Marketing had a big year in 2019. Brands showcased their belief in the adage “Content is King” while chatbots and voice recognition capabilities became major must-haves. Millennials took center stage, pushing for more sustainable menus and restaurant practices. And for restaurants in the quick-service space, what really moved the needle was an expansion of delivery and takeout resources, as well as a variety of crafty and even humorous marketing campaigns. (Here’s looking at you, KFC, with your Colonel Sanders-themed Valentine’s Day bearskin rug).

Marketing today is about providing relevant brand messaging that is delivered to the target audience when, where and how they want it. In order to do this most effectively, brands should take the best practices of local-store marketing practices (LSM) and modern digital marketing for an innovative hybrid approach. Here’s how.

Take What’s Useful and Leave the Rest

Quick-service restaurant brands, perhaps more than those of any other sector, have local-store marketing in their DNA. Think flyers and promotional partnerships with the local high school. In large part, the efficacy of local-store marketing comes from the fact that franchisees have the most insight into their local communities and can therefore adapt their marketing tactics to best align with the surrounding demographics.

Having a finger on the pulse is critical to effective marketing. It’s just that, now, it’s not only local restaurant operators who have access to that insight.

Restaurant brands who stay plugged into the purchasing habits of their consumers, as well as to their online behavior, can learn how to answer those aforementioned concerns: What does my consumer want? Where do they want to be engaged, and how?

With the expansion of digital possibilities and changing consumer behaviors and expectations, a new approach is needed. Marketing which taps the data from consumers but stays immediate—much like the smiling high school kids waving sandwich boards for Local Larry’s Pizza—best positions quick-serves to take the useful elements of both “analog” and digital marketing and discard the rest.

Use Digital Campaigns To Boost Rewards Programs

For one, loyalty programs can and should go digital. Earlier this year, Chipotle launched a new mobile app that incorporated its rewards program. Creating a punch card for frequent users—the old school marketing of yesteryear—isn’t a bad LSM practice; it could just be better. The digital version of this does the same thing and then some: for example, tailoring rewards to an individual user in such a way as to condition consumer behavior (think: “three times the points for purchases on Wednesday!”). Punch card rewards work for customers who frequently pass by their preferred quick-service restaurants in person, but to keep up with today’s world of online ordering and delivery, effective brands need to make sure they are still rewarding all loyal customers by establishing the broadest possible reach. 

Ensure Your Local Digital Marketing Campaign Is Supported by Your Brand’s Digital Footprint

By now, Google is not just a search engine—it’s a verb. It goes without saying that quick-service restaurant table stakes involve brand messaging that’s been crafted with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. But a brand’s online presence shouldn’t be ads only; consumers in 2019 want insight. Brands should spotlight their address, hours of operation, menu (more on that below) rewards and promotions and their overall brand story on their consumer website. 

A brand can purchase all of the fancy marketing resources it wants, but if a customer learns about a brand through LSM and then goes online to find a sloppy website, the marketing effort will have been for naught. The customer will not be able to connect with the brand and they’ll either give up looking or search for another that offers a similar service—and whose information is easier to find.

To that end, brands should ensure their menus are up to date and leverage them as marketing tools. Menus can be valuable marketing assets when they reflect that a brand has heard and responded to consumer demand. In 2019, that demand was a call for plant-based offerings. If a quick-service menu includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options such as veggie burgers, the savvy restaurant marketer will make sure to spotlight this information across all digital touchpoints, from the more modern campaign to LSM efforts to the brand’s website and more.

So what does all this mean for brands heading into the next decade?

Ultimately, quick-service brands can and should mix all of these newer marketing tactics with older ones.

Brands who use a combination of older and newer marketing methods will see maximum results. They can reach wider audiences and cater to both older and newer customers. Yes, there’s a lot of noise to cut through in 2019, but brands that tap the most effective elements of old-school and new-school marketing set themselves up for long-term loyalty by capturing attention with a real world component (old school) and an adaptable digital layer (new school).

All too often, restaurants look at marketing as a challenge instead of an opportunity. Combine the best practices of old school and new school and prepare to win.

Calvin McNeely is the president and co-founder of Runningboards Marketing, a digital mobile advertising company based out of Watertown, New York. McNeely is a lifelong entrepreneur who started his first business from the upstairs bedroom in his parents house at the age of 18 and has owned more than 30 companies since, and has leveraged his experience to help other businesses harness the marriage of hyperlocal physical LSM with the value of digital and analytics.

Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story