Experts share ways restaurants can keep diner attention with targeted messages.

With consumer demand for streamlined restaurant experiences and personalization, it’s no wonder the foodservice industry has flocked to digital ordering, despite a history of being slow to adopt new technologies in the past. However, as more brands have adopted technologies that allow restaurants to deliver targeted messages and streamline ordering, consumers have become wary of how their personal data is gathered and used.

This makes it crucial that when restaurants use targeted promotions that they ensure messages offer just the right level of personalization without crossing into intrusiveness. Here are a few personalization strategies that help restaurants strike the right balance. 

1. Change up the message

Delivering the same ads and marketing messages to users over and over isn’t doing restaurants any favors. Imagine logging into Netflix, and service suggested the same five titles every time. Viewers would eventually lose interest in interacting with Netflix altogether. The same is true of restaurants.

If brands promote the same products every time, consumers eventually stop paying attention. Personalizing messages to recommend a tailored list of products to each consumer can help keep consumer interest. But it’s only effective if restaurants vary the way the messages are phrased, too.

Overusing the same message creates a jarring user experience, says Hope Neiman, chief marketing officer at Tillster, creators of digital ordering solutions that also help restaurants collect and analyze digital ordering data to improve content personalization. She likens it to looking at a shirt on a website and then the same ad follows a user across all the websites they visit. Not only is it unsettling seeing your user data appear across multiple sites, but it’s also intrusive. “By slapping people in the face with the same message over and over, you’re making them not want to visit you again because it looks like you’re crossing a line,” she says.

2. Contextualize messages

An important part of combating this kind of intrusive marketing experience is making each message feel natural. Often, this means not only suggesting products a consumer may like based on order data, but also contextualizing messages.

“It needs to be the right message, in the right place, at the right time,” Neiman says. For example, if a restaurant sends a midday marketing message to a customer who typically orders chicken nuggets and simply mentions that dish in the email, the message won’t seem valuable to a customer. But, Neiman says, by adding more context, such as by saying, “Don’t chicken nuggets sound good for lunch today?” the message not only creates an immediate call to action, but also feels more organic because it has a timely call to action..

3. Do not be overly aggressive, nor too general 

Personalization can go too far. The most well-known example is the man who complained to Target about his daughter receiving maternity advertisements when she wasn’t pregnant. But it turned out, Target’s algorithm had figured out the daughter was pregnant before she told her father based on purchasing patterns.

With order data, it might be possible for restaurants to make some educated assumptions, too, but they have to be careful not to cross a line into creepiness.

“If someone tends to order delivery on Tuesdays and usually includes kids’ meals, my guess is they have a child at home and don’t want to cook,” Neiman says. “Saying ‘Give yourself a night off cooking for the family,’ would be a lot better received than a more invasive message like, ‘Your kid is playing soccer, and you don’t have time to cook.’”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if emails or other LTOs are pushed toward customers that seem to have no relevance to their life––say, a vegetarian is offered a special deal on a beef dish––or if you message too frequently, consumers will stop paying attention.

“We often tell our clients that sometimes less communication is more,” Neiman says. “You need to make sure you have something new to share each time you touch a customer, and it doesn’t always have to be personalized. But when you do choose to personalize, it should be tied to something that matters or reflects why they should feel connected to the brand.”

For example, Neiman says if one customer orders the same chicken sandwich every time they come to the restaurant, while the second customer has shown a propensity for ordering new and different menu items, those users should receive different offers.

“For the first consumer, we might say, ‘We know you like chicken, so maybe you’ll like branching out and trying this other chicken item,’” Neiman says. “It’s out in the open––this is why we are offering this to you. It will feel personalized, and thoughtful. While with the second person, we might say, ‘Be the first to try this new chicken item.’ Again, it’s appealing directly to that customer in a way they will connect with.” 

4. Find the right partner

As with any other tool in the restaurant industry, an investment in personalized marketing technology only pays off if it’s used effectively.

“It’s one thing to offer digital tools to measure the success of ordering. But you shouldn’t forget you have to find a way to use it to bring people back to the brand,” Neiman says. “At Tillster, we understand ordering data and use it in a way that advances all the parts of the business. Ask your partner if they’re able to do the same.”

To learn more about how your brand can personalize its messaging to more effectively reach customers, visit the Tillster website.

By Peggy Carouthers

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