With more than one million food service locations across the United States, restaurateurs don’t have to be reminded that they are vying for business in a fiercely competitive marketplace.
While industry pundits routinely state that food quality, service, and value must all remain top of mind in the daily struggle for share, they also maintain that an operation must have a strong and comprehensive marketing plan that will keep it high on the short list of today’s hungry consumer.
But with so many choices out there, how do you cut through the multitude of competing messages to ensure that your restaurant will stand out from the throng?
This article explores key trends that will help you overcome the competition.
1. Mobile — why phones mean business.
Today’s consumers are on the go. It’s no surprise that the main resource for restaurant decision making is their phone. How can you make sure they choose your restaurant? Search is essential.
- Google searches for “near me” have increased 34 times since 2011 and nearly doubled since last year, 80 percent of them come from mobile.
- Half of all diners search for a restaurant within an hour of going.
(Source: Think with Google)
How can you make search engine optimization (SEO) work harder for you?
First, make sure you have the right terms on your website. Menu items are key. You’ll want to list them so that if someone searches for a type of food in the area, your restaurant comes up. You’ll also want to make it easy for your customers to find you. That’s why it’s vital to have location information listed on all of the most important publisher sites. There are a variety of services that accomplish this — making it easy to put all the information local consumers are searching for on top local listing sites, search engines, review sites, and mobile apps.
What else does this mobile trend mean?
Staying top of mind also means staying on top of email. According to recent survey results, 51 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices. Over 80 percent of consumers say it’s “extremely important” to be able to read emails on a smartphone. So if your email marketing isn’t mobile-friendly, you are missing out on business. Even if your emails aren’t being opened, the subject lines and presence in your target’s email can serve as an effective reminder when it’s time to eat.
Email marketing services, like Constant Contact, make it easy to use attractive, mobile-friendly templates that can bring your restaurant brand to life. They also enable flexibility so your other locations can edit them for local flavor.
2. Local events — more than just music.
Events are a strong draw for restaurants. From live music nights to birthday parties to one-of-a-kind neighborhood experiences, they are a useful way to bring in new and familiar customers. They are also a great way to add a local feel to a restaurant chain. Events will give your customers a good reason to try you, remember you, and keep coming back.
Your online marketing platform is an efficient way to promote events. There are services that can not only promote your event, but also turn events into a powerful business tool:
- Event emails give you a reason to be in your customers’ inboxes and help you gain awareness.
- Event landing pages help you track responses — capturing who’s registered and who hasn’t for targeted follow up.
- Search and social help you gain visibility — social sharing of the event is a wonderful way to spread the news and increase exposure.
- Event data can show you what locations or events are pulling in the best numbers. You can use that insight as an incentive or guide for other locations.
3. Relevant content — keeping up the conversation with your customers.
Keeping your customers engaged requires a conversation. This is where content can help create an ongoing dialogue. There are many resources to help you develop content. From third-party sources and agencies to online marketing companies, there are a variety of ways to create content that can reach your customers and keep them interested in your restaurant.
Engage diners with new menu items, specials, promotions, and news through email, social media, and more.
Content is essential to creating a consistent brand — helping customers get to know your voice and reinforcing what to expect during their dining experience. Content is another effective method for adding local influence to your brand. Restaurants should provide a certain amount of content that can be customized for local outreach. Custom-branded templates are an easy way to create a cohesive brand look while also allowing flexibility for local adjustment.
4. Social media promotions — spreading the word.
Photographs of amazing food. A comment about a great meal. Clicking yes to attending a restaurant event. Shouting out a great deal. Restaurant experiences have naturally become an everyday presence in social media. How can you help spread the word?
- Leverage your existing content that is being sent through email and post it on your social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.
- Choose a platform like Hootsuite that allows you to preschedule your content. Remember, you want to have a continuous conversation with your customers and keep them interested, so having a plan for content is critical.
- Have a great offer? Gate your offer so prospects need to connect with you to take advantage.
- Content can get buried on social media. Only a small number of your followers may see your organic posts, so paid advertising on Facebook is an ideal combination to get maximum exposure. And now, thanks to services that can pull your email content and contact lists into Facebook, accomplishing this is easier than ever.
5. Loyalty programs — devotion is good for your bottom line.
According to a CX Pulse Study, the frequency of brand interaction builds loyalty and advocacy: 87 percent daily, 64 percent weekly, 49 percent monthly and 33 percent a few times a year. This is why loyalty programs are a crucial way to talk to your favorite customers and deepen the relationship so they keep coming back to your establishment. Some key ways to make loyalty programs work for you:
- Make it personal. Your customers want to feel special. So make sure you communicate with them on their special days such as birthdays and anniversaries. This is a great way to build engagement and remind them where they should go to celebrate.
- Loyalty saves. Coupons and discounts still remain an effective way to reward your most frequent customers and encourage repeat business. Tracking redemption will show you the offers that are working the best. Use the data to follow the success or improve future efforts
- Loyal can be casual. Now that it’s easy to track who your top diners are, you don’t need to have formal loyalty programs. It can be as simple as tracking their purchase history and tagging frequent customers within your email platform so you know who’s eligible for loyalty deals. With a system like Constant Contact, you can add as many tags as you’d like to send customers more targeted campaigns.