If your restaurant brand is like every other concept struggling to win customers, your marketing team has probably thrown around the words "content marketing" and enhancing the "customer experience with customization."
It’s not rocket science; your customers want to feel good about themselves when they spend money on your brand. Your CMO "gets it," which is why s/he posted those pics on Instagram of your CEO running in the local charity 5K or keeps setting up fundraiser school nights during your dinner rush.
Although this concept might sound like a no-brainer that all brands are embracing, that’s exactly the problem. Your competition is more than likely already in on the unkept secret, and what if they are doing it better than you?
Below are four ways to innovate your marketing strategy in 2017.
1. Spread out your content marketing
Although he admitted that the biggest fad term of the last two years has been "content marketing," Nick Powills, founder and chief brand strategist at No Limit Agency, said the practice will continue to advance into a general internet approach.
"Brands have piled content onto their websites and blogs only to have no one read it," said Powills, who has a plan for all that content. That plan: Go further.
"Brands like Dairy Queen are creating content positionings all over the web, some by influencers, some on Social, some on media sites and then, some on their site, too," he said. "Great marketers have been saying for years that a little of everything is the true silver bullet in marketing, yet, many brands fail to listen, rather choosing to put all of their eggs into one bucket.
2. Leverage technology to get more personal
Brands need to focus on leveraging technology that helps strengthen the relationship and experience guests have with the brand, said Prem Kiran, chief strategy officer of Fishbowl.
"Use technology to tap into the massive data you have about existing guests and their behaviors to refine and customize your communication with them," he said. "Use technology to engage with guests in a manner that most aligns with their lifestyle."
For example, you wouldn’t talk to your vegetarian friend about the great steak you had last night, so why are you telling your vegetarian guests about the new steak offering you have?
The impact even the slightest personalization can have on your business will be worth the effort, said Kiran, who cited his work with a recent client as an example. They worked together to craft targeted acquisition and messaging campaigns based on the actual preferences and behavior of their guests. The result was up to a 61-percent increase in email open rates.
"If you're looking for a place to start with personalization, our recent research indicates that restaurants moving forward expect offer redemption and online behavior data to provide the most insightful data in reinforcing guest engagement," he said.
Focusing on data
With an increasingly competitive marketplace, marketers need to work even harder to differentiate their brand from the others. A more data-driven approach to marketing has shown to help marketers stay ahead of the competition, said Dev Ganesan, Fishbowl's president & CEO. Fishbowl's research found that 85 percent of over-performing restaurant brands said that data drives some or significant value in their marketing efforts.
"Data-driven marketing may require an internal sea change, which will require marketers to be highly motivated, collaborative, and thoughtful about their approach," Ganesan said. "However, the rewards for the effort can be tremendous — not only for your brand but professionally.
3. Make your social channels more social
For the last few years, most brands have seen social media as a to-do list item versus a true opportunity to connect with their customers and brand advocates, said Powills, who expects this year to be different.
Now, as Facebook continues to drill down its algorithm to be more expensive and challenging to master, brands will have to increase content built around "talk with my brand" vs."buy my product, now," he said.
He expects shareable images to go from being boring pictures of food to real human interactions and love for a product.
"Social media will turn back into a marketer’s dream versus a tedious task. If it doesn’t, brands will be left asking what is the ROI of having all of this content do nothing for you."
4. Innovate your mobile offering
Meredith Hillman, VP, managing director of client leadership at HelloWorld, saying that her restaurant clients rely on consumer-facing mobile technology to create truly memorable experiences.
"Apps like OpenTable and GrubHub have become engrained in the foodservice business with more brands launching apps and mobile ordering systems," she said.
Hillman expects mobile ordering to continue to drive long-term loyalty but only if it keeps offering a new experience.
"Marketers should look for ways to integrate fresh experiences into mobile apps," she said. "Software Development Kits that allow for multiple promotions to run without pushing an app update each time are key to ongoing engagement and are easy on the marketer. Marketers should also consider beacon technology, which allows them to send push notifications to customers who are in-market.
What if you are app-less?
For those without an app, consider chance-based games via SMS, Hillman said.
"Brands who have embraced text games are seeing huge results right now," she said. "These initiatives give customers ways to engage with a brand while they are waiting in line, adding the surprise and delight of a fun prize for those who win. For those who don’t, a coupon offer can be served up to be sure they visit again soon.
Streak couponing, for example, can reward a brand's best customers with offers that increase in value as they redeem previous offers, Hillman said.
"It works within apps or via text, so it’s perfect for any level of restaurant and can drive purchase during slower dayparts or help cross-sell other products," she said.
/ Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.