Some concepts are designed around kids. A brand like Chuck E. Cheese’s will always have an uphill climb trying to convince adults it is a place they’ll enjoy after decades of marketing kids parties. Winning with the family is no easy task. For every day occasions, people with kids have a simple concern that most brands can address, but few do well.
Kids are little people. People have opinions. This causes stress during family dinners. Not the opinions themselves, but the way those opinions differ from the adults. And the “conversations” that come from those disagreements.
Restaurant brands that make a family comfortable during their visits will win the next one. This is critical to sustaining sales growth because obviously, a family visit accounts for more seats and a higher average check. So winning with the family is becoming less and less optional. Here are three ways to ensure the next family visit is a good one from beginning to end.
The challenge is to give a family a chance to enjoy a meal together, without creating a separate experience in each seat at the table.
1. Menu planning
The first thing a parent does when they’re seated with their kids is to look at the kid’s menu. The best ones have some familiar items and one or two ‘experimental’ dishes. Most kids have a wheelhouse of a few items they love. When a parent doesn’t see anything, they fear the whole family will suffer.
Reading this, the basic items should be clear: chicken fingers, mac and cheese, pizza. The basics. The other side of the coin is finding a way to tie those basic items into your concept and make them your own. Red Robin does a great job of offering a variety of kids dishes with a spin on them. The kids are happy and the adults feel like they are giving them a treat.
2. Balance the kids and the adults
As always, the trickiest part comes with operations. Having a solid kids menu is important, but executing is more important. Train staff to read the table. If the parents appear to be anxious, chances are it is about the kids. There are simple ways to address this. For example, the server might offer to take the kids’ orders early, as with an appetizer course. Getting the kids fed tends to take some stress off of the parents. This simple practice is surprisingly rare.
Skewing too far towards making the kids happy is another way to lose the adults. Don’t forget that the kids aren’t paying the check. A little focus on easing the family into their meal is great, but too much can make a restaurant feel like a carnival, something adults want to avoid. Brands don’t have to ignore the grown-ups to provide an experience kids will enjoy.
3. Let us entertain you
The main idea is to provide some distraction for the kids. Places like Chevys Fresh Mex give kids fresh tortilla dough and crayons to entertain them. This pleases the kids AND reinforces the promise of freshly prepared food. Red Robin has added interesting games and activities that a family can bring back to the table to enjoy separately or together.
Buffalo Wild Wings takes the concept a step further by offering game tablets for the kids. It’s only fair since the adults are provided with dozens of televisions. The balance with entertainment is to give a family a chance to enjoy a meal together, without creating a separate experience in each seat at the table.
Do these steps solve every challenge in pleasing the family guest? Admittedly, no. But surprisingly, many restaurant brands underserve the family and surrender their share of higher count table occasions.
[00:00:05] Adam Pierno: All right. Welcome back to another episode of Food and Restaurant Marketing. We appreciate everybody tuning in once again. I’m here with Dan Santy joining me once again and I’m Adam Pierno.
[00:00:17] Daniel Santy: Good Afternoon.
[00:00:19] Adam: We are talking about a very fun subject for us because we read the most ridiculous articles in our quest for news and information. If you stack them all into one pile, I think this topic is probably twice as tall as the next closest pile. You want to tell them what we’re talking about today?
[00:00:41] Dan: The prediction of the demise of casual dining as we know it today. There have been so many articles on this topic and especially at the end of ’16 and the beginning of ’17.
[00:00:54] Adam: It’s just big building up steam like the old cartoon snow ball coming down the mountain. Right now, it’s got Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry fully enveloped in that snowball as it continues to roll down the hill just building energy in the media really.
[00:01:05] Dan: Yes. It’s quite fascinating to watch all the predictions about casual dining, to watch all the prediction about the success of fast casual, QSR. In some respects, I think every restaurant chain is facing enormous head winds going in to ’17 whether it be traffic, same stores sales growth and new competition.
[00:01:42] Adam: That’s the thing that always gets left out. I mean in the Miller Pulse study we go quarter by quarter, month after month if you’re looking. Traffic is down or flat. Sales are down or flat. For everybody, it’s up point one percent for a fast casual, which is the fastest grower.
[00:02:01] Dan: Right. You’re predicting 1% decline for casual dining but fast casual is getting 0.1% increase. It’s funny how the reporters spin the data to get their message out, that they want to get out there. They don’t want it to be negative about casual dining.
[00:02:22] Adam: They want to steer away the story, the narrative for some reason. That’s part of what we’re going to talk about today and then, as as always, we try to come with some solutions on how to stem the tide if you’re really facing this. But, my question Dan initiated this topic and it’s of interest to Dan in particular. So I want to hear his thoughts overall. I don’t think although casual dining has taken a pounding for a dozen years and I’m not saying it’s free and clear, people still do go.
[00:02:53] Dan: Oh my gosh. Absolutely. If your traffic’s down 1%, that means there’s still a lot of people walking through your doors and dining and spending their discretionary dollars. My attitude about it is if I owned a casual dining chain, I’d be fighting like hell right now to steal share. Not only from my direct competitors, maybe other casual dining chains theoretically. You would have to argue that that’s where you should start. But I’d be fighting like hell to get people to come in over fast casual and say, “Hey, up your game. Come get better food. Come get a better experience than beans and rice thrown in a foil bowl.”
[00:03:41] Adam: Don’t you dare. don’t you dare. don’t you dare besmirch my fast casual.
[00:03:47] Adam: Well, that’s definitely part of the problem is — There’s an article that we’re writing right now for foodandrestaurantmarketing.com that talks about identifying your competitor to help you identify who you are and what your actual strengths are as a brand. I think what happens to casual dining is they were involved in an absolute slaughter just on the competitive casual dining front. Before, 15 years ago, before fast casual even came into the picture, and then all of a sudden the was just this new wave of competitors who was eating the bottom out of their business.
[00:04:21] Dan: Well, everybody — I shouldn’t say everybody, but I think people fail to remember though is that one of the reasons fast casual became so successful over the last, let’s call it a decade, was the recession. The great recession drove people’s behavior to the fast casual because it was less expensive. You didn’t have to leave the tip and so forth. You still could dine out. I wouldn’t call that dining but you could still go out or bring home a good meal.
