Restaurants Can Separate Themselves with Creative Marketing Programs

    The CEO of a fast casual on what it takes to emerge from the crowd.

    Your Pie employee handing food to someone in their car.
    Your Pie
    Restaurateurs would do well to keep in tune with their competitors, pay attention to what is working in tangential markets, and rely upon their franchisees to update them about what food items are most popular in their areas.

    Marketing programs and strategies for restaurants are constantly evolving. Most restaurants are now conducting research on the competition several times a year. This can mean going out into the field, examining other restaurant operations, as well as taking a deep dive into digital strategies. While this is a common practice for larger brands, it may not be feasible for smaller restaurants who simply lack the time or resources.

    No matter the size or scope of your enterprise, restaurateurs can identify direct competitors, those in the overall food service industry and other successful retailers to spot marketing ideas that are being executed successfully. Sometimes, all it takes is one trendy idea. Given the recent cache around their fried chicken sandwich, you would think Popeyes invented the concept, even though direct competitors feature similar items. That’s excellent marketing.

    Restaurateurs would do well to keep in tune with their competitors, pay attention to what is working in tangential markets, and rely upon their franchisees to update them about what food items are most popular in their areas. While we don’t want to directly copy others, we can generate ideas by seeing what is working for them.

    Your Pie is a smaller brand, and we take that into consideration when planning our marketing programs. For us, and many other restaurants, the focus is on customer accessibility and convenience. Research shows that diners are currently most concerned with how they can enjoy their food when they want it, at great value and with great satisfaction. So, our marketing endeavors appeal to these desires.

    From a strategic perspective, it makes good business sense to take a multi-pronged approach. This can include limited time offers (LTOs), menu updates, social outreach, etc. No matter the size of your restaurant, your marketing strategies should align with the nature of your brand with the goal of driving sales and boosting engagement.

    LTOs are a great way to offer something new and exciting to the customer without breaking the bank. Even if customers are long-time loyalists, they appreciate fresh and enticing specials. The way you present your LTOs is key—it needs to be relevant and on-trend. It should be accessible and spark interest by appealing to the flavors your diners love while offering something a little bit different.

    The strategy behind concocting the perfect LTO applies to imagery, product naming, and appropriate price point. When Your Pie launched our Big Pizza Special, we utilized an SMS chat bot to interact with customers in the loyalty program to invite them to try one of our new larger pies. By using methods and channels that best meet the customers’ needs, Your Pie and other restaurants are able to identify purchase behavior and convert that into our next sale.

    The digital experience has become a major factor in how customers judge a brand. Close to 50 percent of our diners use online ordering and third-party delivery, so the brand must adapt its marketing approach accordingly. Without in-person feedback, many brands have partnered with third party services to better gauge customer feedback and learn about both positive and negative dining experiences.

    The cost of digital marketing isn’t inconsequential, but the benefits are outstanding. While digital impressions, click-thru rates and other traditional metrics are great, more cutting-edge vendors are helping track real-time growth. In addition to monitoring conversions, the digital reach extends beyond traditional social media platforms and can access anyone with a smart phone. When you are able to track sales and the conversion on return for advertising cost, every dime is well spent.

    With marketing programs, we aren’t just quantifying customers and sales numbers; we truly want to give the diners something they love. Marketing approaches must skirt a fine line between staying on-trend and going overboard with a passing fad. Luckily, we can rely on data to help us make executive decisions. Taking into account current trends and cravings, product development narrows down options to what will make a successful menu promotion. Digital and in-person campaigns to highlight a new or special addition then go to work getting the word out.

    The pandemic has definitely shifted the way that restaurants are thinking about marketing. Prior to 2020, most restaurants received about 80 percent of their customers through dine-in service. Now, consumer behavior is almost strictly measured digitally. Now, while trying to get diners to return for an in-house experience, we must be mindful of their changing needs.

    Some families who previously only dined out once or twice a month are now relying on takeout or delivery on multiple weeknights. Other customers are foregoing their standby favorites in search of new flavors. Whatever the case may be, digital engagement is essential to promote and sustain your brand. 

    Dave McDougall is the CEO of Your Pie.