When it comes to restaurant marketing, great branding is a main ingredient. This can be difficult when you are starting from scratch, and even more challenging when there is no physical in-person experience. Establishing a winning brand requires the fundamentals, but digital-only players must take it up a notch and capitalize on the unique opportunities the new e-commerce-driven restaurant world presents—and then just let loose.

My advice for restaurant operators with digital-only delivery menus is to recognize we’re in the Wild West right now—it’s all new territory, so don’t be afraid to keep experimenting and adjusting. The best marketing guidance is to be agile, be open to change, be authentic, and tell your story.

Let’s start with Marketing 101, with a virtual brand like any other brand, you must first understand its value proposition. For example, if you are offering Miss Mazy’s Amazin’ Chicken for delivery, what is the key benefit that brand delivers better than the competition?  Its value proposition is the thick and juicy homestyle chicken.  In parallel, you must evaluate your consumer target and how they think, their behaviors, their interests, and their pain points. Learn about their consumer journey—what are their needs/motivations and their touchpoints at each stage? Finally, understand the landscape—market dynamics, macro trends, competition, and consumer trends that impact your unique business.

Armed with an understanding of your virtual brand menu items and your customer profile, develop a well-thought-out marketing campaign—but do not view it as a “set it and forget it” plan. Follow the lead of savvy marketers and regularly measure performance and optimize with changes on a weekly or daily basis. The challenges of the fast-moving virtual restaurant business can be an advantage if you play it right.

Best Practices for Digital-only Restaurant Brands:

Go All-In with In-App: Since delivery apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash are the primary vehicle for online ordering, in-app visibility is extremely important and gives you a targeted audience interested in ordering—which may be the best conversion tactic of all. Working with a large virtual restaurant partner like Nextbite, which has well-established relationships and negotiating power, can make the in-app process easier and translate to better placements and promotions.  Make sure you have a smart promotional strategy with strong visibility and provide compelling offers to drive conversion (i.e. free delivery, special deep discount offers, like BOGO (buy one get one), that correlate with relevant events/moments.  Nextbite created a very successful BOGO promo for our Firebelly Wings brand during March Madness—we knew the target audience would be primed and ready for party packs of delicious wings during peak hours of viewing key basketball matchups,  and the promotion helped our restaurant partners increase sales during that time.

Think Local: Since restaurants with digital-only delivery menus don’t have the benefit of a physical storefront, the challenge is to make the restaurant brand come to life and to have it feel as real as possible for your target consumers. One great way to drive awareness is with PR, and in particular targeting local media outlets. At Nextbite, our roll out of George Lopez Tacos was covered extensively in both national and local print media and segments aired on local TV across the country.

For digital-only menus, restaurants may choose to explore OOH (out-of-phome) campaigns which can be highly effective, especially when placed at the center of the delivery radius where there is high foot traffic (e.g. billboards, bulletins, posters, banners, and transit advertising). Direct mail, like Valpak, is very cost-efficient. Direct mail can be hyper-targeted by location, which is very important to reach an audience that’s within a set delivery radius.

Get in the Conversation: In the digital-only world, it makes sense to engage with key online influencers. Having influencers advocate for your delivery-only menu items can be very powerful—they have a built-in audience of loyal followers who are committed and already have earned trust. Provide food samples so they can post more personally about your food and then rave about the overall experience. Authenticity is paramount, so the influencer selection and the interaction should be a natural fit with your brands.

Be a Star: Four- or five -star positive ratings are huge in driving sales in the e-commerce restaurant world, so it is vital to encourage those glowing reviews.  Nextbite works with restaurant partners to ensure delicious and high-quality food (designed with delivery in-mind) so that we can be confident our ratings will be strong. We also provide branded packaging so consumers can remember us and build a relationship with the brand. You might also include an insert card with every order (a personal note thanking the consumer for ordering and asking them to write a review of their experience).

Tell Your Story: Depending on your customer target, many brands have seen sales jump with creative ads across relevant paid digital media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Google. These platforms allow you to build brand awareness and directly drive consumers to order. For Facebook and Instagram, feed ads are useful, as they appear as standard posts to people scrolling, so they’re more of a natural way to serve ads. Stories are also very effective—they offer high engagement for boosting brand awareness.

Have Some Fun: Food should be delicious, but fun as well. Short video ads (6–15 seconds) on TikTok and YouTube are another creative way to reach consumers and develop a deeper connection with your digital-only menu brand. In this medium, you must look and feel authentic, and humor can be especially effective on TikTok. Depending on the menu item, there are several other digital channels to consider, but remember to constantly monitor performance and optimize to determine the best channel mix. These options include SEM (paid search), display ads (including native ads), Google, Yelp, and Nextdoor.

All in all, the marketing possibilities are wide open in the digital-only restaurant business to amp up orders for delivery. The best practices are emerging on a near-daily basis, so saddle up and enjoy the ride.

Alex Canter, CEO and co-founder of Ordermark/Nextbite, is the fourth-generation owner and operator of the world-famous Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles. Alex and his team created Ordermark to help restaurants meet the challenge of online ordering and maximize their revenues in the emerging off premise dining space. A recipient of the Forbes 30 Under 30 award, Alex is a restaurant industry innovator, leading the delivery-optimized model for restaurants today with Nextbite, the leading virtual restaurant company.

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