Let’s face it, a lot of fast casuals are putting out really quality product right now. So there wasn’t a big sacrifice. Now, it’s time though. I mean the economy is back, in my opinion and it’s time for casual dining to retake the consumers’ mind. Retake the consumers’ desire to have a dining experience. I think everyone’s lost on that. People still love to eat out and be with their family, be with their friends, be with their co-workers what ever it may be. Casual dining has to quit lamenting the problems and seek to find where the successes are.
[00:05:40] Adam: Right. I think they have to really look at their own individual experience instead of the obsessing over the category failure. You know, if you’re solution is well, it’s how can we get more general than this. But fast casuals, millennials love it. So what else do millennials like? They like technology so we’re going to put a Ziosk on the table. Well, no don’t do that.
[00:06:05] Dan: Please don’t.
[00:06:05] Adam: Red Robin, I’m looking at you. Don’t do that and then that diminishes what happens at casual dining that’s actually a positive thing. Having four, five, six people at a table communicating to each other. Now, you’ve put something on the table to stop that? What are you doing?
[00:06:25] Dan: It’s that follow the trend mentality or any shining thing. I’m sorry.
[00:06:34] Adam: Quick solution.
[00:06:35] Dan: Yes. Quick solution, use technology some how or another. What I am preaching on a regular basis is look inside first. Look inside your four walls.
[00:06:48] Adam: What can we fix?
[00:06:49] Dan: What are you doing right too? What needs to be fixed? Do a true self-examination of what’s not working, what is working. Shed what’s not and focus on what is.
[00:07:02] Adam: Totally. Sometimes, the biggest innovations are not something like Ziosk. Sometimes the biggest innovation is somebody really paying attention to their menu and their mix and saying, “You know people really like this appetizer, our mac and cheese appetizer. I wonder if we could turn it in to a burger entree or I wonder how we can get that as a platform and sell more of it and make the people who like it really happy.”
[00:07:28] Dan: Yes. Or hoist it up. You could even be simpler with this.
[00:07:30] Adam: Put an LTO around that exact thing.
[00:07:33] Dan: Right, exactly.
[00:07:33] Adam: Sell it — bundle it with something else and just make it attractive and remind me that I like it.
[00:07:37] Dan: Right. It does two things. Number one, what you just said and it reminds your core customer that you like it. It reminds your lapsed customer who maybe hasn’t been in a little while, “Oh, I used to love that item,” and then finally it’s something that a customer that you’ve never had before goes, “Hmm, doesn’t that look delicious?”
[00:07:57] Adam: Right, right. But you know it’s going to get paid for by the people who already like it.
[00:08:01] Dan: Exactly.
[00:08:01] Adam: So that leads me to the fourth thing that it does well and that environment is it doesn’t cost you anything. If it’s an item you’re already selling, you don’t have to go and calculate the cost you just have to say I think we’re going to sell 10% more if we put this much promotion behind it or if we resell it or we train our servers to sell it in this way.
[00:08:20] Dan: Exactly.
[00:08:22] Adam: There’s your percentage off that you are on sales. Right?
[00:08:28] Dan: Exactly, exactly.
[00:08:30] Adam: I mean we can really go on and on about that, just optimizing and looking at your internal processes. But I think today, what we want to talk about is everybody is saying the demise of casual dining is coming. We don’t agree. I think there’s going to be some brands that shake out in 2017 and then we’ll have an article coming about which brands we’re predicting or will be gone.
But I think what we want to talk about today is really about, listen, is if you’re in the casual and dining environment, how can you steal share? It’s time to retrench yourself. Dig in. Let’s talk about some five steps to stealing share. Then if your outside the casual dining sphere, I think this is going to be interesting to hear. Some strategies you’ll be facing from the casual dining environment which I believe is actually going to turn around.
We’re not going to say 10% gains but I believe as we lose some poor performers, the category is going to look a lot different in comp sales and in category sales. When you get some of those B players and C players out of there. It’s going to change things a lot.
[00:09:38] Dan: I agree a hundred percent. The other thing that’s happened over the last two, three, five years I would guess, don’t have any hard stats on these but there’s a number of stores that have been closed which helps dramatically to we were overpopulated with locations. Now, seeing a number of different brands close 20, 30.
[00:10:01] Adam: 90.
[00:10:01] Dan: 90 stores which is good. Now, we keep seeing stores opening as well obviously, whether it’s new brands or fast casuals expanding or whatever. Regardless, when you have fewer locations, you’re going to be able to increase your margins at your best performing restaurants.
[00:10:22] Adam: Yes, the competition gets a little less fierce. You could argue that they were more — we were over saturated in casual dining locations before fast casual even started to blow up. I mean it was ridiculous for every good location there were probably three subpar, not brands but locations that just under delivered. Of course, that sets the sage for another category to come in and take business.
[00:10:49] Dan: Yes. It’s what I call the Cold Stone [Creamery] problems that many of them expanded too fast. Not being really disciplined about A locations, starting to accept for just to get stores open B and sometimes C locations. If you look across those brands that have shuttered stores, I would eventually guess you could argue that many of them were B and C locations and that’s why they were struggling or suffering in the first place.
[00:11:17] Adam: Yes. Well, what’s unfortunate is if you’re in the environment where you’re looking at closed doors, a lot of times you don’t get a choice about the A and B and C locations you would like to but a lot of times you just say, “Okay, well what leases are expiring,” and now you’re losing an A location in a prime spot that drives a lot of traffic because the brand is taking a beating. It’s hard to reconcile if a landlord who now says, “Well, I don’t know if I want your outdated brand in there when I could put a Yard House in here.” It’s an up and coming concept that will fill this 7,500 feet and have customers.
[00:11:54] Dan: The real estate game is so important that it’s probably something we should talk about on one of these broadcasts because I think it’s long been misunderstood on how important location is for a restaurant brand.
[00:12:10] Adam: Yes. Each brand has their own footprint or thumbprint that they need to make it work. That’s a great idea, let’s put them in the pipeline. I have a guest we can bring on for that. We’ll keep you posted. Let’s talk today though about stealing share. If we are in a casual dining brand, let’s talk about the five steps that we think we need to take to steal that share. We already kind of started talking about one. You want to dig in a little deeper?
