What is restaurant marketing in 2018?

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

THINK Hospitality is a partner in producing and hosting the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator event series with Propel. As the programme director and co-founder of the event, I shares my top ten takeaways from the three-day event series;


1. Far from fluff In a traditionally operator focused sector, the worth of marketing to hospitality businesses was undoubtedly an undertone to the event. When questioned as part of the ALMR survey at boot camp, 61% of the young professions cited a lack of operations team buy-in as being a key challenge of their job, while 44% said they lacked buy-in from their leaders. The only greater challenge was budget. Throughout the three day event, the worth of marketing in our sector was very much put through it’s paces, with many of the leaders highlighting clear return on investment for their spend. It became apparent quickly that the role of a marketing leader in eating and drinking out brands is far broader than in other industries, being seen as the centre pin to a successful organisation, taking responsibility for brand, product development, internal communications, sales, innovation, pricing strategy and often, business direction. Senior marketers are very much seen as an important voice around a boardroom table. Broader business leaders need to recognise the value that marketing brings to businesses, while marketers need to concentrate on building a better rapport with operators through getting out onto the frontline more. In the words of one speaker “collaborative working is key to successful marketing, it isn’t just the responsibility of the marketing team, but everyone at every level should buy-in, engagement starts within.” It’s time to ditch the desks at head office for our marketers and put them out into the business! 2. The deeper you dive the more you see This was a guiding principal shared by Emma Woods, Customer Director at Wagamama, it’s referencing the need to get into the thick of your data truly understand your customers and find the gaps, to maximise effect of your marketing spend. As you would imagine, it was also a broader trend from all three days of events also, with companies of all sizes sharing how they were concentrating on linking technology to create one customer viewpoints, which supports operational planning, development of new products and services as well as driving guest recognition programmes. The key to success in this area is ensuring the data updates daily, not monthly; also be clear what you are tracking and why - to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed and very much have the ability to act when needed. Be more demanding of your data recommended Jo Fontaine of Fishbowl, warning to challenge it too. 3. Social sucks your time Use of social media clearly continues to track strongly as one of the big three tactics in our sector, that said the message from our speakers was to be more strategic, as not doing so wastes a lot of time. As part of our marketingbudgets survey, social media advertising and organic social media was the largest area of increased spend with 58% of respondents saying they’d be investing more of their budgets in advertising and 55% in organic this coming year. The third biggest increase is in video, with YouTube seen as the key channel. Many marketers of the smaller brands speaking at the conference highlighted that while they felt it was something they had to be doing, it didn’t replace on the ground type activation and building local networks, which they see as being key to their success. Bigger brands talked about professionalising this area, bringing in stronger tracking against online conversions. Ewan Turney of England Rugby left an impression with his 7 E’s of winning content; excite, exclusive, entertain, engage, enhance, educate & encourage. 4. Simplicity sells On many levels the idea of simplicity was key to achieving business success, from developing your initial proposition and scaling back of terms and conditions on your offers to being clear what you do in your promotions. We Are SPECTACULAR CEO, Mark McCulloch warned people not to be arrogant, citing Pret as being a great example of a brand that still garnishes their front doors with signage about what they sell, albeit being a leading high street brand of more than 30 years. 5. It's good to talk

Perhaps adversely to the tagline made famous by BT, the advise of many speakers was to put down the phone and go face-to-face in an effort to better understand your customers and your teams. Spending time at the coalface of the business with the people that spend the most time with your customers will help you highlight what’s not working and why, as well as capturing the moments that really engage your customers that you should be doing more of. On a formal basis, focus groups continue to be a great way of getting under the skin of individual areas you’d like to investigate more, but rarely help discover an issue from the outset, we were told. 6.  Lean on an ancient art-form Without trying to sound like some kind of cliched Jedi-master, storytelling has been around longer than civilisation, we actively try to find the story in everything, if we’re not told one, we’ll make one up, it’s human nature. When building content strategy, ensuring its what your customers want to hear, not what your brand wants to tell. 7. Don't demotivate Building out robust processes around monitoring the performance of sales team members is vital to success, ensuring that you are actively generating and converting the leads, but also capturing the data that will drive future marketing and outreach. Putting the right processes in place was a key strategy behind the success of Revolution Bars Group pre-booked growth, which is a key centre-pin to their business. Kate Eastwood, the groups’ sales and marketingdirector explained it was important to ensure sales targets are attainable, to ensure your team remain motivated. 8. Doing good business As a sector we are naturally social and are often at the heart of our communities, we also have easily identifiable opportunities to help, whether that be through donating food waste, giving community groups use of your venues at down periods or getting your team involved in volunteering. Michael Ingemann, Chairman at Claus Meyer Restaurants introduced their charitable activity through the Melting Pot Foundation and questioned the thinking on doing too much, the affordability of social initiatives and the often cited issue of management distraction. He turning these around to say that it all helps provide a compelling narrative for stakeholders; media, staff, partners and customers. Romy Miller, Marketing Director at Gails Bakery went one step further to say that her customers expect them to be helping the community, saying that it builds brand love, builds loyalty and drives sales for the group.


9.  Designed driven marketing Good food and great service are often hailed as the champions of success in the restaurant and foodservice sector, but design plays an integral part of setting apart a brand. Hayley Simpson, Head of Marketing at The Breakfast Club is a strong advocate for the need to tell a story not just through your marketing, but through design, a sentiment further developed by Mark Stretton of Fleet Street Communications who said that we had the ability to stand-out through our cutlery and glassware, furniture & décor, signage, uniform, externals, menu design and food & drink presentation.

10. Innovate or follow The Restaurant of the Future panel highlighted a number of areas that our experts believed would be most prominent in 5 years-time, many of these were extensions or further enhancements of some of the technology we are seeing today. These included; friction free payment, real-time follow-up, preference-based adaptive experiences, automated delivery, flexible modular design, food-state-need marketing, surge pricing & the likely development of a gastro-passport as a simple and secure way to communicate your needs. The sector was praised for its innovation by renowned food critic, Jay Rayner, for having a sophisticated mid-market, albeit with a hope that independents are forced out through the continued growth. In the parting comments of this eventful session Russell Danks, Founder of Future Factory London, highlighted the need for businesses to continuing challenge themselves and innovating, in his words ‘you either define the future or your follow others.’ Marketing tactics and activity aside, marketers needs a clear commercial understanding, personally, this is the gap that I believe need to be worked on during 2018. It’s vital to understand your P&L, sales flows, margins and costs, to ensure you are making decisions that will move the needle, not just drive awareness. To be taken seriously as a marketer, you must be able to hold your own with financiers and operators, do this by not only voicing your own opinion but the brand and customer viewpoint. Remember winning brands aren’t made by financiers, they are created by people with a vision, an understanding of customers and a good handle on the marketplace. That should be you.




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