promotion. Meanwhile, just 4% said they came in because of an advertisement.

First the caveat. Don’t believe everything that we consumers say. Most of us don’t readily admit that advertising drives our behavior. Advertising absolutely can be a powerful part of your marketing mix. But many companies default to advertising because they feel it’s a lot easier to control than referrals, which seem difficult to drive. In this case, conventional wisdom is wrong.

A restaurant’s customer intelligence program is designed to drive that magic referral that is so precious to same-store-sales growth. Most are doing some of this already. By collecting both subjective and objective customer data - customer surveys, mystery shops and internal audits, social media inputs and even call center reports - restaurants can employ analytics to help distill which behaviors and attributes are most important to consumers causing them to return and refer.

What is remarkable is that an investment in this kind of comprehensive program is typically a fraction of what most restaurant chains spend on traditional advertising. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to train staff on how to provide friendly service, or ask for the up-sell, or deliver a meal in under four minutes, than it is to invest in a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Are you getting your fair share of those new trials?

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Janet Eden-Harris
Janet Eden-Harris is the CMO and SVP of Strategy for Market Force Information. She joined Market Force from J.D. Power and Associates, where she was VP of its Web Intelligence unit.
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