Developing Digital Strategy for Restaurant Industry Clients

Developing Digital Strategy
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When speaking of the importance of digital marketing for the restaurant and service industry, it's easy to take a step back and wonder where to begin. Not because it's confusing to speak about, but rather because it's absolutely vital to the success of a restaurant or bar. Today, I wanted to take a look at Gloria's Latin Cuisine and examine how we were able to help this restaurant industry client with their digital marketing strategy.

As the title of this blog clearly leads you to believe, crafting a comprehensive digital strategy for restaurant industry clients is an absolute must. Today's restaurant industry patron is all over digital. In fact, the industry thrives on it. Foodie pics, complaints and high praise for dishes and service, social checkins, those pesky Yelp reviews, and overall commentary about the dining experience are commonplace on social media. The mobile and tablet experience doesn't just stop at social media. Diners are often looking up a restaurant's website for contact information, location information, menus, reviews, gift card purchases, application submission and beyond. All of these factors must be taken into account.

(Side note, if you've never seen the YouTube videos of real actors reading Yelp reviews, please watch it after you're done reading and sharing this blog).

How we totally revamped the Gloria's Latin Cuisine website.

First things first: I've got to send high praise to Gloria's Latin Cuisine. While they've been longtime clients with us, they are very forward thinking and care deeply about their customer base. These regional Texas restaurants are family owned and operated and have always been heavily involved with us in our strategy meetings, while trusting our expertise. You other marketing managers know what I'm talking about here: it's that dream client relationship. Anyway, I'm done gushing over Gloria's. Let's get into the nitty gritty: the challenges and solutions we faced recently.

We wanted to increase social interaction and integration for Gloria's on the web. They already had a fantastic reputation, but we felt more could be done. The first step was to build a brand new website. It was time to make every aspect fully responsive and open up to broad images. We integrated social on every page and created a media page that would auto-populate Gloria's relevant hashtags from users. (Pro tip: user generated content is your best friend. Especially for restaurant industry clients. It's a way to let the casual diner help celebrate your brand and let you know if something's wrong. Never underestimate the power of the people who dine at your restaurant. They should always be your number one priority). To further incorporate social media, we ran a live scrolling Twitter feed across the bottom and had every location page complete with social checkins. Also imperative was that there was a clearly visible contact form, as to provide an outlet for their demographic to give feedback.

We knew ecommerce was going to be an option, so we made sure to have a secure checkout for gift card purchases. We gave two options: either gift cards that could be mailed out (yes, we had to work out logistics with this) and ecards for immediate purchase and use. A secure check out process for the user obviously installs a feeling of confidence. For this particular project, we chose to use Ubercart.  

Additionally, we wanted streaming video on the desktop version, so we contracted a local photographer/videographer to help get exactly what we needed. (I chose the extraordinarily talented Ben Garrett. Pro tip #2: if you need photo or video and want an awesome product that's not boring, he's your guy). For mobile and tablet versions, we problem solved with hi-res images from the video frames. Same general experience, but everyone's happy.

How we approached social media for Gloria's.

I'm going to be as blunt as I can be here: if you're managing social media for a large number of restaurants then you should prepare to incorporate it as part of your daily life. Your marketing team working on the account with you should do the same. If you're out enjoying dinner on a Friday night, so is the rest of the world. This means checkins, pictures, comments, feedback...you know, the usual sort of thing. (Pro tip #3: You don't have to respond to everything immediately, but pay attention in case there's a need for customer service that is immediate. Designate different roles on your team when crafting your strategy so the ball doesn't ever get dropped here).

With Gloria's, we did a lot of research (analytics and competitor research are your friends), and realized we needed to craft a personal tone of voice. Fans of this brand are really passionate about their meals and the service at Gloria's, so we understood the need to highlight this. Scheduled posts came at optimal times, reviews were monitored on all pages (each location has their own Facebook page, plus a main page for the restaurant and then of course there's all the other social sites: Urbanspoon (now Zomato), Yelp, Twitter, G+, Trip Adivsor, etc.

Equally important was the need to focus on visual media. As you can probably guess, so many people snap pictures of their food or a group of friends out enjoying dinner. (Isn't half of the internet "foodie" pics, anyway?) So we put heavy emphasis on not only our pictures but utilized social listening for user generated content. Searching for pics and commenting on others is a great way to increase your Instagram and Twitter fan base. With that in mind, you should always be listening, because not everyone is going to tag your restaurant. Every tweet, photograph etc is an opportunity to turn a casual diner into a brand ambassador and is extremely successful. Don't forget that. I should point out at this moment that fans of Gloria's have been some of my favorite that I've ever interacted with on social media for a brand. They're really fun.

How did the results turn out?

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Facebook fans increased from 4,391 to 14,352
  • Replies to tweets increased by 200%
  • Twitter reach increased by more than 60,000 people per month
  • Foursquare checkins up 45%
  • Greater customer satisfaction
  • Faster response time to customer service issues
  • Website hits doubled
  • Top pages viewed were menus and location pages
  • Easier access and communication between marketing and the physical locations

How to go about crafting your strategy for your own client: analyzing the basics.

Every restaurant caters to a different clientele, so you're going to want to do a significant amount of research. Here's some basic questions to ask:

  • Is the website responsive?
  • Is social navigation present?
  • What is the restaurant's target demographic?
  • What is the restaurant's current social media plan?
  • What is the restaurant's crisis management plan?
  • What customer service aspects are most important to the restaurant?
  • What social networks are currently in use?
  • What landing pages are most frequently visited?
  • How often is the website visited per month?
  • Is there an option for ecommerce?
  • For online reputation management, what is the current attitude towards the restaurant?
  • Who is the competition?
  • Is there a Yelp, Foursquare, Urbanspoon or Trip Advisor presence?
  • What type of images are available that reflect the restaurant decor or dishes?

From there, you can establish KPIs and monitor them. For us in this particular instance, it was all about having quantifiable data that reflected an increase in web traffic and social activity. This allowed us to hone in exactly on who we were targeting and really understand those markets within different regions of Texas. Now remember (and I cannot stress this enough) that every restaurant client is different. Make sure you do your research and see what the clientele is like. It's highly important to be reflective of the brand. If you're an upscale restaurant, take a tone that reflects that. If it's a type of place where you can pony up and slam a few thousand PBRs at the bar and cab it home, reflect that. Do your research and tweak your strategy accordingly. This is highly important when crafting your digital plan for this industry. And always make sure the website is responsive. This is a generalized rule, but it especially applies to restaurants. Mobile is everything. Also, make sure you're using high quality images. A good photographer is crucial for the website's success.

So there you have it: a real life example of how a cohesive integrated marketing strategy was able to help a client. As I've been writing this blog, I thought about potentially writing a guide for digital marketing for service industry clients. Would this be something you'd be interested in reading? Let me know in the comments below!    

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