Surprise me!

In order to open their wallets and pocketbooks, today’s timid consumers want something special. We’re not talking about a surprising discount, but a surprising call to action. If recession-wary consumers are going to let the moths out of their coin purses, it better be good. Creativity is the key.

Hispanics muy bueno

The Hispanic influence in the United States is growing. The future of our nation and the restaurant industry depends on what happens to this population. How your brand markets itself effectively to this group of growing influential customers is key in the years to come.

In pursuit of the social customer

In a recent marketers’ survey, when asked which departments are currently involved in social media, 90 percent of participants pointed to marketing. Public relations followed with 64 percent. Sales showed a strong presence with 46 percent, and customer service also made the list with a solid 39 percent. I found it interesting that investor relations made an official appearance on the list. Even with 8 percent, it’s a telling sign of things to come.

In 2017, 75 percent of marketers plan to increase usage of social media, and 19 percent will remain at current levels. In the mobile arena, 62 percent of respondents will use more apps for the iPhone and Droid, while 21 percent of marketers will develop apps at current levels. Sixty-one percent of marketers will increase their use of microblogging sites like Twitter and Yammer, and 27 percent will stay the course.

In addition, 55 percent of marketers will increase video production and distribution with YouTube, Vimeo and other sites, while 31 percent will continue as is. Brands will increase their focus on top-tier blogs to reach customers and peers by 52 percent, with 35 percent staying constant.

2017 is a pivotal year for social media. While many brands believe in its importance, there is still a great deal to learn. What’s clear, however, is just how early brands are in this growth curve. Social consumers are expanding beyond the Millennial demographic, as social-savvy individuals are migrating from the edge to the center of technology adoption and prowess. As they do, social networks and new-media apps and services become their platforms of choice.

All signs, according to this study, point toward greater investment in time, money and resources to better understand and excel in social media.

New day-parts and revenue channels

There will be a greater focus on developing new day-parts for restaurant marketers. Breakfast is still one of the fastest-growing day-parts in the industry today. However, it is one of the hardest day-parts for convincing consumers to switch to your brand or to change their morning eating habits. When we opened a new Noah’s Bagels, it took at least five appetizing offers to get consumers to change their behavior and make Noah’s their morning ritual.

Catering is not a new revenue channel, but with today’s social-media applications, catering is a whole new ballgame for restaurant marketers. Today’s savvy restaurant marketers are using online catering resources and capturing orders they never could before.

Offering products online, bottling signature items and partnering with grocery retailers is a must for restaurant marketers. Huge brand awareness is garnered by having your brand in the grocery store freezer or bottled-products sections. Taking your signature menu item and partnering with a food manufacturer to produce proprietary products is a channel worth exploring.

Integrate, integrate, integrate

Integration of all marketing communications is essential to garnering the best results. For example, if you plan to introduce a new menu item, how will you communicate that to drive awareness and trial? It’s about consumer touch points. Every place a guest can see, hear or touch has to be part of the marketing plan. From the e-mail blast, to the Facebook post, and tweet, coupon drop and advertising, all have to work together to create a louder voice.

Communicate sustainability, health and ingredients

Consumers want to know the source of their food. Those brands that can articulate their ingredients and product sourcing are winning big with consumers. Marketers must weave multiple messages to include social responsibility, recycling and product sourcing, and to share calories, the amount of sodium and more. Creating communications to get “credit” with guests is imperative today.

Fast casual is the name of the game

Today’s consumers want better-quality food but without taking too much time away from their busy schedules. The fast-casual segment has changed the way people eat, and marketers of these brands are the ones to watch. If your brand is a casual-dining restaurant, find ways to offer a faster service for your guests, such as boxed lunches to go, beef up your catering sales team, and try a quick-lunch menu to see if you can capture some of those guests with little time but appreciate your brand and food.

Responsible marketing

Today’s marketers need to be socially responsible. With soy-based inks and recycled-paper products all readily available, all point of purchase materials should be printed using recyclable materials whenever possible. Consumables such as cups, tray liners and other logoed to-go packaging needs to be made with recycled materials for today’s green and sustainable-savvy consumers.

Clutter and Gutter Test

With so many restaurant brands for consumers to choose, the most important test a restaurant marketer should use before rolling out any promotion, publicity stunt, advertising campaign or packaging is the clutter test to ensure your brand is standing out from the rest. Collect one of each of your brand’s direct competitors’ cups or packaging and compare all of them together to be sure your brand stands out. Another test I like to use is called the “gutter test.” Smash your cup in the gutter and see if you can tell which your brand is when you drive by. Cup logos should be seen from your car to the curb.

Get moving

It’s time for restaurant marketers to get moving! Local-store marketing is still the most effective and least expensive strategy for smart restaurant marketers. Most every patron at your restaurant comes from within the three-mile radius, and being a part of the community has never been more important to stand out from the competition. Give your general managers and franchisees tools and tips and send them into their three-mile radius to introduce themselves. Arm them with menus, offers and samples. When they get moving, so will your sales.