Restaurant marketers need to have a finger on every aspect of the operation, from technology to menu to operations. What’s more, they must stay current on the best ways to reach and engage with their consumers. Are the kids spending time these days on Instagram? Snapchat? FaceTweet? Keeping tabs on all those ever-changing components can be a stress-inducing endeavor. We talked with a number of restaurant marketing pros about what they’re looking forward to in 2019—and what’s keeping them up at night.
1. Brand reimagining
Legacy brands sometimes need an update to resonate with younger consumers. Taco John’s, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019, is in the midst of a top-down brand refresh that includes remodels as well as new menu items, packaging, uniforms and more. “We just finished a project around our brand bible or brand persona,” said Alan Wright, vice president of marketing for Taco John’s. “Who you are and what you’re known for. It gives you ways to leverage that. … We’ve repositioned our media planning demographics in a manner that is targeting a younger audience.”
2. Going local
Chains have gotten a bad rap, especially from millennials, so the Twin Peaks breastaurant concept is going local with its marketing plans for the new year. “We’re trying to create a local environment for all of our restaurants,” said the chain’s director of marketing, Destinee Rollins, adding that Twin Peaks works with the highest-rated sports radio stations in each of its markets to build buzz. The chain also has 84 separate Facebook and Instagram pages, one for each restaurant, with a cadre of corporate marketing coordinators to oversee the messaging.
3. Focus on personalization and customization
Fazoli’s is currently at work on audience segmentation based on data gathered from the 200,000-plus members of its loyalty program, said Jodie Conrad, vice president of marketing for the fast-casual brand. The app, she said, is a “precision tool we’ve been using as a blunt instrument.” The chain is beginning to study how to drive guest behavior, based on visit frequency and occasion, and is setting up a messaging calendar with targeted offerings for different customer groups.
4. Determining ROI on digital
How much is a viral tweet worth? And is the investment in getting app users worth it? Those are other issues being examined by Fazoli’s, Conrad said. The Italian chain has had “some serendipity” with interactions on social media, but Conrad hopes the team will be able to find ways to build campaigns with more backing in data and metrics. “We have a lot of opportunity,” she said.
5. Redefining loyalty
There’s more to rewarding top customers than simply giving them freebies and discounts, said Michelle Spohnholz, vice president of marketing for Newk’s Eatery. The fast-casual sandwich chain will spend time in 2019 looking at an “enhanced loyalty strategy,” she said. “Our industry has typically viewed loyalty as buy X, get X,” Spohnholz said. “But there’s more finesse to brand loyalty than that. There’s engagement. There’s saving time. There’s that emotional piece.”
6. Expanding into retail products
Growing fast-casual chain Dos Toros is building a playful, irreverent brand around its goofy mascot, Pinto the Burrito. Late in 2018, the Mexican chain started selling its bottled hot sauces in stores and online. And it’s looking at other smart ways to expand its brand, marketing manager Marcus Byrd said, noting that “everybody wants to be a lifestyle brand to build awareness and show they’re cool.”