[00:12:40] Dan: It’s what I call the cravable core. Again, this is examining a couple of things. One is your menu, you know through your sales data, what you’re selling. You know not only what only what you’re selling, you know where margin is. You have to find the cravable core and hoist them up like we mentioned earlier and really push them. Don’t think of it as, “Oh, all people are tired of this,” they’re not. It gives them a reason to come in. It reminds them why they come in the past.
[00:13:16] Adam: Yes. If you think of most brands, you can probably identify the cravable core without knowing the sales. Without seeing the numbers, it’s usually pretty clear and then when you sit down as a consumer you say, “Well, what are these? The last five pages of this menu don’t make any sense. Or, I’m looking at the board and the first three screens feel related and then there’s that fourth screen where it’s, what?”
[00:13:40] Dan: What is all this stuff?
[00:13:40] Adam: Why is there a Mexican item up there, like Green Burrito at a Carl’s Jr. Why is that happening?
[00:13:45] Dan: Yes. That falls in line with the same, not only the cravable core but the idea of simplification too. Remind people why they’ve loved coming into your restaurant for so many years. You started adding things, the thing got bigger a lot of times, we were adding things to think we were being competitive with someone opening up down the road or a new flavor profile or God forbid, we had to chase millennials with something specific. You’ve got to really look at the menu and simplify it so people understand what they’re coming in for and remind them why they like it so much.
[00:14:28] Adam: Yes. I blame that stretch of the menu on the success of Cheesecake Factory that looks and sounds a casual dining brand but it’s its own animal, it’s its own beast. It does things a lot differently than everybody else and the menu is a novel. It’s Dostoyevsky of a dining place with ads in it. I mean it has its own gravitational pull and I think it had a lot of casual dining brands. Well, we could expand. All of a sudden, we could do pasta. That’s an easy thing to do. Stop it right there, don’t you dare.
[00:15:09] Adam: Right, let’s not do that. That’s not why they’re coming. What about item number two here?
[00:15:15] Dan: Well I’ll go broader than just the LTO which is what I want to talk about in item number two. Before that, is to talk about spending measured media. You have got to spend to drive traffic. Awareness equals traffic, it’s just that simple. Retreating and not spending is not the way to go, especially if you want to steal share. We always believe in again, in the simple approach of saying LTO. So this limited time offer on a cravable core item is a really easy way to get traffic in the door. Your staff already understands that product. You don’t have to do anything from an operational stand point. Put the core price that you’ve always had or if you want to discount it go ahead.
[00:16:16] Adam: That depends on your business.
[00:16:17] Dan: That’s up to you. A lot of times, we’ll put LTOs together for clients and just say put the regular price on there. We just want to get people a reason to come in because do not forget, people are making that dining decision late. You have an opportunity every day to capture share by being out there and giving them a reason, reminding them that you’re here and get your share of their stomach.
[00:16:45] Adam: Yes, that’s an interesting point people are making that decision late. We know that they make it within under an hour in the most cases or some people don’t actually even consciously think about where they’re going. Our research showed us that 17% just end up at a restaurant not sure how they got there. It speaks to, you said measured media and that the climate, the environment that we’re in is for conversion and tracking and metrics and measurements which we wholeheartedly believe in.
But, the idea that every impression can be tracked to a purchase or it failed is ridiculous. We know that I have to be aware of the thing to consider it as a consumer and so if you don’t show me something that I can just background process, yes. Is it nice to have a coupon I click to or is it nice to have something that takes me to an experience that drives me to the store? As much as we can, yes, you want to do that.
[00:17:40] Dan: Yes. I’m glad you’re bringing that up about digital tracking and attribution. Listen, in that model and it’s great that we can track. It’s great that we can attribute sales in some cases to some of that activity. The truth be told is you still have to have frequency. You got to have an integrated plan. Now, that’s why I still as you know follow my sword for television when you can afford it. Now, we’re big proponents of streaming TV.
[00:18:15] Adam: We’re going to do a debate on television. Me versus you, I think it’s time. I think it’s time.
[00:18:21] Dan: Ding, ding, ding. Round one. I love it.
[00:18:22] Adam: That’s going to another episode or maybe that would be a good place to bring in another expert, another guest, because I agree with you.
[00:18:29] Dan: I think it would have to be a moderator to prevent us from duking it out.
[00:18:33] Adam: We’re doing an octagon, right. I do think I love the awareness play and I love that when the math works, when the economics works that I have the budget to do it in a market. I’m penetrated in a particular market. I love it and I love awareness. I want to — I think we really need to dig in on it. I think people would be interested to hear the —
[00:18:54] Dan: I think that’s fair. Clearly the landscape it should be but another time.
[00:19:00] Adam: Another time, yes. Put a pen in that. Put a pen in that. Your point is that LTOs can be used to drive traffic. It doesn’t have to actually be on sale or discount but it can be. I think the most important thing that we’ve seen is the LTO as your brand message, gives them both a reminder of your brand. That if you choose the right item from the cravable core, it’s telling them something, signaling them something about the brand and the experience based on what that food is. If it is a mac and cheese ante as we said earlier, I kind of get what I’m walking into. Then third, it’s a reason that’s what they need. They go, “Oh, yes, right, I want to go in and get that thing.”
[00:19:41] Dan: If priced right, under that 9.99, magical. What we like to think is that magical 9.99 if you’re bundling something up. Obviously, the mac and cheese isn’t 9.99. Regardless, make that very attractive and you’re going to — same thing, you get a credit with the consumer that, “Oh, it’s not as expensive as I remember.”
[00:20:01] Adam: That’s right. That’s right.
[00:20:02] Dan: Or as I think it is.
[00:20:04] Adam: Now, the awareness is buffered a little bit. You’re hedging on that just awareness play of let’s say your TV or digital display because you actually have an offer that you’re putting forward. It’s not just a brand advertisement that’s saying, “We make the best X. It’s proof point. We’re going to put our money where our mouth is. Come in and try this for this. It’s a bet.”
[00:20:26] Dan: Right.
