5 strategies for digital marketing success

With traditional media use on the decline, marketing experts offered winning ideas at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show.
Photograph courtesy of the National Restaurant Association

With fewer consumers paying attention to TV ads and other traditional marketing channels, restaurant marketers are having to get creative to grow traffic through digital avenues.

Here are a few digital marketing success stories presented by restaurant brands at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show. They’re smart (and potentially stealable) strategies that have proven to boost engagement and, in many cases, drive sales.

1. Develop a brand-specific social media tone

Operators with multiple independent concepts need to develop a different voice for each brand, said Kevin Boehm, co-founder of Boka Restaurant Group. “Social media needs to be personal. I’ve seen voices that don’t match with the brand.” Donnie Madia, partner of One Off Hospitality in Chicago, who also took part in the session “What Chains Can Learn from Indies,” added that his in-house social media expert develops feeds for each of his concepts, following the three C’s: consistency, content and community.

2. Know the audience

​​​White Castle, when introducing the Impossible Slider, was well aware that millennials would be the prime audience for the new plant-based burger, said Lynn Blashford, the chain’s vice president of marketing. To spread the word about its new product, the chain crafted a campy digital campaign, led by hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan. “This was the first product we ever launched in our restaurants without using any traditional media at all,” Blashford said.

3. Pay to play

​​Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s marketing goal is driving frequency, said Brian Best, the chain’s vice president for digital marketing and loyalty. The smoothie brand aims to reach its existing customers where they are, via paid social media. By boosting social media posts multiple times during a promotional period, Best is able to funnel information to the most relevant audience. “It’s way better than email marketing,” he said.

4. Make digital marketing relevant

People consume digital ads while they’re going about their lives, so it makes sense to create campaigns that are timely and relevant, said Donna Josephson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Corner Bakery Cafe. Around Valentine’s Day, the chain created shareable cards highlighting certain menu items. The cards, with messages such as “I Ham Yours” and “Avacadon’t ever leave me,” were shared across multiple social media platforms. “We really drove guest engagement via social during this time,” Josephson said.

5. Look for moving pictures

Don’t be afraid of videos and gifs in digital advertising, marketers said. “In today’s day and age, people expect some type of motion,” said Michael Chachula, executive director of information technology for IHOP. In fact, a simple tweet from the brand last summer announcing that it was changing its name to IHOB was actually a video. That tweet went viral, sparking 1.2 million tweets in 10 days and 27,000 earned media articles, Chachula said. “It’s like even fish were tweeting it in the ocean,” he joked.

Senior Editor Patricia Cobe contributed to this report.

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