Restaurant Marketing – Tout Your Value Not Your Brand

For restaurants, online brand presence is everything…and so is the food and the service and the cleanliness and the decor and the vibe and let’s not forget about the location. People are eating meals away from home more today than ever before. However as more restaurants open each year, competition for those dollars is fierce. It always has been and probably always will be considering how elusive restaurant success can be, but online brand presence takes the cake for the most important marketing element to get right.
The beating we’re all taking about having our noses in our screens for giant chunks of the day doesn’t mean everyone is staring into the abyss or living in ‘The Upside Down‘ world. We all know how fast and readily available information is as well as the many ways it comes to us. TVs and newspapers used to bring us our information, but now our phones buzz with as many alerts as we’re willing to put up with and the mere act of opening a browser opens the marketing floodgates. For over a decade we have generally been able to find what we want with a few keystrokes…provided we know what we’re looking for. However, as fast as “Google” became a verb, targeted searching is now vying for attention with direct online marketing. It has become almost hopelessly inevitable that we will not be able to hide who we are from “the internet” (since we don’t know precisely who is behind all of this) as it gets ever-more savvy about anticipating our interests and behaviors before we even know we’re looking for it. Purchase histories, sites viewed, merchandise searched for, topics explored, and what we do with the information we gather – all get churned together in a mixing bowl to create a special cake tailored to each of our tastes. It’s like that lemon cake my Mom makes that I used to ask for at birthday time. It’s a mirror of ourselves based on our habits, desires and our demonstrated preferences. Within 24 hours of posting this blog I fully expect to see ads for lemon extract and Duncan Hines lemon cake pop up on a YouTube side car (even though my Mom surely squeezes her own lemons and harvests her own wheat to make MY cake…which by typing that, will now spawn ads for fresh produce and farm equipment).


We can all sing some famous jingles and recognize powerful logos from our youth that were seared into our auditory and visual cortexes, expertly crafted to achieve what the mad men may have called “brand awareness” – theory being that if you see and/or hear something frequently, you’ll remember it. And by remembering it, you’ll eventually succumb to the urge to buy one of their products. The Oscar Meyer Weiner song, ”Plop Plop – Fizz Fizz”, 1-877-Kars-4-Kids (actually nothing makes me want to donate a car LESS than when I hear this jingle), Target’s bullseye logo, the Golden Arches, Apple’s apple, the Nike swoosh. Brand awareness was – and still is – an incredibly important component of marketing and advertising. However, the flow of quick information tailored to the millions of individual screens that are online at any one second of any day renders a brand-mark-heavy strategy anemic.


With each visit to a site we are systematically marketed to while our next click is tracked, measured, sorted and stored as a predictive attribute. I actually prefer this kind of tailored marketing to TV ads with clunky placement of commercials for Doritos and Bud Light just because I like to watch football (I like neither Doritos nor Bud Light). If I could watch that same live game on YouTube, the action would probably be interrupted with only ads that are relevant to me while the side car and banners would show me ads for Jeep accessories and guitar strings (two of my recent searches).


If there are 100 Million users online right now, then there are 100 million data stews being cooked up and flavored to each individual’s tastes. Now that it’s possible for businesses to promote specific uses for products to the specific audience that will use the product that way, businesses that don’t want to get passed by need to adopt this approach. Restaurants are not immune from this and must – like any business with something to sell – explain why their goodies are better or more relevant than someone else’s. This takes us back to the food and the service and the cleanliness and the decor and the vibe and the location. Restaurants are at an advantage. When it comes to eating out (versus shopping for toothpaste), the decision is more complex with many chords to strike. For example, a message can be created to tout a kid’s menu or family discount special – say, “Kid’s Eat Free Wednesday!” and that message will be picked up by a soccer Dad who doesn’t have time to cook. That same restaurant may have an incredible collection of vegan dishes that might be interesting to someone who recently explored vegan diets. A third message might be crafted to tout the restaurant’s commitment to cleanliness and sanitation, effectively targeting consumers with demonstrated behaviors consistent with someone who prioritizes this in their lives. Soccer Dad never sees the vegan message; Vegan Explorer never sees the Wednesday special; and Germaphobe never worries about germy kids or commercial-cleaner-resistant vegans…so the restaurant resonates with all three customers without irritating one group or the other (at least not until after they’ve committed to a purchase). Try creating one logo or jingle that will resonate with all three consumers at the same time.


Restaurants can broaden their appeal quite easily through targeted messaging. Yesterday’s websites tried to capture and consolidate all services and uses into one place as a sort of “one stop”, comprehensive collection of services, promotions and consumer use occasions. This new “micro-ad” strategy actually makes it dangerous to consolidate all of the uses and benefits into one place. At minimum, every restaurant should absolutely have a website…but its purpose has changed to more of a high level, online store front. Customers can, of course, find restaurants through direct searches – say, Googling “Chic-fil-A” – but traffic is increasingly coming from breadcrumbs clicked while searching for or viewing something else. That blurb about “Kids Eat Free Wednesday!” – by virtue of its relevance and resonance – gets discovered and followed by budget-conscious parents looking for weekday meal solutions. Clicking that breadcrumb will take the visitor to more details about that particular deal and another click will land them on the main website…where that Wednesday deal may not appear anywhere on the site in order to preserve broader appeal to followers of other breadcrumbs. When visitors get to the website they’re potentially already familiar enough with the offering to explore more decision making data like locations near them, the menu, how to make a reservation (if applicable) and some feel-good company philosophy stuff. The trail to the website gives them more information about their specific need than the website itself.
Now more than ever, restaurants will benefit from investment in micro-ads crafted to target many different uses. This can be done with blogs, pay-per-click, press releases, Instagram banners, Facebook ads, LinkedIn articles and promotions, and a few dozen other mediums that will push those messages to the right people. I can hear the sighs: “Dang it! Another thing to spend money on!” Tut tut. The message here is, spend the same money, just spend it differently. And if you’re not engaged in marketing at all, you’re standing flat footed while the competition passes you by.
Ray Camillo – Founder & CEO, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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