[00:20:26] Adam: You’re going to like this.
[00:20:26] Dan: The LTO could be attacked, right?
[00:20:28] Adam: Yes.
[00:20:29] Dan: Depending on the unit type. Just sell the brand. Remind them why they like the brand.
[00:20:36] Adam: Then pay them off.
[00:20:36] Dan: Here’s the reason to come on in. The next thing I wanted to talk about, Adam, is because I didn’t — this falls under the category of why are we still doing this if it’s not working.
[00:20:48] Adam: Yes. This goes to the debate we were just starting to have.
[00:20:50] Dan: Right. Right. I think you have to really examine where you are spending your money. Is it really effective or are we just doing what is it we’ve always done? Is the agency just recommending what it knows? You’ve really, I think today because the landscape is shifting so dramatically so often, have to continually be auditing where you’re measured media dollars are going and use the data you have available to you.
[00:21:20] Adam: What is that? The medium is the message, is the cliche?
[00:21:24] Dan: Right.
[00:21:24] Adam: But if you’re investing hugely in spaces like couponing or FSI’s are just a killer.
[00:21:32] Dan: Right.
[00:21:32] Adam: If you’re not executing those flawlessly, they’re just eroding you’re same store sales. Because depending on how you’re doing, we’ve seen brands that are over doing those and training consumers or living the definition of insanity where they’re expecting consumers to start coming in and paying full price when twice a month they’re sending them coupons.
[00:21:52] Dan: Right.
[00:21:52] Adam: They’re never coming in for full price if that’s what your medium X is made up of.
[00:21:56] Dan: How many brands have we consulted with over the last three years, that when we inherited those great clients, they were on that coupon heroine, which is what we used to call it. Getting them to transition off it is tough. It’s difficult.
[00:22:14] Adam: It’s probably a year and a half process if you’re really, really — if the things are working as they’re suppose to work, you’re looking at an 18-month or two-year deal to comp over the really best periods.
[00:22:26] Dan: Right. But you can do it.
[00:22:27] Adam: Yes.
[00:22:27] Dan: We’ve seen it done now-
[00:22:28] Adam: We’ve seen it done.
[00:22:29] Dan: – a number of different times and a number of different ways.
[00:22:32] Adam: It’s a commitment.
[00:22:33] Dan: Yes. It is.
[00:22:34] Adam: It’s a commitment from everybody all the way up. If you don’t have the commitment of the people at the top you can’t, you will not pull it off. You will be replaced sometime in the first six months when they start looking at the end of the year.
[00:22:45] Dan: But the message has to be, if you’re going to go down that path is that, this is going to change the makeup of the our consumers’ mindset. This is going to allow us to actually drive sales without giving things away, which means we can start getting our margin back.
[00:23:01] Adam: That’s the name of the game.
[00:23:03] Dan: You’ve got — traffic’s one thing. Same store sales is another and then the Holy Grail. Are you getting margin on that?
[00:23:09] Adam: Right.
[00:23:10] Dan: Or are you giving up margin just to get somebody to walk through the door and they won’t walk through again unless you give up more margin again.
[00:23:17] Adam: That’s the problem. Yes. But also, I picked on FSI’s and couponing. But, I mean awareness equals trial, as we said earlier. So is your — we’re talking about looking at media plans as they exist. Are you even hitting the right people and getting them aware or are you spending in a way that’s missing the target? Sometimes we see that brands are doing something because they always did it but meanwhile the markets moved and they just didn’t even notice that their audience is not the same audience or somebody’s already come and eaten that audience up.
You can’t have many more because five guys has that audience now. Now, we have to find a new audience and here’s the media we can use to get that.
[00:23:56] Dan: Yes. Please, please do not say we need to reach millennials.
[00:24:02] Adam: There’s only 80 million of them. I hope you have a lot of money if your goal is to reach them. You really can’t do it with TV for half of them.
[00:24:10] Dan: I think marketers have been mislead dramatically about trying to put all these millennials in a bucket and characterize them all to have the same seven traits. I think the work we do around personas and defining the range of different types of people coming into our clients’ establishments is much better because then we go find look like customers. That takes more work. The millennial push is simple, say, “I’m going to target millennials.” Are you really? Is that a demographic? Is it a mindset?
[00:24:46] Adam: Right.
[00:24:47] Dan: What does that even mean?
[00:24:48] Adam: Yes. I think you want to be as specific as you can with your target. A lot of times, that makes people uncomfortable to get more specific because if I’m shooting at 80 million people it seems like a bigger and a bigger number I can go get. But honestly, you want to get it as well defined as you can and then as Dan is saying, test different look alikes that differ on smaller variables and the media will participate.
I mean, there are ways to target geographically. If we know — if we look at each location and we target. We just start with the one or two locations and you figure out this is the zip code that drives the most traffic to this stores. Then you find the zip codes that are just like those.
[00:25:31] Dan: Exactly.
[00:25:31] Adam: Or where are they coming from? Well, a lot of our traffic comes from this mall.
[00:25:35] Dan: Right.
[00:25:36] Adam: Okay. Now, we know that we can use that as a target. What can we do to drive more traffic from that space?
[00:25:40] Dan: The other thing to avoid, especially now that we have more data available to us, is it’s not a concentric circle.
[00:25:50] Adam: Right.
[00:25:51] Dan: The whole idea of a one-mile radius, a three-mile radius, a five-mile radius. That’s not how it works because traffic patterns don’t work that way. Everything is not — you’re not the hub of the city. [laughs] I think the geo targeting work we’ve done using some of our proprietary tools have really helped cut clients see that some people are actually driving a relatively significant distance to get to the restaurant.
[00:26:20] Adam: Right.
[00:26:21] Dan: Which means let’s make sure we target the other people in that zip code.
[00:26:25] Adam: Man, and I understand why they’re willing — why are those people willing to drive.
[00:26:28] Dan: Exactly.
[00:26:29] Adam: Which goes to your next point here in the outline, interest.
[00:26:33] Dan: Right.
[00:26:34] Adam: Right. What about — why are they treating it differently? You have those people in almost every brand we’ve ever consulted with that are willing to go an extra half travel distance to get to the place. Why? What do they see about it differently than the locals that are right inside your standard trade area?
