Since 2003, I have been navigating my way through the world of brand building, first as creative director for some of the world’s largest corporations and most recently as a CMO in the hospitality space. Transitioning into the realm of independent restaurants forced me to think creatively about how to use the tools and resources I had at my disposal to make the most impact on our bottom line.

Understanding Your Data

Lean marketing teams of just one to three people require marketing efforts to be targeted and strategic with minimal time and energy wasted. Properly analyzing your customer data is a good first step toward maximum efficiency. When there are limited resources and budgets you’ll want to determine what data is going to be actionable and then take small iterative steps to act on this information so you can measure and respond quickly. Look to accumulate data based on what technology is available, and then use that information to implement simple, creative, and budget-friendly marketing tactics based on guest behavior. This approach reduces wasted hours and wasted dollars.

Use Technology Effectively

Technology plays an important role in any marketing strategy and being able to build a tech stack that provides ample information without overwhelming your team is key. When you have limited manpower, the focus should be on determining which are the most accessible data points that can drive immediate conversions. Historically, I’ve found the most applicable insights have come from loyalty programs, POS data, and reservations data.

Target Your Audience, Then Segment Your Audience

As marketers it is our first task to draw customers in and engage them with our brand. In doing so, we can accumulate data through a variety of channels (website, social media, email marketing, in-store, etc.) and study their habits. To get the highest engagement from your audience, the focus should always be on building the brand, especially when you have limited marketing dollars. If you can convert someone into a loyal member of your brand community, you won’t have to be as aggressive with discounted promotions.

Budget restrictions often limit you from marketing to the masses, so it’s essential to define your target audience and then create a tailored brand and experience that will specifically resonate with them. From there, you can develop an overall brand message that speaks to that demographic. Once you understand your audiences’ interests you can take it a step further and segment that audience into even more specific verticals—wine enthusiasts, health and wellness, families, etc.—and create marketing campaigns and programming that speak specifically to those segments. Taking a more personalized approach with your customers will help gain their loyalty and get them engaged with your brand.

Your Database is a Reflection of Your Target Audience

Your database is a group of people who have already opted in to receive marketing messages from your brand. This list is an incredible resource from which to gather data, feedback to improve the guest experience, as well as to drive sales and reservations. There are countless cost-effective ways to build your database while also gaining loyal customers. Recently at Solstice we included a question at the bottom of our dessert menu asking guests to write down what their favorite seasonal dessert is so we could consider adding it to the menu. We also asked for their email to notify them if we selected their dessert to feature. Using this simple tactic, we were able to add 10,000 unique emails, in one year, to our database, while creating a direct relationship with our guests.

Marketing Is as Much Experiential as It Is Value Driven

Good news for teams with smaller budgets is that discounts aren’t what generates loyal customers, creating tailored experiences and memorable moments do. Building unique programming requires more creativity and team effort, but in return you’ll be able to attract new customers while also providing new activations to bring to market. In lieu of promoting discounts, tailor your rewards to your customer wants and think about giving them first access to special events or other offers that give them a sense of exclusivity.

Every organization has its own unique selling points, and your ability to share that story with the masses can—at times—be limited to budget. While some companies might not have access to limitless dollars, all have access to data insights. Use that to drive initiatives and create customized experiences and you can easily super-size the impact of your marketing dollars.

Shardul Kiri is an award-winning creative director, brand strategist, and marketer with a demonstrated history in the hospitality industry. He currently leads a hospitality-focused consultancy helping groups develop new restaurant concepts, building brands, and leading their marketing efforts as a fractional CMO. Shardul began his career working on brand development in a number of the country’s most awarded design studios where he developed strategic and creative solutions for existing and emerging brands. He moved on from these boutique firms to gain more experience and exposure, both in-house and at larger agencies, where he managed the experiential brand and marketing initiatives Amgen,, UnitedHealthcare, Old Navy, and DirecTV among others.

He later co-founded a branding and marketing agency where he oversaw the business development and strategy teams to develop memorable brand experiences for a spectrum of companies ranging from finance, technology, retail, hospitality, consumer packaged goods, and beyond. Clients include Activision, Mercedes-Benz, Kia Motors, Harry & David, Nestlé, Mina Group, Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group, and San Francisco Soup Company. After 10 years of building his own agency, he joined celebrity-chef, Michael Mina’s company, MINA Group, as CMO/VP of Marketing, Sales, and Brand Development. During his tenure at MINA Group, he oversaw the development of 12 new brands, the successful launch of 15 new restaurants, an increase in private dining sales, and the launch of a comprehensive loyalty program that stretched across the MINA Group portfolio. His 20-plus years of developing strategic brand solutions and marketing strategies have directly supported innovative companies navigate transformation and drive profitable growth.

Fast Casual, Fast Food, Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story