Nov. 14, 2017 | by S.A. Whitehead

For restaurateurs of all ilk today, the word "data" is both a four-letter word and a dream partner, capable of providing astonishing insights in a flash. But as participants at the most recentFast Casual Executive Summit in Nashville learned, diving into data generated by your brand can either leave you splashed with refreshing new insights, or drowning in a sea of numbers without any real idea how to make sense of it all.

An hour-long session around this very conundrum with three successful fast casual concepts provided some great takeaways about how to use data innovatively, effectively and profitably, regardless of your restaurant sector or brand.

Below are some of the more profound pull-outs and lessons learned from that session's participants, who answered questions from Fishbowl Professional Services Vice President Paula Carren. The three restaurant leaders on the panel, included:

  • Corner Bakery Café CEO Donna Josephson.
  • Newk's Eatery CMO Stewart Slocum.
  • Saladworks CEO Steve McMahon.

These very different but successful brands each said they had approached their collection sources for data differently to meet individual chain goals. For instance, Saladworks CEO McMahon said his company commissioned research to identify and target attitudinal segments and customer groups.

Corner Bakery's Josephson, on the other hand, said the team combined data from its loyalty club with POS and customer data to both ultimately boost loyalty participation and identify other "success factors" for the brand. And finally, Newk's Slocum said the chain took a more in-depth look at digital marketing data and the returns on their email loyalty club members because in Slocum's words, "It's the little data that matters."

Carren also asked the group how data was important to brand success. McMahon said that demographics aren't exactly where it's at.

"Demographics explain only 1 to 2 percent of sales," he said. "What explains it is their behavior in that (demographic) sector."

Josephson said that Corner Bakery monitors the long-term and day-to-day data and asks two questions: "How do I retain customers?" and "How do I do even better?"

Since everyone in any organization is a marketer for the brand, Slocum said, it's important not to just toss out seemingly off-the-wall ideas (from the rank and file), but to consider, instead, how you can take ideas that essentially "push the boulder up the hill” and convert them to ideas that “push that boulder down the hill."

More of the Q and A can be seen below.

Q: Can you provide some examples of how data has proven it has a measurable return on investment value?

  • "In marrying some of the data on non-performance of products with … consumer data showing when (customers) were not thrilled about something on the menu, we found that our sandwiches didn't deliver as much protein and flavor as they wanted. … We always thought they wanted less calorie counts, but our target wanted more than that. … So we created a double-protein (sandwiches) and a campaign (around flavor). … Then we measured and we were up 11 percent in sandwich sales and satisfaction went up as well." — Josephson
  • "It's not really one thing, but it's a whole lot of things. … Our research showed the value of focusing on the ‘flexitarian' segment (sporadic meat eaters). … So with LTOs there was a missing link between that and new product development … because we're a salad-centric concept, but … we've never offered a vegetarian salad as an LTO or more than one LTO at a time. Now we have one vegetarian salad on the menu and no vegan salads."— McMahon

Q: How do you strike a balance between data-driven and gut-level instincts as far as their use in brand strategies?

  • "We've got plenty of data. What we lack is insights. … So we spend a lot analyzing data time-wise, but we've set up a false sense of expectations around it. … You have to set goals about what you're trying to get to and understand, then act on it. … You have to set an objective upfront." — McMahon
  • “Some (within the business's operations) don't (buy) into data as much. … But data is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to use it in the right way and get some wins and that way you prove it to the rest of the organization. … But if you use it wrong, you prove the wrong case. … So get some wins under your belt – you kind of have to get the organization to really start ‘thirsting' for it." — Slocum

Q: What has surprised you most about the use of data in your operations?

  • "What's surprised me is how responsive people are to communication once you understand them," McMahon said, referring to a recent win that brought Saladworks 10 percent more loyalty club members in just nine weeks.
  • "As we dug through our data, the millennial male turned up to be our customer more than others -- that really surprised us. … It changed our tonality and the way we talk to our guests as well as our LTOs. … And it's phenomenally successful. — Slocum

Registration is now open for the 2018 Fast Casual Executive Summit in Seattle. 

 

Photo: iStock


Topics: Fast Casual Executive Summit



S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.


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