As restaurants continue their mission to bring customers back, more creative and aggressive marketing campaigns continue to emerge.
Tactics include enhanced social media efforts, improving the digital ordering experience, enhancing loyalty programs and other incentives. “Creating a differentiated experience is more important than ever to bring people back in,” says David Henkes, senior principal at Chicago-based Technomic.
Promoting Out Loud
Short Message Service Marketing: More commonly known as SMS marketing, chains such as Subway, Chili’s and Boston Market employ this method to not only bring in new business but also build brand loyalty with current customers. By sending text notifications, restaurants can promote exclusive offers, send coupons, notify customers about limited-time-offers and provide other incentives for ordering. And it also keeps brands top of mind with their customers, as they are in regular communication.
App Specials: QSRs are driving traffic by offering incentives to those who download their apps. Some examples: McDonald’s gave away free medium fries, Chick-fil-A promoted free nuggets and Wendy’s offered free burgers.
Geofencing Capabilities: Although not yet widely used to date, this marketing tactic steers customers directly to specific restaurants. Burger King employed this promotion with its Whopper Detour campaign back in 2018. How it worked: Smartphone users with the BK app who were 600 feet from McDonald’s received a notification they could purchase a Whopper for a penny to redirect them to Burger King. Apps with geofencing capabilities are providing those in the area with incentives, such as meal deals for a limited time, to grow traffic.
Enhancing Loyalty Programs: Providing additional options for customers to build their loyalty points is gaining steam. With Taco Bell’s mobile restaurant concept launching this year, it is seeking to enhance efficiencies and customer convenience by providing pickup options (drive-thru or curbside pickup). Those who go with Taco Bell’s suggested method of picking up their food, communicated through its mobile app, will earn more loyalty points.
Tech + Marketing
The quest for brands to remain top of mind is of paramount importance and technology offers one fast solution. “One thing the pandemic has done is rapidly increased integration of technology into the customer’s restaurant experience,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association.
“As a result, the communications infrastructure now is in a better place than pre-pandemic and lends itself to much more messaging to that consumer as well as better identifying [their buying habits].”
Marketing has become much more of a real-time experience, notes Riehle. “Younger consumers expect that the restaurant experience will incorporate an aspect of technology, so consequently combining digital options with messaging is a very symbiotic relationship that will become more important in the years ahead.”
“There has notably been more integration with digital ordering and search capabilities that help facilitate dining decisions,” says David Henkes, senior principal at Chicago-based Technomic.
There also has been a reappearance of some technology that didn’t quite take off prior to the pandemic, namely QR codes. “The QR code is one example of something that almost went away and is now seeing a resurgence,” Henkes says. “More operators are looking to use consumers’ own mobile devices as a way to communicate, whether it’s with QR codes for menus or messaging or geofencing to ping potential customers with coupons or marketing messages. None of this is new, but it has taken on an added importance in today’s climate.”