‘Creators’ Offer Restaurant Marketers a Powerful New Lever

    Brands continue to search for an authentic voice.

    Charli D’Amelio.
    Dunkin’ and social media mega-star Charli D’Amelio first made their long-brewing relationship official in 2020 when Charli’s go-to Dunkin’ Cold Brew order was officially named “The Charli.”

    One of restaurant marketers’ surest paths to achieving cultural relevancy is to help consumers find their “tribe.” The notion of building a brand people will be happy belonging to the herd of. While social media has its frustrations, this is one arena it’s opened the flood gates for. Not only can restaurants listen and engage with customers more directly than ever, but they can tap into the voices people already tune into. You can connect with a “tribe” by finding its leader, so to speak.

    READ MORE: So You Want to Be a Lifestyle Brand?

    As offbeat as that might sound, it’s happening at a rapid clip these days. Whether it's “creator content” or “influencer marketing," the main goal stays the same—discover an authentic voice.

    Adam Dornbusch, CEO of EnTribe, an SaaS platform for user-generated content, chatted with QSR about this opportunity and how the restaurant industry can craft relationships amid a changing landscape.

    1. Firstly, tell us about EnTribe and your role with the company.

    I am a digital media executive with 20-plus years of experience in building domestic and international businesses. I have built scalable content communities for GoPro, Current TV, Tribeca Film, Jaman, Access 360 Media, Starz/Encore, and Ripe Digital. Not finding any scalable CRM solution for creator communities I decided to build one.

    EnTribe is a content creator platform spun out of GoPro and incubated within Google to create the most secure UGC (user-generated content) acquisition process. EnTribe makes it easy for any brand to reward creators for their creativity when they participate in content challenges. Creating a one-to-one relationship with creators from your community and rewarding them with discount codes or cash creates a flywheel of authentic high-quality content production aligned with your marketing plan and subsequently drives repeat purchases and loyalty.

    2. How have you helped restaurant brands in particular?

    EnTribe has helped restaurant brands by developing their UGC programs and helping them better engage with their customers to build lasting relationships. In the case of one restaurant, we developed a QR code for their menu, which brought customers to a web page where they could answer questions about their dining experience, and upload photos of their experience to win a gift card/coupon code. Because the lighting in many restaurants isn’t conducive to capturing high-quality photos, we also provided customers with tips and tricks to ensure their photos come out well in a restaurant setting and can be used in marketing initiatives.

    3. So let’s turn to marketing today. Would you say it’s safe to say the day of the restaurant mascot, or spokesperson (Subway, Papa John’s, etc.) is behind us?

    I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily behind us, since a lot of TV commercials are still using these characters. Earlier this year, Dominos brought back their 1980s cartoon villain, The Noid, for television commercials and in a mobile game. Rather than completely turning their back and abandoning these characters, quick-service restaurants are shifting their focus beyond TV ads, and onto social media platforms to connect with younger consumers. For example, Burger King, who is known for their King mascot, recruited celebrities like Nelly, Lil Huddy, and Anitta to promote their “Keep It Real” meals. With the rise of social media platforms like TikTok, and the decrease in cable subscriptions since 2015, more restaurateurs are realizing the value in featuring content from creators to maximize exposure and brand recognition.

    4. Why do consumers respond better to “creators?” And how can restaurants leverage this reality in a smart way?

    “Creators” provide a breath of fresh air to the social media landscape, which has suffered influencer fatigue for quite some time. Consumers have been inundated with sponsored posts from celebrities or influencers who have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers that show a very staged and outwardly promotional image of a brand’s product/service/experience, which consumers are now marketing-savvy enough to understand that this individual likely doesn’t use/consume in their real life. This results in loss of trust of that endorsement and brand, and can turn consumers off to the brand entirely. In the fast food industry, consumers respond better to creators on social media since they’re real-life people.

    In McDonald's case, Ronald McDonald and the other characters resonate better with children. To capitalize on this for adults, McDonald's introduced meals for celebrities like Travis Scott and BTS. Dunkin' had their Charli D’Amelio cold foam drink. But looking beyond celebrities, there is also a great opportunity to tap into everyday customers to capture their experiences with the brand and use them to strengthen existing customer relationships and build new ones. By implementing a UGC program to secure assets from their own community who might not necessarily have a large following, but the content is authentic and real, creates potential for quick-service brands to connect on a deeper level with other networks of followers, brands should prioritize user generated content.

    5. What are some best practices of influencer marketing? How do you make sure the creator stays on message and is the right fit?

    Some best practices for working with creators is communicating exactly what you’re looking for from them. Make sure instructions for uploading photos to either social media or a web portal are clear. If you’re planning on sharing content via social media or for marketing purposes, ensure to have explicit consent from the owner to use their content. You can even provide tips to enhance lighting or to make sure the brand's name is in the photo.

    The beauty of UGC is it allows brands to be a bit picker with their content. Rather than the traditional influencer model where brands hire influencers to create content for them, multiple creators can submit content for use. The traditional influencer model is flawed in the sense the brand has no control over what the creator produces, and as mentioned before, it oftentimes is viewed as inauthentic. UGC changes this narrative by allowing restaurants to sort through assets and determine which submissions best suit their needs. Investing in a software management tool is beneficial for any brand, big or small, to avoid getting overwhelmed and risk rights clearance issues.

    6. What are some potential pitfalls?

    Not every submission will be perfect, and not everyone will submit content. This can be easily avoided by making sure all customers know about the content creation program and giving clear instructions to submit content. For example, quick-service restaurants can have a QR code on their menu or receipt. Cashiers can inform customers of the campaign at points of sale. Providing incentives for customers to take photos of their dining experience is a great way to capture the essence of the brand and encourage recurring sales.

    7. More broadly, how can restaurants make sure they’re speaking to consumers more personally, and less on the mass-marketing of old (coupons in the mailbox)?

    User-generated content is a great tool for marketers to utilize to establish deeper relationships with their current and prospective communities. Through tapping into an existing community of creators, brands can encourage them to post content featuring their food and provide incentives like vouchers, coupons or rewards points. With restaurants like McDonalds ramping up their loyalty program, tapping into creators to share content and providing rewards is a great way to encourage more users to sign up for the program. 

    8. What is the next step in this journey?

    As social media platforms evolve, so will brands' strategies to connect with their consumers. As long as social media is around, brands can utilize UGC as a timeless, cost-effective way to tap into their communities of creators and to build brand trust and loyalty. To better engage with customers, restaurants should keep a pulse on industry trends and strategize creative ways to encourage users to participate in UGC campaigns. If you’re interested in looking into UGC for your restaurant, a great next step is to take the time to research different SaaS softwares to help manage campaigns and sort through content.