You can use your website, cookbooks, social media and more to cultivate customers, brand ambassadors and staff. It’s called content marketing, and some of our top restaurateurs are masters of it. Chris Sheedy explains
Upon first visiting the website for the much loved Red Lantern [www.redlantern.com.au] in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, you’re offered a free bonus before you even hit the home page. An e-book containing six secret recipes by co-owner and head chef Luke Nguyen is yours when you subscribe with your name, email and birthday. A short video message from Luke welcomes visitors to the site and points yet again to the free e-book offer, plus other membership benefits including invites to events, competition entries, freebies, monthly newsletters and “something special on your birthday”.
The success of the Red Lantern restaurants is a perfect example of content marketing done exceptionally well. Content marketing involves using content—stories, blog posts, recipes, books, videos and so on—to draw customers to you, where you can record their details and start to market to them. Customers earned this way tend to be more loyal, and spend more with you, than drop-ins.
Luke has authored several best-selling and award-winning cookbooks, has starred in his own cooking and travel TV programs and appeared in many other major TV series, including MasterChef and Gordon’s Great Escape. Luke’s sister and Red Lantern co-owner Pauline Nguyen is also a best-selling author, an in-demand corporate speaker and played an instrumental role in The Serpent’s Tale, a theatrical piece that was voted Best Show of the Sydney Festival in 2014, by critics and audiences alike.
Few of these ideas began as content marketing strategies. “We’re not that smart,” Pauline says, laughing. “We don’t say, ‘Let’s write a book because it is content marketing.’ We do it because we love it, and to be constantly inspired.”
However, the most effective content marketing is always genuine—the key to its success is it’s not advertising.
The work being carried out by the Red Lantern team outside of the restaurant environment is undoubtedly adding to the brand’s overall success. And this is the magic of great content marketing, says Mark Brown, director of content marketing agency Engage Content.
“Red Bull has taken this idea to the extreme,” Brown says. “Its brand is now known as much for its content as it is for its drinks. In fact, Red Bull is now in a position where they can sell their audience through partnerships, to help other brands connect with that audience. Red Bull is in a position where the company could stop selling drinks and continue as a profitable media company.”
How does this connect with a restaurant business? First, Brown says, it is important to understand what ‘content marketing’ means.
“Engage Content defines content marketing as the use of quality content to engage an audience and then build a mutually beneficial relationship between the brand and the reader,” he explains.
In that sense, content marketing has actually been around for a hundred years. In fact, an early example is agricultural machinery business John Deere launching its customer magazine The Furrow in the 1890s, which exists today as a magazine, website and app.
These days, rather than reading newspapers and watching TV, people spend much of their time on smartphones and computers. As a result, content marketing plays an important role in customer acquisition, Brown says. Google’s algorithm rewards a site for regular updates of unique quality content, such as a blog, for instance. Do this right and Google will begin delivering your content to searchers, and will therefore build new relationships.
But it’s not all about technology. Pauline points out that wanting to connect with great stories has long been integral to the human condition. “Story telling is an ancient art form; it is part of human nature,” she says. “People are looking for stories they can relate to, stories that resonate with them. That is why the art of story telling can be so reflective and can touch so many people.”
And if agricultural machinery firms can successfully utilise content marketing to boost their brands, he explains, then restaurants can certainly do the same. The first step in creating your content marketing plan is to define your audience. Build a profile from your best current customers then create content they will love, he says.
Rather than relying on platforms such as Facebook, which end up owning all of your audience’s details then charging you to communicate with them, instead utilise promotions and rewards—just as Red Lantern does—to build your own database. At the same time, identify content within your business that is already being produced (recipes, the story behind the restaurant, staff member experiences, etc.) that could resonate with your market.
“Bring out the passion that drives your business into real stories,” Brown says. “To get content marketing right, you need to be unique, genuine and offer quality content. No-one wants to be sold to, so if you’re asking for someone’s time, you need to deliver. Think about what makes your restaurant or catering business different and bring that to life in a way that will be interesting.”
And if you make a promise to deliver—via a monthly e-newsletter containing exclusive recipes and behind-the-scenes information, for example—then make sure you follow up.
Consider bringing a professional agency on board to look at your offering through a fresh set of eyes, including identifying opportunities for creating stories around parts of your business you might not have considered.
“A great agency will marry the creative editorial and design teams with a strategist who can help define target audiences, recommend the right channels to invest in and how to measure and report on the campaign. You need to be able to see a return on investment and always evolve your strategy to adapt to new platforms and technologies,” Brown says. But in the end, you must be doing what you are passionate about. As much as the Red Lantern owners do, they don’t have a regular blog on their website, for instance.
“We have been told many times that we should have a blog,” Pauline says. “On my own personal website [www.paulinenguyen.com.au] for my speaking career, I only blog when I am inspired. I don’t want to stick to the time frame of having to blog every three days because then it becomes mechanical. When it comes to content marketing, everything that we do comes from the heart. That way it is inevitable that we will touch people.”
If you aren’t ready to blog, learn how to work on your social media presence first.