Drawing on the lessons of 2020, content experts weigh in on what the new year will bring.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic totally upended quick-service restaurants in 2020, there is doubt that the pandemic will continue shaping the foodservice industry in 2021. Among more obvious industry changes, such as restaurant closures, protective gear, and the rise of curbside pick-up, delivery, and the drive thru, the pandemic has also changed one less obvious facet of the business: content.

Here are some critical content lessons that will help restaurant leaders in 2021.

1. Speed isn’t just a drive-thru performance metric.

Prior to the pandemic, marketing, training, and other content teams were able refine content over time. However, rapid changes in the nation’s understanding of COVID-19 and shifting lockdowns and ordinances meant that most brands spent 2020 rolling out location-specific content on accelerated timelines.

In 2021, Sumter Cox, vice president of digital marketing and solutions at Mood Media, thinks restaurants will do the same.

“As many learned through the pandemic, the ability to message quickly and effectively across your footprint or to isolate messaging at a specific location is critical,” Cox says. “As the vaccine rolls out nation-wide, state and local regulations will continue to change. It will be important to update employee communications quickly and effectively in an engaging manner.”

This also means that communication between franchisees and franchisors will be more critical than ever. Not only will franchise stores need to leverage the appropriate corporate content for consistent messaging and cost savings, but John Sheehan, global vice president, experience optimization at Mood Media, says brands will also need to provide franchisees with the flexibility to update their local content as the situation changes.

Digital screens strategically placed in both guest- and employee-facing locations can help content teams keep up with the fast-moving stream of information, because they allow content teams to change messaging with the push of a button.

2. A cohesive, yet diversified content strategy will be a must.

While hyper-local messaging will still be critical, Sheehan says it will be equally as important to develop a cohesive messaging strategy that considers each touchpoint in the customer’s journey in 2021.

In order to communicate messages effectively with both guests and team members, content teams must consider the purpose of each touchpoint and optimal placement of each screen. They need to consider the audience for each area, what messages they need to see, and how much content those individuals can digest during the time they’re interacting with the screen.

Cox says interior guest signage, which might be located in the dining room, or on interior menuboards will display a mixture of promotional, informational, and entertainment content, and interactive kiosks will likely feature product information and customization options.

Meanwhile, employee-facing content might be displayed on digital screens that show critical information for each work area, such as recipes in prep areas, safety instructions in the drive thru, and sanitation procedures at cooking stations.

In place of traditional window clings signs, Cox says restaurants might invest in digital signage for the exterior of the building in order to improve engagement and expand messaging capabilities.

“Prior to March 2020, quick-service restaurants may have had a strategy that was somewhat defined,” Sheehan says. “Drive-thru menus served their own purpose, while in-restaurant solutions provided more time to communicate and entertain customers while they dined. With the forced closure of dine-in, restaurants had to shift all of their content strategy to external touchpoints in the drive thru, losing a large portion of the communication opportunities.”

In the drive thru, however, Cox says signage leading up to the speaker and even at the window has become just as important as menuboards. Sheehan also notes that some brands are exploring AI technology in the drive thru that lets brands customize greetings and offers based on a guest’s order history.

3. Get help when you need it.

It’s no secret that restaurant leaders are busy, and, given the changing nature of the industry amid the pandemic, it’s become difficult for brands to keep up with content demand. In order to make a truly cohesive, seamless content experience, restaurants might need to look at consultation services for planning or even managed content services, such as Mood Media offers.

“Many operators don’t have existing resources and skillsets to manage a more expansive network and content strategy,” Cox says. “Active execution can take performance to the next level, so professionally managed services can serve as an extension of your marketing, operational and human resources teams to ensure more efficient and targeted messaging. It’s all about delivering the right content to the right audience at the right time. Managed services can help ensure you execute efficiently and effectively in a more cost-effective manner.”

To learn more about how you can up your content game in 2021, visit the Mood Media website.

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