[00:26:55] Dan: It’s your product.
[00:26:56] Adam: Right.
[00:26:57] Dan: It’s your experience that you’re putting out. Nobody is going to travel an extra mile or two or whatever the number is because they had a bad experience.
[00:27:09] Adam: Right, because it’s average.
[00:27:09] Dan: Right. They go, “Let’s go to the average restaurant.”
[00:27:12] Adam: That’s right.
[00:27:13] Dan: No. “You know what, I love this menu item. Let’s go there.” That’s that craving thing.
[00:27:19] Adam: Yes.
[00:27:21] Dan: It breaks the barrier, quite frankly.
[00:27:24] Adam: Really, unlocking what it is about the experience or what they’re interested in particular. Let’s just build a bigger audience to go test against.
[00:27:32] Dan: Yes, testing is obviously another thing that we preach extensively especially as it relates to digital media today. I think a lot of brands are a little bit nervous about digital media and I don’t blame them. It’s an emerging landscape or evolving rather landscape. There’s been all kinds of talk about its efficacy but the bottom line is test, test, test, test, geofencing. Test, interest based ads and see what works because not every message it — just putting one message out there anymore, you’re not going to attract –
[00:28:15] Adam: No.
[00:28:15] Dan: – every audience that’s available.
[00:28:16] Adam: Yes. Especially when we go back to measurement, we’re talking about testing and measuring and optimizing so you’re being efficient with any investment that you’re making. But if it’s the online media to an offline experience tracking that through. I mean there are definitely ways to do it and tracking threshold crossings and tracking parking lot arrivals and tracking coupons and all that stuff. I think that’s where it gets uncomfortable for people as they’re trying to navigate the spaces, “Well, I can track it and therefore I will be measured by the success of testing this.” Well, maybe.
[00:28:51] Dan: I think the —
[00:28:52] Adam: But testing it at standing still is not a good strategy.
[00:28:55] Dan: Right.
[00:28:55] Adam: I’m just not doing that.
[00:28:56] Dan: Right. I think that brands have to be willing to change things up and not change things up in a reactive way like, “Oh, sh*t.” Sorry. “Oh, shoot.”
[00:29:10] Adam: I can cut that out.
[00:29:13] Dan: Traffics down and you do that knee jerk reaction. You can’t do that because then you end up putting programs together that are not strategically thought through.
[00:29:24] Adam: Right. We have to be on Snapchat.
[00:29:25] Dan: Right.
[00:29:26] Adam: No, you don’t.
[00:29:27] Dan: Please.
[00:29:27] Adam: Some brands do but you probably don’t, whoever you are listening.
[00:29:31] Dan: Right. [laughter]
[00:29:34] Adam: All right. Well, I think we’ve run the gamut on this topic. You may see a repeat of this as we dig back in. I have a feeling the articles will not stop on casual dining’s demise.
[00:29:45] Dan: No. No.
[00:29:46] Adam: As we predict, you’re going to see some brands falling off. So each new tombstone is going to bring another ream of articles about the demise of the entire category.
[00:29:57] Dan: We welcome you to have a counterpoint. Maybe you believe that casual dining is absolutely in a death spiral. If you do, please let us know. We love to go back and forth-
[00:30:10] Adam: Absolutely.
[00:30:11] Dan: – with people and debate things. Thanks again for listening.
[00:30:15] Adam: Absolutely. Thanks for listening.
[00:00:05] Adam Pierno: All right, welcome back to another episode of Food and Restaurant Marketing, I am Adam Pierno, your humble servant and host, and with me today is?
[00:00:14] Daniel Santy: Your arrogant servant and host Dan Santy.
[00:00:17] Adam: [laughs] We are back, we have a great topic today. We wrote an article about this a couple of weeks ago but this is something we’re talking about basically non-stop.
[00:00:28] Dan: Pretty much, yes.
[00:00:29] Adam: Pretty much. I don’t think it’s fad. Today’s topic, Is your brand really digital? Is the way you should pronounce that when you read it.
[00:00:39] Dan: Yes.
[00:00:39] Adam: What we want to know, today everything’s online, everything’s mobile, I have the power of a supercomputer in my pocket in the form of my phone. I can pretty much accomplish anything I want. Brands all think that they are on the leading age or doing ‘digital’ but are you really digital? Are you really understanding the principles of digital that make results happen, make things change and capitalize on behaviors that consumers are leaving every day.
[00:01:12] Dan: Yes, I think many many brands are way behind the curve in this area and I don’t know if they think they’re ahead of the curve, I don’t know if they think they are current or what the case may be, but the vast majority of brands really are behind the curve when it comes to the digital space, and part of that is, and that’s me being a jerk, part of that is the landscape, the ecosystem as I like to call it is in constant flux. So it becomes very difficult to really say, ” Hey, we’re ahead of the curve”.
A good friend of mine is a digital director at an agency, he’s hyper-critical of his shop, and that shop’s doing some pretty advanced things for their clients. It’s interesting to say people are behind the curve, I think I want to be careful when I say that, but I just want people to know that you should be changing with the ecosystem. That’s if you going to dive into digital, make sure you understand you’re going to have to change with the system.
[00:02:18] Adam: Yes, let’s just talk about something that you said is the curve. What do we think is the middle of the curve? What’s table stakes? What do you have to have to be considered even a current brand? We’ve been really digging into this topic across categories, beyond restaurants too but in other retail categories to understand this, but we see, there is are kind of a menu that should exist.
[00:02:44] Dan: Yes, I agree. Email marketing, I mean it sounds so mundane, but really if you think about it, those are some of your best customers because they’ve given you their data and said, “Yes, it’s okay to message me.” Staying current with your email marketing and make sure it’s tight, don’t over send, don’t send things that are ridiculous just to stay in front of the audience, again be relevant, we talk about that all the time. All these things you have to be very relevant.
[00:03:19] Adam: Right, so email is a great example. Having emails kind of table stakes, but having a great email program is being ahead of the curve, so having automated sense, having relevant personalized information that is thought out in catalogue and sent at the right time. That moves that email program, or even have an email program to sign up, put your card in a fish bowl to– ahead of the curve.
