Four action steps for optimizing your restaurant’s promotional calendar

Promotional payoff: Four action steps for optimizing your promotional calendar
By Denis Hancock
May 29, 2013

Optimizing your restaurant's promotional calendar

Launching an effective promotional campaign is a critical component of success for most foodservice operations. Few things are as disheartening as a failed promotion that single-handedly drags down the performance of an otherwise successful year. Knowing how you can avoid potential failure and make the most of your promotions could save you thousands of dollars along with a lot of stress.

Here are just a few of the action steps we at BrandSpark have developed over the last 15 years to help you get the most bang for your promotional dollar.

Focus on the core

Make sure you dedicate at least two promotions a year to your core product. It is easy to fall into the logic trap of “everyone already knows we are good at X; we need to convince people we are good at Y and Z,” and dedicate promotional resources accordingly. But brands that ignore their core offering in their promotional calendar typically do so at their own peril. Leadership positions must be protected, and you very likely have a large base of consumers that need regular reminders of how good you are at your core strength. Don’t take your strengths for granted – leverage them. What you do best is often the best way to get people through your doors.

Stick with what works

Find your powerhouse promotion, and ride it as long as you can. You’ll know it when you find it; it will almost always be focused on your core product (ideally with some innovation around it), and sales will go through the roof. If and when you have it, don’t mess with it too much. Consumers will take comfort in the familiarity, and you will likely benefit from extraordinary efficiencies – from word-of-mouth buzz potentially leading to less media investment required, to reusable creative, to a very thankful operations team that doesn’t have to figure out how to effectively deliver yet another new product. The freed-up resources can be re-allocated to promotional periods requiring more attention (and new ideas).

Ride the wave

Ardent Mills Organic 2016

Don’t be afraid to ride a popular wave – particularly when developing something new. Maybe you have a totally innovative menu idea that is the opposite of what everyone else is doing, and everyone is going to want to eat it as soon as you launch it – but probably not. There are few “Steve Jobs” types among us, and the risks associated with trying to be like the late Apple co-founder can be great.

One way to increase odds of success is innovating around major trends in the market. When the annual CRFA Chef Survey reveals “local” as the hot trend for many years running, look to innovate around how you can do “local” differently within your current brand positioning. If you want to try some new “ethnic” themes, start with the list of hot or emerging flavour profiles, determine which ones fit well with your brand, and let your imagination run wild from there. The idea is not to stifle creativity; it’s to provide the structure so that the creative process leads to the best business results possible. 

Test your ideas

Implement a “test and learn” mentality. A strong promotional calendar is not built in a day, and it will need to continually evolve over time. Promotional ideas should be periodically tested among your target consumers before further development resources are committed. Testing these ideas every year or two can often suffice. The objective should be to both provide direction on the ideas most likely to succeed, and insights into optimizing the concepts to ensure success. If resource constraints dictate this is not always possible, at least make sure you go back and test what you’ve done in the past with a thorough promotional sales analysis that isolates the impact of promotions, media, seasonality, competitive activity, and other key drivers of sales. A promotion showing flat sales year over year can be a great thing if the market is in decline. Similarly, a recurring holiday promotion that “seems” to be extremely strong may actually be an underperformer buoyed by the busy season.

If you do test promotions in advance, particularly ones with multiple unique menu items, another opportunity is to go back and look for differences between what consumers said they would do, and actually did. Disconnects can provide insights into which products to lead with in future promotions (in order to get people through the door), and which ones represent upsell opportunities once they get there (helping drive up the average restaurant bill). Optimizing on both fronts is a great way to drive profitable sales growth.

Key factors to account for when evaluating promo success:

  • Overall market performance. A four per-cent, year-over-year lift may be a great promo if the market is flat, and an absolute disaster if it’s growing at a double-digit rate.  
  • Seasonality. If you don’t properly account for busy seasons, good promotions can easily be confused with promotions run during naturally busy times.
  • Media support. Without proper adjustment, promotions run without heavy media support will almost invariably look worse than those that benefit from it.
  • Competitive activity. A great promotion offered at the same time your key competitor runs one will often “look” worse than an OK promotion run when your key competitor is off air.

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About the author

Denis Hancock is Director of Consumer Insights at BrandSpark International, a leading brand, marketing, and product innovation research company with over 10 years experience in the restaurant industry.

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