Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New Year

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New Year

By Restaurant Marketing Weather Forecaster – Linda Duke

Following the election for U.S. President, and negative news from Hurricane Sandy to shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the outlook resembles weather with “partly cloudy skies and a chance of rain” for Restaurant Marketers. Although some economic indicators such as increasing home sales might be sunny, the economy overall is in a bit of a standstill, waiting for the storm to pass.

Not to be superstitious, but isn’t the number 13 unlucky? There’s never a 13th floor at hotels (in the United States at least) and 13 is often considered to be bad luck. So, what does this coming year, 2013, hold? More importantly, how will the economic outlook affect consumers purchasing behaviors? What restaurant marketing trends are starting to make headway? What are the SUNNY DAYS ahead going to bring and how can restaurant marketers take advantage of those? Read on:

Restaurant brands will get increasingly visual.

Restaurant brands are rethinking the opportunity for visual engagement, merchandising and visual content marketing. It’s an opportunity to reimagine how to tell a brand story in a visual way, but more importantly how to solicit the same level of involvement in brand story-telling from consumers.

Visuals such as photos and video cross cultural barriers and are instantly relatable. It is thinking about words being made into visual communications such as Digital Menu Boards which are increasingly being incorporated into many restaurant brands.

Digital menu boards and ordering kiosks will continue to increase and be incorporated into more brands due to their appeal and favored use by younger consumers.

Journey Content

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New YearWhen a restaurant marketer develops a promotion it involves a message and typically a call to action. That “message” is content and today content is KING! When meaningful content is developed for brands it must be thought of as “journey content” since if possible, guests will post it, share it, comment on it and give it additional life. The new trend is to develop a great piece of content and know that is just the beginning of the journey for that content. Audiences, online communities and your guests, will be recognized as contributors to your brand and co-creators of your messages.

Making a Difference

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New YearIf your brand isn’t known for “making a difference” maybe you need to think about how it can. With 9 out of 10 consumers choosing those brands that do community service or contribute to meaningful nonprofit organizations, it’s hard to ignore. Many restaurant operators contribute to local teams and schools, but more and more are finding organizations that can help them spread the word but can also help them make a difference. For a recent restaurant grand opening guests were encouraged to donate a non-perishable food item in exchange for a complimentary meal. More than 500 guests attended and over 600 pounds of food was collected. The visual of the overflowing cans of donations made the evening news and garnered press coverage. The media buzz created an overwhelming response from the local community with more donations coming in for the entire first month of business. The restaurant brand contributed the highest grand opening sales in the 30+ year history of the company to the nonprofit activities.

For Crisis Sake

Ask a restaurant CEO what keeps them up at night and more than half will answer CRISIS. No longer can restaurant marketers leave crisis to be handled by the top brass or HR person, it affects the entire brand. With nine out of the “Ten top PR Crisis’ of 2012” being about foodservice, it is imperative for brands to develop and have on hand a crisis plan. With increased cyber-criminal activity, companies that once protected the car industry of credit card theft and data breaches such as ANX, are now seeing increased breaches of level 4 merchants, that is restaurant brands and their franchisees locations, across the United States. Unfortunately the United States swipe card method of taking credit card payments opens us up to cyber theft. Numerous brands have been affected by cyber criminals and have either spent millions to correct the damage or have gone out of business. More brand leaders will realize crisis can impact the entire brand and will plan accordingly in case of….

Blitz ‘em!

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New YearIn American football or Canadian football, a blitz is when additional players are sent to “rush the quarterback”–that is, try to tackle the quarterback or disrupt his pass attempt. The term is borrowed from the Blitzkrieg, the German strategy of “Lightning War” employed during World War II. Like the Blitzkrieg, the blitz is a concentration of force at high speed to force a breakthrough and proceed without regard to the flanks. So, for restaurant marketers it’s time to Blitz the competition! With the prolonged economic challenges and the outlook still murky, many restaurant brands are easy targets to Blitz. Many have relied on coupons, Groupons, discounts and Two for $20, over the past couple of years are now realizing this is not a long term strategy. Consumer’s want MORE than discounts today. They want great customer service, added value, and increased experiences at the places they select to spend their hard earned money. Perhaps your competitor hasn’t changed with the times? Maybe they can easily get blitzed with extra marketing efforts. Not all restaurant brands will make it through the changing times—will yours? Don’t get blitzed!

