A primary goal of industry conferences is to make important connections – with customers, prospects, partners, peers and others, who can help you advance your business goals. So, it was great to be doing just that – after more than a year away from the in-person event circuit – at the recent Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, in Atlanta.
The Vya team came away from the Summit with a sense that the pandemic has certainly not slowed the pace of innovation across the restaurant franchising arena. If anything, it has accelerated it. Here are some of the key themes and takeaways we believe will have an impact on franchise restaurant marketing in the months and years ahead.
The Importance of Connection
The importance of connection was a broad and nuanced theme that was echoed throughout the Summit, by the innovation leaders in the restaurant franchising industry.
In his keynote, Beto Guajardo, the president of Focus Brands International, advised attendees that as technology advances and you integrate it into your marketing programs, you need to be careful there isn’t a disconnect with your frontline employees. For example, when you implement new AI-driven offers, are your employees informed about the offers being served?
Guajardo also emphasized that feeling a sense of connection matters for customers and restaurant employees. Franchise owners should ask themselves, “Have we created an environment where our employees can connect what they are doing to their dreams?”
This focus on employees tied into a Brain Exchange discussion we hosted on Day 2 about franchisee marketing engagement. Participants talked about the shift from messaging around customer excellence to caring for your employees. When employees feel safe, loved and appreciated, they will deliver customer excellence.
What’s more, employees build relationships, even followings, with customers that can be powerful. During this discussion, we heard an example of an employee who was beloved by customers. When the restaurant treated the employee unfairly, the customers left.
Marketing can help to unleash the power of your staff by educating employees on how they can make someone’s day. Participants also suggested showcasing employees-of-the-month on social media to recognize their contributions to your success and make them feel special.
Throughout the Summit we also heard participants highlighting the need to forge a connection with your off-premise customers. This has been particularly important with the explosive growth of to-go orders, curb-side pickup and delivery.
Chris Demery, Chief Technology Officer for Blaze Pizza, explained that with more business moving off premise, you need to consider how you resolve any customer issues. When customers dine in person, your staff or manager checks to see “how was your meal?” You need to be able to extend this experience off-premise and resolve customer issues within 30-45 minutes from when they receive their food.
One of the tactics franchisees are using to connect with off-premise customers is slipping notes into delivery and to-go bags. Personal handwritten notes, like, “Thank you,” “Have a great night,” or “Enjoy your meal,” are excellent ways to try to make a connection despite the distance. When this simple gesture makes an impact, a customer may be inspired to share it on social media.
If you are using a third-party delivery partner, you can place notes in delivery bags educating customers about how to use your direct delivery option the next time they order.
Tech and Data-Driven Connections
Today’s marketing technology makes it possible to gather significant amounts of data about franchise customers. The trick is using that data in ways that truly impact your customer relationships. Blaze Pizza’s Demery emphasized the importance of segmenting your guests so you can deliver the right message at the right time.
The Vya team could not agree more! To accomplish your segmenting and targeting objectives, start by making sure you have useable data. The good news is that with more and more customers using digital service channels, like restaurant apps, franchisors have more customer data than ever to analyze and use strategically.
Marketing success depends upon sending campaigns to the right people, at the right time, with the right message. And data is the key ingredient. Use your data to grow your relationships with existing customers, suggested Steve Felson, VP of Operations for Bonchon. Knowing your customers’ preferences, you can educate them about new offerings and invite them to try something new that aligns with those preferences. You might also encourage them to try a different time of day – if you see they are a lunch regular, send them an offer to come in for dinner.
You can also create tech-driven connections with QR codes. Sweetberry Bowls Founder and CEO Desi Saran encouraged restaurant marketers to expand their use of QR codes. Currently restaurants are primarily using them to provide guests access to digital menus. But Saran advises QR codes are also very useful on direct mail pieces. Take advantage of the fact that customers have become more accustomed to scanning QR codes by integrating them into your next direct mail campaign.
Another common theme from the Summit is the need to act like a local brand, and the importance of franchisees being involved in their local communities. The strength of local connections, quite possibly, was the difference-maker that sustained many franchise businesses during this past year and a half.
In a discussion about grand openings, it was recommended that franchisees partner with a charity as part of a grand opening strategy. One suggestion offered during the discussion was to partner with first responders. The result in the long run is a powerful two-way relationship.
Brand consistency and your local marketing strategy was another topic during our Brain Exchange discussion. Some franchisors don’t allow local social media channels because of the importance of having one brand voice. Others solve this challenge by using franchise business consultants who can monitor localized social streams for consistency.
While corporate must keep on top of brand consistency, it is also important for franchisees to be empowered to connect locally in a distinctive way. One option is for the franchisor to provide a portal for franchisees to access approved marketing materials that can be customized to create more localized relevance.
Successful franchisors make local connections a priority. This begins with outreach to franchisees. Our Brain Exchange at the Summit raised the point that a franchise marketing campaign launch actually requires the launch of 3 campaigns: 1) to the market, 2) to your owners/franchisees, and 3) to the employees. This approach was described as an example of “global coordination, local negotiation.” It also brings us full circle to what keynote speaker Beto Guajardo of Focus Brands said about creating a sense of connection for customers and employees.
What we learned at this year’s Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit is that, even in the most challenging of business environments, the true innovators are finding new ways to connect – with their franchisees, their employees, their guests and the local communities where they do business.