A slew of up-to-the-minute online services are fundamentally changing the way you can market your restaurant
Remember when marketing used to involve letter-boxing the neighbourhood with a few hundred flyers, or dropping an ad in the local paper? When we all agreed word-of-mouth was the most powerful recommendation you could get, and to get it, you just had to do a good job? Ah, they were the good old days—maybe a year or two ago.
Now the way we communicate with each other is far more technologically sophisticated—and with that change comes more complex (and intimidating) marketing choices. One of the great challenges facing a restaurateur at the moment is simply understanding what’s out there. Where six months ago everyone was talking about the commercial application of social media and why you should have your own Facebook page, now it’s all about smartphone apps, location services and real-time booking. None of which are a replacement for old-school marketing.
“I don’t think these types of services will ever replace traditional marketing methods but I think they certainly complement them,” says Andrew Shakepeare, creator of the Hungry Horse smartphone app. “I actually market my app using paper flyers to the general public.”
Hungry Horse is an iPhone app which collects and collates all the restaurant deals available to you in your local area. “The focus of the app is very much ‘On Demand’ so anytime of day you can instantly see what deals are available now rather than having to sift through lots of information to find out what actually is available,” Shakespeare explains. “Location-based searching is definitely changing the way people shop.”
And changing it fundamentally, points out Jason Bulger from bookarestaurant.com—which offers real-time bookings, a smartphone app and coupons.
“If I were running a restaurant, I would want to make sure I’m participating in the new technology revolution that is being provided to small businesses right now,” he says. “Coupons are great, if you are comfortable promoting discount meals, as they drive traffic. Location-based services and the use of mobile technology, I believe, will be the next major frontier for consumer marketing. In the not-too-distant future, we will be talking about location-based services like we do about the internet now.
“Technology simply changes the way businesses can reach consumers. The traditional flyer and/or ad in the local paper are absolutely still relevant. It just may not be the dominant way to reach your target demographic anymore.
“I don’t think the online marketing options are going to replace the restaurants’ traditional marketing channels. I think restaurants should be embracing and testing all of these new technologies to see what works for them and combine them with the traditional marketing channels to ensure they are reaching the broadest spectrum of potential diners possible.”
One truism of online marketing which hasn’t changed over the past several years is it all starts with Google. And although you may not have registered it, Google has changed its services recently in ways that profoundly affect how people find your business.
A free listing on Google Maps makes it easy for customers to find you, and Google offers a service called Google Places to help you create your listing. When potential customers search maps for local information, they find your business: your address, hours of operation, even photos of your storefront or products.
Google Place page search results tend to pop up at the top of any searches you do on Google. You don’t even need your own website to get a result, since the Google Places page points customers towards your physical address.
Another key change has been the new spotlight function. Users can click on that icon beside their search results to get a preview of the page found, making it easier to quickly determine if that’s what they’re looking for. Restaurants that have invested in interesting web sites are the winners from this, as the preview lets customers see they’ve come directly to your site, rather than, say, an online review of your restaurant. Both these changes to Google searches have changed the playing field for anyone who has invested more in search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques than content.
Another technologically-driven change in marketing has been the rapid growth in daily deal or coupon companies. R&C magazine has covered the dangers of such offers in the past, but Jason Bulger points out that there is definitely a place for such ‘instant
rewards’ in your marketing toolkit. “From the day we started designing the bookarestaurant.com interface, we had always wanted to include the opportunity for restaurants to promote special offers,” he explains. “Some of the higher-end restaurants won’t discount, but they do have a two-course set lunch they want to promote. Or they have a pre-theatre/early-bird offer that they want to communicate out. Bookarestaurant.com is simply the channel that helps them get the message out.”
Where such offers become really powerful, says Bulger, is their combination with an iPhone app—so a daily deal can be offered to someone searching for a table a few blocks away who may never have otherwise seen your restaurant.
“Our iPhone application is designed to mirror the website functionality of searching for an available table anywhere, anytime,” says Bulger. “Obviously, the GPS functionality inside the iPhone also allows for a ‘near me’ search to be done, which is pretty basic technology for those smartphone users.”
But perhaps the greatest argument for the hi-tech approach to marketing is its accountability. In the past, half your flyers could have ended up blowing out of letterboxes, or stuffed behind a tree in the bush somewhere.
Now, as Hungry Horse’s Andrew Shakespeare points out, “I am able to tell a restaurant how many people have searched for a deal within a five-kilometre radius of their venue over a period of time. That is pretty powerful information.”