By the Numbers: Why online marketing is more important than ever

By Jeff Dover

Now more than ever, it’s important for restaurateurs to get into online marketing — luckily, it’s easier than it looks. According to Monetate, a marketing software provider, more than one billion restaurant visits in the United States are influenced by online marketing. We came to a similar conclusion at fsSTRATEGY, as well. Our research found that our clients and competitors with large social media followings effectively drove sales using social media promotions.

In particular, online marketing caters to Millennials, who dine out more than any other demographic in Canada and are less likely to see advertisements in traditional media like print and television. And while different companies have reported different numbers on the various nuances of social media marketing, they all tell the same story.

Survey Says

YP Marketing Solutions, the Yellow Pages’ business marketing division, conducted a survey of social media users and found that 37 per cent research brands, products or services prior to making a purchase. A study by Social Media Monthly found that 75 per cent of Facebook users have the platform when deciding where to eat, while Mashable, a digital media company, reported that 49 per cent of users search Facebook to find restaurants. Empathica, a customer experiment management firm, reported that 72 per cent of consumers have used Facebook to make restaurant or retail decisions.

It doesn’t stop with the search, either. Restaurant Marketing indicates that 19 per cent of restaurant customers, including 47 per cent of Millennials, use social networking sites while eating their meals. TrackMaven, a marketing analytics firm, notes that Instagram is particularly popular with restaurant brands, which isn’t surprising given visual quality of restaurants and food.

Social media-adjacent online reviews also have a bearing on success. According to Foodbeast, a popular food blog, a half-star difference on Yelp can impact sales by 27 per cent. Bright Local, a digital marketing firm, indicate consumers are more likely to read online restaurant reviews than any other industry, and that 84 per cent of consumers trust them as much as personal recommendations — and even professional critics. According to OpenTable, 25 per cent more people read reviews on sites like OpenTable, Yelp and TripAdvisor than reviews by professional critics, and 60 per cent of consumers read reviews prior to eating a meal away from home.

Everybody’s a Critic

While customer reviews are ostensibly peer to peer, they’re also a valuable proxy for monitoring customer satisfaction and a means toward mitigating dissatisfaction. Operators need to respond to negative reviews in a non-defensive way, indicating steps taken to correct the problem. If you haven’t done so already, go online, take ownership of your Yelp entry and add as much information as it will allow and verify that any online listings for your restaurant are accurate (remember, these likely exist on multiple platforms even if you didn’t set them up).

Digital marketing is a new frontier for restaurants, and operators need to familiarize themselves with it. There’s abundant data shedding light on what’s effective and what’s not, but all of it drives at the same story: Millennials are particularly responsive to online marketing. As the generation that dines out the most, they’re the ones restaurateurs should covet. Luckily, the barrier to entry is low, and a strong social media presence, online promotions and some due diligence applied to third party sites can set any operators’ effort apart from the rest.

Jeff Dover is a Principal with fsSTRATEGY Inc. fsSTRATEGY is a niche consulting firm specializing in strategy in the hospitality industry with an emphasis on the foodservice sector. For additional information on fsSTRATEGY services, contact us at [email protected] or 416-229-2290.