If you are doing it right and you have the right inputs in there and you can customize my message and say “You like this dish, here is a deal on that dish today, because we know you coming on Thursdays.”
[00:03:57] Dan: Right. Yes, and one last point on email marketing and that is, look at the analytics, see how they’re performing. When you pay attention to that, you can get rid of the under performing messaging and you can capitalize on the things that perform well. Now all of a sudden you’re again fine-tuning that messaging going forward and so your customers are going to appreciate that.
[00:04:25] Adam: Yes, look at the analytics is step one, do something with that is step two. We don’t have anything to say when people say, “Well we’ve got 50,000 subscribers,” and it’s like what did you do about knowing that? How big are you when you start segmenting and creating subgroups, and it’s not just our customers but this is our chicken customer, this is our beef customer, this is our dinner customer, this is our breakfast customer. Another thing that I think is kind of tables stakes, social media.
[00:04:53] Dan: Yes, unfortunately, no I’m just kidding. [laughter] It is, I mean there just billions and billions of interactions in social every day. You just need to capitalize on that, and we talked about it in a different podcast. The idea of putting up relevant content and then supporting it with paid social. It’s so critical for those of you who understand how the algorithms work, your organics reach is very low these days.
[00:05:35] Dan: Yes. It’s a pay-to-play model, but it’s not terribly expensive and you can control it and once again measure it and test and optimize.
[00:05:45] Adam: But just being there, it’s expected value. As a consumer we know from our studies and reading other research studies that consumers expect whatever platform they use, they expect brands to be there and when they want to complain or ask a question or if they’re on kick and they want to ask a question on the brand, they expect you to be there, and when you’re not, they feel like there’s something missing about the brand.
That doesn’t mean you have to be there, but it means you should be thoughtful about where you are and how you reaching the majority of your customers and not just people in general where you can get Facebook.
[00:06:17] Dan: Exactly. The final one I guess for table stakes is your site, your website, and please please understand that it needs to be mobile optimized, it’s just so critical. Go to a restaurant brand, maybe I’m just trying to find the nearest location, or I want to see a menu, whatever, make sure I can look at it on my smartphone really easily and visibly.
[00:06:51] Adam: Yes, and on the phone I mean you should, this point site should be built for the phone first. We’re all retail, we want to drive customers, we want to drive traffic. Location should be the first thing that’s popping up, and it’s saying there’s one a quarter mile away from you, would you like directions? Here’s the menu to that store.
[00:07:09] Dan: Right, absolutely.
[00:07:09] Adam: Right? Not just a generic PDF, please no more PDF menus. Give me a menu that I can scroll, that customers can copy out an item out of it, share it and send it to somebody and say, “This is what you wanted me to order.” I mean make it easy for people to shop you with one thumb.
[00:07:26] Dan: Ask yourself, “what sites do you use on your mobile device and enjoy so much?” Then say, “what is it about those sites that make it a better user experience? Make it a simple user experience.” Make sure you’re thinking about that for your own site, or if you have someone building your site, which most people do obviously, or designing it, make sure they understand these fundamentals as well.
[00:07:52] Adam: Yes, it’s really funny that when we’re here talking on the Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast, you don’t have to draw inspiration just from that category. Go look and see what other brands are doing. When we talk about social media, go look and see who is really doing a great job engaging customers or creating content or whatever you want to do, and borrow freely, don’t steal. Be inspired by those, then apply it to your own brand.
I think when you look at people that are doing really well in this space, Denny’s has taken it to a next level of really being on top of it, great community management for a brand that you wouldn’t think even have a community.
[00:08:36] Dan: Right. Indeed you bring up a community management that is so critical. If customers are contacting you or tweeting or posting on Facebook, whatever the case may be, make sure you’re responding. Even if you just private message them or whatever the case may be, that’s all they want, they want attention, they want somebody that say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry you had that bad experience,” and vice versa, they might be tweeting, “Just had a great meal at Quiznos.” I don’t think I’ve seen that tweet in a while–[laughter] but reward that person too and thank them.
[00:09:16] Adam: Yes, and I think what gets ahead of the curve and community management is the voice, the tone. The speed of the reply is important but really, again going back to Denny’s, the way they have been winning customers is just through a consistency of wit and demonstrating that they’re connected to the internet and knowing what’s happening almost all the time. In fact setting trends. Let’s be honest 10 years ago for Denny’s, it was not a relevant brand.
[00:09:45] Dan: Absolutely.
[00:09:45] Adam: They’re forcing themselves to be relevant through conversations that are happening and getting picked up, and copied and pasted and tweeted and reposted across the internet. That’s a huge win for probably the three entry level people that are responding to tweets all day.
[00:10:02] Dan: Yes. Another pet peeve of mine is when the brand is trying to get you to tweet about me. Tweet about me and I’ll do something for you. I think that kind of tends to be disingenuous. This is off category but I made a hotel reservation just the other day and a like box came up after the reservation said, “Hey, like us on Facebook” or in one of the social– they made it very easy for me to do it– should I do it?
Have not stayed at this property, so I’m not going to tweet about something I haven’t stayed at yet. I thought it was a little too aggressive and then they emailed me that same message. Now that was a bit irritating.
[00:10:42] Adam: Over the line?
[00:10:43] Dan: Yes, I gave you my email address so you could send me my confirmation not so you could continue to market to me. I think we have to be wise about how you communicate with your customers and what you’re asking them to do. Like us on Facebook, well give me a reason why.
[00:11:00] Adam: Absolutely, another thing when we think about brands that really are digital. That really get it. Domino’s is a great example. They just keep innovating. They keep on going further, further and further with finding new ways to get people to order, engage with the brand in digital space. That’s great in and of itself. I can order with an emoji. That’s cool and it’s fun and I’m never going to do it. What’s even better is that it’s an idea that gets PR.
[00:11:30] Dan: Exactly, the holy grail of a great marketing campaign is when it does get publicity because it carries itself so much further. People are going to see the story, go look it up online. All of a sudden you’re getting eyeballs, you’re not getting from your traditional TV buyer or whatever you may be doing. That’s a great point. It’s not easy to do at all. We’re not naive about that, but think about that and think about the programs that you have and put them out to the press. Let the press decide if they’re newsworthy or not, but not doing it at all, it’s not going to get picked up.
