What is the role of restaurant marketing?

Updated: Oct 13, 2018


Last week John Upton wrote of how it’s the time for the rise of the operator. He ended the article talking of how many operators will have a wry smile at his analysis and summation, I had a wry smile, but primarily because I sit with marketers in the sector day in and day out that would fundamentally agree with many of his points, but I don’t think the issue is the suggested supremacy of marketing. Frankly this has never been the case in our sector – in fact for the most part our biggest businesses are led by operators promoted to the most senior positions, bringing with them an operating mind set, that unleashing the shackles will somehow release the potential in the business. 


Most marketers in our sector will talk of being the puppets of operators, labelled as the colouring in department, told what to do in an often unstructured, ad-hoc way. Many believe this is to the detriment of the business, not best utilising limited resources, costing a fortune in design and printing fees, confusing customer with mixed messaging and sending a potentially brand-damaging barrage of discounts to customers that reduces engagement and switching people off. 


The key challenge I have to John’s article is that marketing is about push-messaging. It isn’t. This is a fundamental misconception of the role of marketing regularly made in our sector, but not so much in others. The role of marketing is not just promotions, it is one of seven aspects; promotion, price, proposition, place, people, physical evidence and processes. In short it is about designing and optimising every human touch point with the business, best described by legendary management guru Peter Drucker as to “create, keep and satisfy the customer”.


As marketers we should be supporting the creation of experiences that have an unbelievable pull effect – I wholeheartedly believe that the best brands have to do very little promotion to drive successful business outcomes.


The basis of this comes from understanding customers, their behaviour, motivations and decision-making journey. We have many ways of gaining this information now, from guest feedback to dedicated insight projects. This should be the basis on which we can start to ensure that our proposition, branding, service and overall experience is as sharp as it can be.


We shouldn’t get too hung-up on social media. It is there and provides a great additional resource, but it is only a listening and communication tool, alongside many other tactics and tools available to us. Social media has been about for almost 20 years now.

Operators absolutely need to be all over their feedback to understand their business and ideally acting on it to improve what they are doing at their site or in their region. Alongside the hundreds of other daily tasks expected of a GM, it takes an experienced, talented and willing individual to think beyond the day-to-day. And as competition continues to rage in our sector for great staff, I am hearing from business leaders that there are simply fewer of these people available and people are working harder to train from within. Where marketing comes in here is to analyse the vast amounts of data, filter it and find the trends to form insight.


This insight should be gold dust for operations leaders to provide the right level of support to their team. Along the way, they should also be looking for the bigger more strategic challenges and respective opportunities to improve proposition, recognise new product opportunities and enhance the customer journey as a whole. It is this part where the real value comes.


One successful way bigger businesses divide the role of marketing is in three distinct areas; customer, commercial and brand. Even if you are not big enough to have separate teams or individuals, the thinking is strong and could help guide responsibilities. The customer remit looks after the guest journey, taking responsibility for feedback, insight, innovations fun enhancement projects, loyalty – and often central reservations are combined under this umbrella also. The commercial remit becomes responsible for new product development, promotion, pricing and local marketing. Lastly, the brand function is about brand development, editorial, visual identity, brand-building campaigns and the long term future of the brand. 


The other key factor at play in our business is our people, the team. As well as understanding our customer, you must try to understand team motivations too. Your brand should be delivering for them also, or if you follow Danny Meyer’s enlightened hospitality theory, first. I advocate a lot more closeness between the marketing and people teams as, ultimately, it is people that are delivering our brand daily; they should be central when developing proposition, product or campaigns. If a proposed new product or proposition will build resentment among the team delivering it, it’s probably a no-go.


Although, when something is vital to the customer journey enhancement you should, of course, consider whether it’s your process that has resulted in this resentment and whether better change management could result in a different outcome. Similarly, when developing customer campaigns, always ask yourself: why should our team care about this? How can we build an internal campaign that gets people engaged and excited about this at the same time?


To summarise, you mustn’t see marketing as a threat, you should see it as a function and mindset that adds value to your business. With the right marketing leader, with the right thinking, empowered to make real difference to the way guests see and interact with your business, you will see and feel the benefits. I agree with John that operators and marketers need to be working side-by-side, also closely with the people team. The focus should be on delivering a great experience to our customers everyday, that’ll be achieved through a well-designed customer journey, executed by a motivated, empowered and happy team at restaurant level. 


First published in Propel

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