Promotions | December 2013 | By Christa Gala

Your Other Storefront

Brand websites do as much for marketing as restaurants do, making online upgrades a high priority for operators.

Fast food companies like Red Mango work to constantly update their online sites.
Red Mango redesigned its website multiple times to keep up with consumer preferences. red mango / qsr magazine

Dan Kim, founder and chief concept officer of frozen yogurt chain Red Mango, spearheaded a relaunch of his company’s website two years ago. The site was refreshingly simple and easy to use.

Even still, Red Mango is in the midst of another website overhaul.

“We’re going to simplify a lot of things and flatten the hierarchy,” Kim says. “We’re going to make use of vertical scrolling. We just don’t want to have that many layers between what we want to tell customers. Eighty percent of our visitors just go to the store locator; that’s the No. 1 thing they use the site for. No. 2 is menu; No. 3 is the feedback and contact form.”

Website capabilities have changed a lot in a short period of time. Just five to seven years ago, flash graphics and animation were what brands like Red Mango incorporated. But that approach became showy and hampered functionality, Kim says, and now many companies are revisiting their websites to meet consumers’ evolving demands.

“People weren’t coming to the website to be impressed by the brand,” Kim says. “They wanted to know the basic things: who you were, what you sold.”

That goal hasn’t changed. But consumers’ needs—how they want to access information, through which device, and how quickly—are constantly changing.

Aaron Allen, a global restaurant consultant and founder of Aaron Allen & Associates, says restaurants should treat their websites like storefronts instead of as static brochures. “More than 30 percent of consumers now will go to a restaurant’s website before they ever go to the restaurant,” he says.

Some of the world’s biggest brands don’t have a good understanding of websites, he adds.

“They just don’t really know what they should be doing, where to start, what’s most important, or what’s least important,” Allen says.

“There are a lot of technology companies preying on the restaurant industry. This company comes in and sounds confident and uses some buzzwords, and so a lot of [operators] just apprehensively go along with it. They feel like they don’t have the time to keep up with it all. They just need to have someone else do it.”

Allen recommends quick serves spend 5–10 percent of an overall marketing budget on their Web presence. The average price among his clients is about $25,000 per year.

He says companies should consider completely revamping their websites every three years or so.

“Basically, the website is a digital manifestation of the physical brand,” Allen says. “With a typical restaurant, you’re supposed to do a renovation every five to seven years—that’s the rule of thumb. You put 1.5 percent of your sales in a side budget, and every five to seven years you use that money to do a pretty substantial overhaul or renovation. With digital, you can make these changes much more cost effectively with less time.”

Several companies in quick service are sticking successfully to a continual website evolution plan, Allen says.

Some are also remembering a very important component to company websites: building an easy way for franchisees to access company materials.

“That back-end functionality can save a lot of time and money, that franchisees are able to log in and download assets or new materials or manuals, even training, from the back end,” Allen says.

Melissa Wilson, a principal with research and consulting firm Technomic, says the best quick-service websites don’t keep customers waiting. They also don’t put up obstacles or barriers like surveys that must be answered before a user can progress to the next screen, she adds.

“That could impact your brand decision for that day,” Wilson says of consumers stumbling upon such a thing.

In other words, if customers have to jump through too many hoops, they’ll give up and go somewhere else, she says. After all, fast food is supposed to be fast.

Moe’s Southwest Grill is one example of a quick serve that’s doing a good job with its website, she says.

“They’re integrating technology that tells you where the nearest location is as soon as you click on the site,” Wilson says. Burger King, Arby’s, Chipotle, McAlister’s Deli, and Wingstop also earn her accolades.

“What I’ve observed is a much greater emphasis on putting the food front and center,” she says. “I see a lot more integration of limited-time offerings into the site. The big thing is social media. Just six or seven years ago, it barely existed.”

Social media has indeed changed the way companies think about marketing. For example, it’s no longer the case that only one person on staff needs to have a grasp on marketing efforts, Allen says.

“The reality is that every executive, especially in the marketing department, but definitely in the corner office, needs to have some basic understanding of digital and social media marketing,” he says. “Some studies show up to 40 percent of budgets are now being allocated to digital and social media.”

Wilson says successful website redesigns make information like location, menu, and contact details easy to find; integrate multiple social media aspects; and fully embrace e-commerce, ensuring customers can order online or at least buy a gift card.

For guidance in how to successfully overhaul a website, Allen says, operators should look at pizza operators, who are pros at using websites for e-commerce.

“Some of the [quick-service] guys are putting in millions of dollars. It makes sense,” he says, adding that online ordering brings in nearly $1 billion annually for some chains.

No matter what a quick serve puts into its website, Allen says, operators must remember that ongoing maintenance is a must if they want to provide customers with a positive brand experience and encourage a visit to the store.

“It should be thought of like a garden; you have to be out there every day pruning to keep it looking beautiful,” he says. “You can go away for three or four days, but when you come back, there’s going to be some clean up. That’s the level we’ve gotten to with websites and the social media side of it. There’s got to be a tweet or a post every day, and typically those feed through the site.”


I love how Aaron Allen points out "Some are also remembering a very important component to company websites: building an easy way for franchisees to access company materials. That back-end functionality can save a lot of time and money, that franchisees are able to log in and download assets or new materials or manuals, even training, from the back end,We are consulting more and more with QSR's and Fast Casual Restaurants about the ROI that will happen by automating the back end for store associates, franchise owners and so forth. There are myriad benefits: 1. Brand consistency across the enterprise 2. Agility so that localized marketing takes place at the franchisee local level allowing for things like co branding and community focused co branding 3. Overall productivity allowing store associates more time in customer facing activities which ultimately will grow sales

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