[00:12:12] Adam: Yes, part of the thing is having a mind for that. If that’s your goal. Thinking about that as you’re looking at ideas and programs as they come up. It’s like, “Could we pitch this? Is this an idea that could get press or is it just an idea?” Ultimately revenue is more valuable, but if you can also get press, that’s great. I kind of suspect the order with an emoji is more of a PR play than the actual. I don’t think anyone thought, “Oh, this is going to increase sales by this percentage.” The shareholders did not give that a standing O with Q4 call.
[00:12:46] Dan: Indeed, I read a great– dovetailing just more of this digital advertising. Read a great Buzzfeed article just the other day. Essentially, I think it was the CEO had pen this particular column. He was talking about the ad industry and the fact that we’re taking linear advertising and putting it in the digital space and how flawed that truly is because the digital space is its own animal and taking what we’re doing in a print ad or television commercial or whatever to try and make it fit into the digital realm is backwards. I couldn’t agree with him more. You’re going to be in that space make sure you think about how those ads, those ad units, the native advertising, whatever you’re doing is going to live with those publishers so that you could put it there in a meaningful way.
[00:13:49] Adam: Absolutely, banner ads are mostly a waste of time and that’s the exact meaning of is your brand really digital. Well, we have a display program or we run pre-roll. At least pre-roll tells your story. Video is powerful but really plugging in and understanding how people use digital, how they use mobile and creating a message that connects that relationship and a consumer creating that beautiful triangular value. That’s what real digital brands are doing. Domino’s order with an emoji, pizza tracker and all those things it just keeps on piling on and making it stronger and stronger.
[00:14:30] Dan: Agreed. What’s your take on apps, Adam? I know you have a pretty strong opinion about the app world. Should every brand have an app?
[00:14:41] Adam: No. I was actually with comScore a couple years ago. It was the late ’14, might have been early ’15 released the stat that said that monthly average app downloads had gotten to zero. [Editor’s note: It was actually September 2016] That people were just downloading fewer and fewer apps per month.
[00:15:01] Dan: I remember you bringing this to me.
[00:15:03] Adam: At its peak, it was 11 a month or 16 a month or something. This was across a general age group so it wasn’t specific to any demos. I’m sure there’s tweens out there that’s still downloading.
[00:15:13] Dan: Plenty of apps.
[00:15:14] Adam: Yes, and since I read that, I really have been paying attention and picking up people’s phones and looking at their phones and seeing what apps they have, looking for ideas. I’m down to two pages and maybe generously, maybe I have 25 apps on my phone. I don’t want to join the conversation with your brand. I eat a lot of QSR, a lot of Fast Casuals. I eat a decent amount of Casual Dining still. I’m probably the last one.
I don’t need an app unless there’s a value to it and I don’t need a coupon. It’s like I have the Delta Airlines app on my phone because it serves a really good purpose and does it in a really good way when I travel.
[00:16:00] Dan: I think what you’re talking about there, Delta is a great example and that’s function. It’s an important function. You’re simplifying something for me [unintelligible 00:16:12] to your point that the app has enormous value. I would think really long and hard about an app but I think is better, that is what we were talking about earlier in creating a pristine mobile web experience for your brand of whatever that may mean for you.
That is probably money better spent than trying to invest in an app because what people forget about the app. Now you’ve got to get people to download it so all of a sudden you got to spend marketing dollars promoting your app to get people to download it so hopefully, they’ll use it and now you’re not using those same. You’ve diluted your marketing budget when you could have been using that to be doing mobile advertising or SMS advertising whatever the case may be.
[00:17:02] Adam: That’s it, you nailed it. We talk about it when we were working with brands. We tell them if you’re committed to this you’re creating another product. Would you rather promote a day part or this app? Because now you have to pull people into this ecosystem to get the ROI out of it. Maybe, you might. I think you’re dead on, having a more powerful website is more important because then when it’s on my mind and I pull it up, I get the experience I want versus now the restaurant, your locations.
You’ve given up POP space to try to get people to download this app that they probably don’t want or they download it to get the coupon or whatever you’re incenting them with and then they delete it or they keep it and it’s on page nine of their phone and they never look at it again. Is that valuable? I don’t know. It’s debatable.
[00:17:53] Dan: It’s such a competitive space and I take your point, why do you have so few because so many don’t provide value. Why would I load up my screen with these things and never use them and I bet if you track your behavior of the apps, you do have it’s probably something like 80 20, 80% of your users have 20% of the apps you have on your phone.
[00:18:22] Adam: I’m sure. It’s probably Mail, Twitter and whatever game I’m playing. It’s those three things. You definitely hit the nail on the head. Delta as an example, I also have the Southwest app. Those make traveling easier. I can get the boarding pass. I don’t have to print anything if I’m on the road I just pull up that little QR code is the only place–
[00:18:46] Dan: Change my flight if I have to.
[00:18:48] Adam: Right, makes traveling easier, makes it simpler and so I keep those things on my phone. But does a restaurant app, how is that going to make my life easier if it’s for– is an Applebee’s app going to make my life easier?
[00:19:02] Dan: No.
[00:19:03] Adam: Is a Buffalo Wild Wings app? How will it improve the experience? I guess–
[00:19:08] Dan: No at all. [laughs] In our opinion.
[00:19:11] Adam: If I was a weekly customer and it gave me a coupon and let me order every week or predicted or did something. It reminded me, “Hey it’s time for your weekly–.” I don’t know. I don’t think I want that either, so why are we doing it. You’re paying for a location finder in most cases.
[00:19:26] Dan: Indeed. Well, here’s the next big subject that everybody’s talking about is data. Why is it crucial? Why is data so crucial and have the publishers in the world who are talking about data, ruin data by referring to it as big data which I think makes people go, “Oh man crap, what I’m I going to do with all this information,” because there is a lot of information available to us, but what information is really meaningful.
