When it comes to mobile marketing in fast casual restaurants, it's all about Millennials—at least that's the belief of several restaurant operators we listened to at last week's Fast Casual Executive Summit in New Orleans.
A panel titled, "The Big (Easy) Idea: Reaching Millennials Via Mobile!" featured four speakers who claim there's no field riper for a restaurant sales harvest than people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.
That's partly because Millennials eat out more often than older groups (an average of four times per week), and partly because they see dining out as more a social/entertainment experience than a fuel stop. They're in it for the fun as much as for the food.
But those operators' attraction to Millennials also extends to that demographic's love of mobile technology and its desire for relationships with brands managed through their smartphones.
Research discussed on the panel called mass advertising a waste with Millennials because they listen mostly to brands that connect with them personally. Millennials prefer word-of-mouth referrals to products and services because they trust the opinions of friends—both in the flesh and in the virtual world of social media—more than advertisements. They also prefer to receive those messages through a channel of their choosing in order to tune out unwanted solicitation.
No customer is as wedded to their smartphones as are Millennials. While 56 percent of Americans overall have smartphones, 80 percent of people ages 18 to 34 have them. Plus, they use them as much to socialize than talk—something we Old School Baby Boomers still do.
The restaurant operators on the panel said that knowing this provides them a precise means of marketing directly to Millennials with tailored messaging. No more generic "Buy one, get one free for all Billy Bob's Barbecue customers," rather a customized offer goes to the mobile phone of John Smith based on 1. What he's bought at Billy Bob's in the past, 2. How much cash he gave Billy Bob on previous transactions, and 3. Personal information supplied by John himself.
For example, one operator spoke of how he uses mobile marketing to target graduates of a particular college with special offers tied to a particular weekend football game. He also uses his database to pinpoint stay-at-home moms with offers good for afternoon treats those moms might buy for their kids after school.
Instead of calling his ad agency to create a single generic campaign that might take weeks assemble, that operator said he sends out the deal right from his computer and directly to a specific segment of customers in minutes. This same operator has even varied his offers based on changing weather conditions.
Another operator said he uses technologies such as geo-fencing and geo-targeting to capture customers on the spur of the moment. (Doubtless this could work given the growing "snack period sales" now forming between lunch and dinner.)
Millennials like freebies—don't we all?—and are apt to patronize restaurants that thank them for their loyalty. But operators said Millennials strongly dislike using methods that are even mildly cumbersome, such as punch cards or mag-stripe cards, to redeem those rewards.
One operator on the panel said after shifting from a mag-stripe program to a mobile loyalty program, he's seen his average ticket rise from $14 to $18 per customer.
Why? He credits the platform's simplicity as well as his ability to custom market to those loyal customers. Make it easy and specific and they spend more, he said. No, "Come on in and get $5 off" deal, he looks at what they regularly buy and markets to them based on that proven behavior.
And this happens on their phones, not through the mail or on TV.
At no time in the history of marketing has technology evolved so quickly. Not even 20 years ago everyone was clamoring to have a website and an email marketing campaign. Today, even those technologies are considered passé and slow, especially to Millennials who are proving they respond to messages delivered to their phones. No surfing the web for the best deal, no downloading emails either. They simply receive marketing messages created to their preferences and delivered to their phones.
Customers respond to that preferential treatment in droves.