Consumers are increasingly opting to dine out, spending more at restaurants than years before. Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, restaurants and eateries are the heart of any city.

National chains and franchises are integral members of their local communities—from employing local residents, sourcing local ingredients and even implementing community-related promotions and deals.

The one area however where many of these businesses fail is marketing their ties to the local community in their creative content and campaigns. It’s well documented that consumers process visuals faster than plain text, and in today’s digital world, consumers expect more visual content than ever before.

Restaurants know they need to connect with their audiences through visuals in the cities and neighborhoods where they’re dining. But this can be prohibitive for brands with a national presence, who are challenged to both relate to their local markets and maintain a brand-safe and uniform aesthetic.

Quick-service and fast-casual establishments of all sizes are faced with the herculean task of understanding their audiences across every platform and every local market. They need to know enough to create compelling, relevant content to attract and engage with potential customers. This requires brand marketers to prioritize a combined national and hyperlocal strategy for social and digital marketing.

There are countless mediums through which to connect on the hyperlocal level—social channels like Facebook, email and digital marketing, etc. Instagram, in particular, has had a heavy influence on the food industry over the last few years. From discovery to micro-influencers to UGC, the image-based social platform has become a major player for restaurants of all sizes, making it a critical piece of the marketing strategy. And with each platform comes its own set of understood audience rules, quirks, preferences, and protocols. While brand marketers can arm their franchisees and partners with a bank of visual content that reflects the brand at-large, many struggle to resonate on a local level.

Fear not. There are several ways to make this work at scale:

Embrace local flavor. The most daunting part of national campaigns that hinge on engaging local markets is deploying on-brand content at-scale, world-wide. Take Johnny Rockets as an example. The company wanted more visual content to boost brand engagement and support marketing promotions in specific locations.

With more than 400 locations across 32 different countries and only a global team of 40, the classic All-American brand knew obtaining these custom creative visuals is not a “Do-It-Yourself” model. It’s impossible for them to coordinate photoshoots across multiple locations.

With stores in countries like Brazil and Italy, Johnny Rockets tapped into our network of creatives across the world to shoot over 575 different outdoor images across the U.S., Costa Rica, Italy, Korea, Mexico, and Dubai without needing the Johnny Rockets’ team present onsite.

Different dishes for different palates. Not every dish can be presented on the same plate, similarly not all content served to customers will resonate on every platform ubiquitously. Consumers are savvy and will react negatively to content that looks incongruous or out-of-place. According to a Time Inc. study, 89 percent of consumers believe brands that publish custom visual content break through the noise of deafening social news feeds.

Even when designed for a hyperlocal market, not all content should be created equal, but all content should feel consistent with the business identity.

Taco Bell, one of the most prolific quick-service brands on social media, developed different “personalities” for each channel. Looking at its most recent campaign where they launched a Taco Bell Hotel, the posts on Instagram feature trendy photos featuring influencer-esque vibes and bright fun colors.

On Facebook, however, Taco Bell focuses more on texts and articles to share news their readers can use.

Mix in a generous portion of audience insights as your main ingredient. In order for a campaign to be successful, restaurant marketers must have a strong understanding of their target audience and diners.

Are they boomers or Gen Z? Do they respond better to content that’s quirky and sarcastic, or wholesome and inspirational? A great place to start is by analyzing social media data. From post engagement to audience insights, social platforms have a treasure trove of data for businesses to learn and use.

Local restaurant branches can also simply ask their diners by using short surveys. Feedback cards or follow-up surveys are effective methods for businesses to better understand what brought customers in the door and what they wish to see more of from this particular establishment.

Quick-serve, franchises, fast-casual chains, local eateries … a restaurant’s identity is constructed from every branded visual element it uses to interact with consumers. Despite the growth of social platforms bringing people closer together than ever, the physical and hyperlocal constraints of consumer culture remain in place. Custom content that’s bold, unique, locally relevant and tells a compelling and relatable story is more likely to break through the clutter when employed at scale.

Grant Munro is the Senior Vice President of Shutterstock Custom (formerly Flashstock Technology), a custom content creation platform for the world’s leading brands. In his role as CEO and Co-Founder of Flashstock, Grant has helped more than 250 enterprise marketing teams, including AB InBev, L’Oréal, Nestlé, and McDonald’s amongst many others, change the way they think, develop, and source creative content at scale. Grant and his team have built a new breed of technology in the Content-as-a-Service category that leverages a global marketplace with SaaS-enabled capabilities. Prior to starting Flashstock, Grant was the SVP Product at a leading social media management company and a product manager at Nokia. He has worked with a number of brands in a senior capacity including Coca-Cola, JP Morgan Chase, and Amway. Grant holds an MBA from the University of Toronto (Rotman), and a BSc in Computer Science from the University of British Columbia.

Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story