We are constantly discovering new ways to use the Internet. For example, from virtually any location customers are now able to place their pizza order directly over the Internet through Pizza Hut’s website, or using an application on their own mobile handheld device.
Social media and group buying
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have emerged as dynamic platforms for customer engagement. Fans or followers opt-in to receive real-time updates and offers, as well as being able to post their own comments and feedback or participate in discussions. Becoming active in social media was a natural progression for Starbucks: “It allowed us to extend the conversations and experiences that started in our stores.”
Group buying sites such as Groupon, WagJag or Dealfind have also become popular with customers, and many foodservice operators are participating with offers of substantial discounts. Views are mixed, however, with some operators doubtful that deal-hunters will turn into repeat customers. Donna Dooher, founder of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in Toronto and Food Network personality, was pleased with her experience but cautions, “Do your research, and make sure you’re getting involved for the right reasons. Consider the long-term fit of these offers with your marketing strategy and identify the expected benefits you hope to achieve.”
Mildred’s Temple Kitchen has many regular guests, and informing them of the Groupon offer through the restaurant’s social marketing sites was a way of rewarding their loyalty. Integration of these various technologies is the key to maximizing their benefits. According to Dooher, “Social marketing is a game changer, especially for independent operators.”
Another application gaining popularity is quick response (QR) codes. QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that encrypt information that customers can access using a free code reader usually available on their smartphone. Originally developed by a Toyota subsidiary to track inventory, QR codes are now used in marketing to provide audiences with fast access to information and to link them to online content from businesses.
An innovative use of QR codes has been developed to support customer loyalty by Vancouver firm RewardLoop. Based on customer purchase data, participating businesses print a unique QR code on a customer’s guest check. Using their smartphone, the customer scans the QR code, which links them to the service provider’s loyalty site and credits them for their purchase. If enough credit has been earned, the customer can immediately redeem their rewards on-site or can request that gift cards be mailed to them.
QR codes can also be used on menus to provide ingredient lists, nutrition information and additional background information about the dish. Opt-in databases can achieve greater response when facilitated with a simple scan of a QR code. The possible uses of this technology are almost endless, and what is most attractive is that there is minimal investment required as it uses existing customer-owned hardware.
Dynamic digital signage
Digital signage is another dynamic opportunity to interact with customers and the broader community. Through screens located throughout a facility, you can share information about your services, menu features, promotions, pictures and video clips, streaming live news updates, weather conditions, and in some situations, video feeds. Many previous concerns with digital signage have been addressed as the costs have dropped, the capabilities have expanded and the programs have become easier to use.
AJ Pickens, sales support manager for Charlottetown-based Screenscape Networks offers, “Managers have complete control over their content. This allows them to update their information in real time and to customize their message to appeal to their target audience.” Being able to provide current information that is constantly updated will hold customers’ attention and provide greater opportunities for engagement.
With so many new technology options available, how can you realize their full benefits?
- Step 1: Research and familiarize yourself with various products and services. It is important to develop a basic understanding of the terminology and capabilities of various technologies before you begin developing plans. Visit company websites, attend trade shows and check out competitors and other businesses to see what they are using.
- Step 2: Talk with your staff to identify employees with strong technology knowledge and experience. Often, staff members are already familiar with new technologies and are more aware of emerging digital trends. These team members can be valuable in helping evaluate, implement and manage new initiatives. Outside partners are also available to help plan and implement your digital strategy such as consultants, PR firms or ad agencies.
- Step 3: Develop a digital marketing strategy as part of the broader marketing plan. Clearly identify the target audience, the available internal resources, program goals and measurable performance standards. This will help evaluate the fit of different technologies, and determine their suitability for the current plan. With so many options, you can’t do everything at once, so it is important to prioritize the programs that will become the foundation for your digital plan. Relationship building is a long-term, ongoing effort, so don’t expect to see significant results with one-time initiatives.
- Step 4: Evaluate potential partners. Contact companies directly, ask for demonstrations and referrals and visit or contact some of their customers to learn about their experiences. Involve your staff and don’t rush to make a decision. Every product has its strengths and limitations so be careful of vendors that exaggerate their claims about the product’s capabilities.
- Step 5: Build organization-wide commitment to the digital marketing efforts. These programs are not passive and require constant and ongoing management and support. You must keep information fresh, provide regular updates, ensure content is relevant to the target audience and respond to comments and questions quickly. Remember that digital marketing is interactive and your audience will ignore your efforts if they are not interested in what you have to say.
- Step 6: Track results and measure performance. How many followers have you added? What percentage of guests joined your loyalty program? How many new customers redeem your group purchase offer? Compare these results to your targets to determine if your message is gaining the desired reach.
Done well, an integrated digital communications program can strengthen existing relationships, build revenues and attract new customers. More than ever, these technologies are cost effective, easier to use and readily accessible to operators of all sizes.
About the author
David Swanston is a Hospitality and Foodservice Consultant, Principal of Focused Industry Training Seminars and is an instructor at major Canadian university business schools. Since 1997 he has helped a wide variety of organizations develop and launch new concepts, turn around troubled operations, and improve sales, profits, controls and efficiency. To learn more about how he can help you improve your sales, profits and performance, contact him directly at 905.331.6115.