Is your brand really doing digital?

It’s 2017. Every business has elements driven or improved by digital tools. The chasm between the haves and have nots is widening. On one side, the progressive brands embrace technology to improve and future-proof their business. On the other: brands that are slower to adopt technology, often playing catch-up.

Every restaurant brand has a digital program. Every brand has an email list. Every brand is on Facebook. These are certainly foundational elements of digital marketing. But they’re now table stakes. Guests are exposed to so many messages that they are blind to them. They choose not to see them. The question is, are you really doing digital if you’re just doing the above? Slower moving brands have good reason to hold off. But innovative brands are testing and deploying new technologies and leveraging the tech the guests already use.

The most successful innovation starts from the goal of the guest, not the brand.

Prudence and caution are wise before making major investments in tech, such as a new POS or CRM system. Too much caution might leave brands stranded as those that take risks with digital innovation are rewarded. More frequently, consumers are expecting innovation as part of their core experience. Look at loyalty programs. Consumers expect a loyalty program to exist as an app. A stamp or punch card is viewed as outmoded. That view reflects on your brand.

First impressions matter

The loyalty program might not apply to casual or new guests. You still have other ways to win them up front. For QSR and Fast Casuals, digital displays or menus are powerful for communication. And what about the ordering process itself? Panera Bread credits self-service kiosks for a rise in traffic and profitability. Instead of loss of customers from reduced interaction, they’ve seen the opposite. Plus, the digital stations allowed Panera to move staff from registers to food preparation. McDonald’s is rolling out a similar system that will allow self-service ordering and table delivery.

Similar table side digital systems have popped up across casual dining concepts to varying effect. Brands like Chili’s and Red Robin have had kiosks for years. Guests can order beverages, pay their bill or play games. What we give up in interaction, we make up for in convenience. In these environments, they’re not replacements for hospitality, but complements. And they are already being improved upon. Look beyond your category for inspiration. Top brands are innovating cleverly, to provide value to their customers. Home Improvement brand Lowe’s is using a location based digital system that allows them to customize overwhelming shopping categories based on customer direction. How could a similar system aid guests at the table? These two touchpoints are just the beginning. They start from a place of the brand, and not necessarily the guest. The most successful innovation often does the opposite.

Don’t build it from scratch

Some brands are overwhelmed by the idea of creating technology from the ground up. There are so many amazing tools that have already been built. Look at all the software consumers use for location services. We all have our phones at the ready. We want relevant information. Right time and place. Digital enables that. According to a DMNews study, 78% are willing to allow use of their purchase information to provide a more personalized experience. When mobile phones were new, location based communication was definitely considered creepy. But our acceptance has grown quickly as consumers have discovered the benefits. Brands have many opportunities to capitalize and build relationships.

Everyone with a smartphone uses mapping software. Services like Waze, or ad platforms like Sito allow for messages to be incorporated into map or location-based content. These networks will then identify when a consumer who saw the message traveled to your location.

Google just rebooted its Popular Times feature from search and maps to include real-time traffic information. Dining brands can use this system to drive traffic during soft times, or divert people during a rush. Google has already done the work. People are already using the system. Now your team can simply to connect it.

A restaurant concept does not have to do everything to be relevant. There are dozens of news tools and platforms every month, so keeping up and identifying the appropriate tools is not possible. But staying on the sidelines while technology moves forward is not wise. Small tests and programs will help find the best tools and move your business forward. Gathering data from your customers to better serve and communicate simply can’t wait.