[00:20:01] Adam: You said it. Everybody’s talking about it but nobody is saying anything. It’s just like big data is really powerful. The brands that are truly digital brands know how to employ this data. They know what data they’re trying to collect. They have a precision about it. They’re smart and they have a plan for what they want to learn.
Start with a hypothesis. If you want to be a digital brand, figure out what you want to learn, and then say, “Okay. To do that, I need to capture this data.” We work with brands a lot on this particular aspect of how do we better know your costumers? what data do we need to collect?
[00:20:37] Dan: Exactly, and make sure, Adam said this earlier in the podcast, analysis. Analysis. That’s the important thing. It’s one thing to collect the data and that’s its own infrastructure need, to make sure you can actually collect data on what your costumers’ behavior is. Second, is to analyze that. Then third, of course, is to make conclusions and recommendations on and how’re you going to act on that analysis.
I think we miss that piece of the puzzle all too often. With as much data as there is today, it still kills me when I hear a brand say things anecdotally. Well, that didn’t work. It’s like, “Can someone please give me the analytics on that?” What does that mean? Does that mean zero people did whatever it was we wanted them to do? 10% did, and we usually want a 50% of that activity rate, whatever. I get so frustrated because I know the data is there to– maybe there to validate that it didn’t work, but let’s define success, let’s define failure.
[00:21:47] Adam: Yes, amen. I know we’re on the same page about this one. I think when you’re talking about measuring success versus failure and there’s a lot on the line. If you’re a public company, there’s a lot on the line between shareholder value. But for private companies too, there’s jobs on the line, there’s locations on the line. This stuff really matters. If we’re talking about measuring the difference between success and failure, one thing we are obsessed with is attribution.
If we have a campaign that’s about- let’s make it about a day part, so everybody’s launching breakfast right now, that’s the craze. What I would love to look back at this in 18 months and see who still has breakfast. What is really driving breakfast traffic? Which piece of your digital campaign is really working and doing that? Knowing that and going from the top end, so we did this native video series with a breakfast chef, and now breakfast is up 10%. Well, what percentage of those people went deep in the funnel and clicked and did something that you know they used a coupon and they went to your store.
[00:22:48] Dan: Agree because usually in a situation like that where you’re adding a day part or a whole new menu and set of items that are not typical to your brand, your regular costumers are going to try it. Digital lose a lunch over a breakfast a trip, so I think you’re absolutely right, Adam. Attribution is king because, again, that’s the thing that’s going to tell you what’s working and what’s not.
[00:23:20] Adam: Yes, you have to be able to track back. The last bit of this is actually going inside the store. We talked about Domino’s that has great tech to get me to order, and they don’t have an in-store experience to speak of, but Panera has added kiosks on which customers can order, customize their order, choose your sandwich, choose your soup, whatever they’re doing, and they go sit down wait and someone brings it out. It’s essentially a swap out, one for one, with a clerk versus this kiosk.
McDonald is also been testing it with the ‘your way’ platform that they did away with, but they kept the kiosks. Those are digital innovations that make sense for the brand. The digital menu boards are not.
[00:24:09] Dan: [laughs]
[00:24:10] Adam: That does not make you a digital brand. The Ziosk-
[00:24:13] Dan: I love that analogy.
[00:24:15] Adam: the Ziosk table-side tablet that sits on the table at Chili’s, also does not make you a digital brand.
[00:24:25] Dan: Not at all. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that that example you’re giving, again, no different than the app that Panera kiosk is serving a really important customer experience, and that is speed of service. I don’t have just talk to somebody, I’m used to working in this environment, especially, all them- Forgive me for saying it, Millennials, Gen Z, who grown up with technology, they’re very comfortable with it. If you’re going to do that, though, make sure, again, that user experience is a stellar.
[00:25:00] Adam: That right there, the user experience, is what separates the digital brand from the not digital brands. The brands who are saying, “We’re digital. We have digital menu boards. We bought Ziosks for the table.” No, you put a TV on the table.
[00:25:13] Dan: [laughs] Right.
[00:25:15] Adam: Now you have distracted guests. You’ve actually broken the table experience when two kids fight over the Ziosk, or one person is consumed with a game and the other three people are eating. That doesn’t make the experience better, that’s what- I guess it took us a long time to get to this, and it’s not in our notes but- or the article, does your use of digital make your brand better? Does it make the experience better?
[00:25:42] Dan: Yes. I can give you another one that’s a pet peeve of mine, and this is at Fine Dining. Typically, I think some casual diners do this, but please don’t put your wine menu on an iPad.
[00:25:54] Adam: Oh God.
[00:25:55] Dan: I’ve got to scroll and scroll. I mean this is not the experience I want. I want to look at wine menus, I want to turn that page, that’s a bad experience in my opinion.
[00:26:08] Adam: There is something about–
[00:26:08] Dan: It serves no function except that you don’t have to print wine list anymore.
[00:26:13] Adam: But you could print a one-page wine list, it doesn’t have to be fancy. There’s something about the tactile flipping the page and it doesn’t have to be in a book, but- I agree. It’s especially weird on a Ziosk. I don’t want to pick my rosay from a computer screen and be like, “Oh, how about Rose number 91.”
[00:26:31] Dan: Yes, the waiter is standing over me and he’s just, “Would you like bold flavors or you like sweet.” And I’m like, “Go, please go away.” [laughs]
[00:26:40] Adam: That’s not making the experience better-
[00:26:41] Dan: No.
[00:26:42] Adam: -it’s making it awkward.
[00:26:43] Dan: Exactly.
[00:26:44] Adam: Super effing awkward.
[00:26:46] Dan: Well, I think we hit the digital realm here, that’s for sure. I love talking about digital because it is ever changing.
[00:26:55] Adam: Absolutely.
[00:26:56] Dan: That’s for sure. This won’t be the last time.
[00:26:58] Adam: Even by the time we record this, to the time we publish this podcast episode, a lot of things will change. Thank you for joining us. Because Dan and I are both extremely digital people, you can use the electronic mail to reach us. firstname.lastname@example.org or adam@foodandrestaurantmarketing or you can hit us on the Twitter, @F&RM is our Twitter handle. Visit the website. Please subscribe to the podcast if you like what you heard, or if you hated what you heard, subscribe anyway. All right, thanks a lot.