By Ellen Weaver Hartman, ARP, Fellow PRSA
It wasnâ€™t so long ago that a restaurantâ€™s success depended on good word of mouth and maybe â€“ fingers crossed â€“a favorable review in the local newspaper.
Today, itâ€™s all technology driven. Whether itâ€™s Twitter, Facebook, emails, blogging or apps, technology is the name of the game and restaurants may, in fact, be the industry segment that is on the cutting-edge of marketing via technology.
Almost $800 million was spent on mobile marketing last year, up more than 160 percent from 2009, according to the media research firm BIA/ Kelsey. More than 100 billion text messages are received or sent each year, and the use of mobile coupons should reach 300 million globally by 2014, according to Juniper Research.
It has not gone unnoticed by restaurant owners that more than 34 million Americas get their dining and restaurant information from a mobile device. Marketing gurus know itâ€™s the wave of the future. Many restaurants, particularly chains or multi-location stores, such as Dominoâ€™s Pizza and Starbucks, have their own apps. The W Atlanta Downtownâ€™s Bar has its own app but also is devoting more time to geo-centric apps such as Gowalia that allow for an experiential interaction. Other use third-party vendors such as OpenTable.com and Snapfinger.com.
Today, smart restaurant operators use these apps and other technology to send daily reports about specials, run loyalty contests, allow customers to order, pay by phone, figure out how many calories a dish has, make reservations, view menus, offer feedback and even show maps for directions. And itâ€™s a two-way street; restaurateurs use technology to manage previous and future reservations made by customers.
â€œIf you think about it, a personal device, whether itâ€™s an iPhone, an Android or other smartphones, is the one form of communication that people cling to 24/7,â€ says Pablo Henderson – W Atlanta Downtown’s Bar Happenings manager.Â â€œWeâ€™re communicating with our customers or potential customers in real time. In addition, our relationship with our customers is strengthened because we give them access to something that not everyone has. Itâ€™s like belonging to an exclusive club.â€
â€œSo many more customers are tech savvy,â€ says Sari Bernstein, marketing director for Here To Serve Restaurants in Atlanta. â€œThey receive newsletters via email, look for special offers via phone and mail. The money we used to spend on print advertising is going towards other ways to advertise these days with a better ROI.â€
Each of the Here To Serve Restaunts, including Coast, Strip, Noche, and Aja, has its own Facebook and Twitter page. â€œItâ€™s a great way for them to stay in front of their followers/friends with daily specials and events going on in the restaurants constantly,â€ she says. â€œTwitter is fantastic to get a message out real quick. If we decide at the last minute to run an offer in the restaurant, we donâ€™t worry about putting together all the artwork to relay the message. We can just easily tweet about it and watch how quickly that message can virally spread.â€
Wow Bao, a restaurant concept from Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, offers a telling case study on how it connects with its customers in innovative ways. Wow Bao wanted to engage customers with a mobile offering while building brand awareness and loyalty (and increase revenues) through its social media efforts. To engage customers more fully, it partnered with Mocapay, a mobile consumer engagement platform, to offer its customers exclusive mobile offers and allow them to securely pay using their mobile phones.
Using Mocapayâ€™s platform, Wow Bao started mobile marketing and issued mobile VIP comp cards to its customers. In addition Wow Bao sent out mobile reminders to customers who hadnâ€™t redeemed their card or who still had a remaining balance.
In addition to the mobile comp card, Mocapayâ€™s embedded mobile technology allows Wow Bao to create, monitor and measure campaigns in real-time. In return, it also provides valuable information including redemption rates and purchasing behavior that gives Wow Bao a better sense of its customer, allowing a more targeted and personal relationship with every interaction.
For Wow Bao, the use of integrated social media resulted in increased loyalty and revenue. Its VIP comp card has been extremely successful with a 24 percent redemption rate at the point-of-sale and a nearly $10.00 average ticket.
To promote their breakfast menu, Wow Bao ran a mobile promotion one day for three hours. Customers who were part of the mobile program were sent a mobile message to receive a free breakfast bao between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. the next morning. The promotion saw an eight percent redemption rate, which is three to four times the average of direct mail coupon redemption, according to the Direct Marketing Association.
â€œWe believe mobile is the next frontier for the restaurant industry and an amazing channel to directly connect with customers and build brand loyalty to increase store visits,â€ says Geoff Alexander, managing partner of Wow Bao. â€œWe are able to take our mobile marketing strategy to the next level by incorporating secure, mobile payments while also reaching our customers in a personalized manner.â€
â€œThe restaurant business is the perfect industry to showcase the benefits of an end-to-end mobile marketing solution. People do not always have cash, but usually have their mobile handsets with them at all times,â€ says Doug Dwyre, president, Mocapay. â€œThere is a shift in the marketplace towards the mobile channel as a viable way to establish customer loyalty and extend the value of a brand in real-time.â€
Other restaurants are reaping the rewards with similar technology creativity.
Doc Cheyâ€™s Noodle House, which has three Atlanta locations, has active Facebook and Twitter pages, but it also uses technology to increase its operations and entice customers with a prize. Customers who show that they checked in for their reservation using Facebook or Foursquare get a raffle ticket to win an IPad2.
The marketing is both direct and subtle. By enticing customers with the chance of an iPad2, it is giving them an incentive to go to its Facebook page, where they can become more engaged. Checking in ahead of time, just like at an airport, allows diners to be seated promptly, which increases customer satisfaction. The iPad2, at this point, is almost beside the point.
Technology guru Jonathan Kaplan, who sold his company to Cisco Systems for more than $500 million, is starting a California-based restaurant chain called The Melt. Relying on location-based mobile technology, The Melt is using technology in all aspects of the business including ordering. When ordering, customers will receive a QR code that could be scanned at any restaurant, allowing the customers to pay through their phone, skip the line and get their food faster.
So where is technology going these days?
Henderson admits that restaurants are facing technology clutter. â€œYour message now needs to be a lot louder,â€ he says. â€œBeing an early adopter of new technology was once enough to reach influencers, but now everybody is on Facebook, Youtube, using S.E.O., and the web has more clutter now. We are looking for new ways. Video, for instance, has become a big part of our story-telling process.â€
â€œItâ€™s really the beginning,â€ says Bernstein of Here to Serve. â€œPeople can use their phones for almost anything these days, and we are constantly looking at new technology to further our relationship with our customers and strengthen our brand.â€
Still, Henderson yearns for the good old days. â€œWord-of-mouth marketing is still the best and oldest form of marketing and one that relies on simple principles such as quality, service and a great story,â€ he says. â€œYes, automatic order takers may become a growing trend, but it wonâ€™t replace the role of a friendly cocktail waitress.â€
Ellen Weaver Hartman is president and CEO of Hartman Public Relations, based in Atlanta. Hartman has more than 30 years of experience in building strategic communications campaigns for some of the worldâ€™s most well-known brands. In addition to consumer and business to business communications, she has expertise in corporate communications, social responsibility, media relations and crisis management. To contact Ellen Hartman, email moc.r1548290658pnamt1548290658rah@n1548290658elle1548290658
By Ellen Weaver Hartman, ARP, Fellow PRSA