Restaurant marketers’ gaps and opportunities

Increasing sales and foot traffic is top-of-mind for restaurant operators, but they aren’t making the highest impact possible through all available channels. In fact, only 18 percent are very confident of who their customers are after they leave the restaurant, and only 16 percent are extremely confident their marketing is targeting real people, not cookies or bots.

To better understand the challenges and opportunities for marketers in the industry, Epsilon-Conversant and Informa Engage worked with Nation’s Restaurant News to survey restaurant owners across the U.S. The results, available in the “Driving one more visit: How restaurant marketers fare in the digital age” whitepaper, found that two marketing tactics restaurant marketers use often—social media and loyalty programs—are not delivering on their much-needed return on investment.

Social media metrics are not telling restaurant marketers much.

A presence on social media has become a staple for most brands, especially in the restaurant industry. Denny’s, for example, has made headlines for its rather peculiar approaches on Twitter. For restaurants like Denny’s, social media plays a crucial role in defining their brand’s personality, which—although important—is an awareness and engagement play, but not a direct sales tie.

But how can restaurant marketers using social media see a significant impact on their ROAS? Many marketers simply cannot tell if their individual social followers and the people “liking” their marketing campaigns are even making purchases. Although social media analytics may demonstrate a successful campaign through likes and clicks, these metrics are not directly tied to sales. Many social campaign results largely show brand affinity and overall lift in location traffic and sales, but they fall short of directly connecting the actions of their online audience to offline sales (e.g. someone who liked and clicked on an ad actually made a purchase at the restaurant).

The results that restaurant marketers want to achieve are often incongruous from the results they are actually measuring. To measure marketing performance, 77 percent of restaurant marketers look at increased sales, 70 percent point to increased number of visits and 59 percent look at increased visit frequency. However, when measuring their digital marketing efforts, they use very different metrics. Sixty-two percent of restaurant operators use social media analytics to measure digital marketing impact, but only 24 percent review online and offline sales. This shows a clear disconnect between how restaurants measure performance of their marketing efforts if they say sales are most important but only look to brand affinity metrics to prove that their tactics had an impact.

Social media is only one facet of a robust marketing strategy—one that should include awareness and engagement strategies as well as direct sales-driving tactics. Restaurant marketers need to start using digital marketing to show that online to offline impact with their most valuable diners.

Loyalty programs may not be as effective as restaurateurs would like them to be.

Loyalty efforts like the Buffalo Wild Wings Blazin’ Rewards and Domino’s Piece of the Pie program have become widespread in the industry. Operators determine the success of their programs by increased visits and sales, but only 30 percent say their loyalty programs are extremely or very effective. For the vast majority, there is a lot of room to improve the ROI of their loyalty programs.

The study found that 70 percent of restaurant operators say they have a loyalty program, and 79 percent say members receive special offers, discounts or promotions. These programs are a helpful way for restaurants to know more about their guests’ order preferences, frequency of visits and other useful data points that can enhance their personalized experience. However, not many restaurant marketers consider their efforts successful.

Loyalty is more than enrolling customers into a program. It’s about customers choosing your restaurant over a competitor, recommending your restaurant to their friends and dining with you because they enjoy the experience. To see more success around loyalty, restaurants need to build relationships that depend on understanding individual people, not just offering points and discounts.

Identity management brings it all together.

One of the main issues for both social media marketing and loyalty programs boils down to customer identification. The survey showed that restaurant operators currently struggle to understand who their customers are after they leave the restaurant, and the restaurant marketers that scored themselves the lowest on their current marketing efforts say that understanding who their customers are after they leave the restaurant is a top priority for growth (71 percent).

To successfully know customers across all interactions—not just social media and loyalty—restaurant marketers need to focus on identity management. Marketers can then achieve a clearer view of each person and all of their interaction points. Social media marketing efforts that accurately identify customers and serve them the compelling, relevant messages can drive actual sales, not just affinity. Loyalty programs with the highest returns have unified customer views, linking the data from these programs to identities across marketing channels.

Well-executed identity management connects online and offline customer activity and helps marketers understand who each person is before, during and after a visit to the restaurant, so they can tie each visit and purchase back to actual human interactions with their brand.

Sara DePasquale is the restaurant marketing manager for Epsilon-Conversant.