Re-Thinking Traditional Tactics

Creative communicators are rethinking their traditional marketing tactics. Mass Markets are the thing of the 60?s, and firms nowadays should no longer approach the old strategy of targeting broad market segments and using mass media to communicate its product. Marketers should now take advantage of the advanced communication technologies that we have right now, which allows us to have direct interaction with customers, do data collection and mining about potential customers, and giving them exactly the kind of product or service they want.

Today, smart restaurant marketers focus on building relationships. Traditional marketing in the past was just aiming to push products or services, while the new customer-cultivating marketing aims at serving customers and customer segments. Marketing managers who can build relationships with individual customers using two way communications, which will establish long term relationships, is the wave of the future. Understanding one’s target market is always essential and now there are multiple channels to communicate to those targets. Marketers’ who aren’t rethinking their marketing and integrating traditional tactics with new methods, such as social media and content development for multiple uses, and getting customers interacting with their brand, will be left in the dark ages.

Newsmakers—Lights • Camera • Action!

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New YearPlanning and making the news about your restaurant brand is better than letting the stories get miss-told or misinterpreted when the lights, camera and action hit without a plan! Celebrating milestones and news making opportunities should be seriously considered by every restaurant marketer for next year’s strategies and beyond. Opening a new restaurant in the coming year? You only get to open once so MAKE IT COUNT. Creating newsworthy activities with planned communications and outreach can garner lots of buzz and publicity for any restaurant brand. In the coming year expect to see more PLANNED news making events for restaurant brands.

Buzz Equity

How does one build a brand that inspires generations? Can one plan for buzz? Can one create it with big ideas that create momentum? The answer is yes, and more and more brands are trying to understand what makes and builds buzz equity today. Buzz equity is built with positive association, excitement, and anticipation about your product or service. Think Apple and the buzz equity they build from product launch to product launch. And for some companies it is important to understand the buzz surrounding a product before committing to the market.

Positive “buzz” is often a goal of viral marketing, public relations, and of advertising on Web 2.0 media. The term refers both to the execution of the marketing technique, and the resulting goodwill that is created. Examples of products with strong marketing buzz (from the 1900’s) upon introduction were Harry Potter, the Volkswagen New Beetle, Pokémon, Beanie Babies, and the Blair Witch Project. The term “buzz marketing” originally referred to oral communication but in the age of Web 2.0, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are also being used to create marketing buzz.

Buzz marketing works because individuals are easier to trust than organizations that may be perceived to have vested interests in promoting their products and/or services. For restaurant marketers that means creating brand “evangelists” “ambassadors” or content co-creators, to help build your buzz both online and offline is imperative today.

Food Forward—Growing, Making & Eating.

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New YearNever before has food been looked at as finely as it is today. Consumers have been demanding to understand where their food comes from and farm-to-table is still a very popular trend. However, we will see this “food forward” trend continue to give consumers more information about where our food comes from and the impact it has on our planet, our country, our bodies, and our souls.

Food Forward opens the door into a new world of possibility, where pioneers and visionaries are creating viable alternatives to the pressing social and environmental impacts of our industrial food system. Across the country, farmers, chefs, fishermen, teachers, scientists, and entrepreneurs–are creating inspired, but practical solutions that are nourishing us and the planet. Consumers want to get involved and food forward provides many marketing opportunities to nourish this growing trend.

Brands of all sizes are looking at food forward trends including Growing (i.e. roof top and community gardens and heirloom fruit and vegetable planting). Making food will continue in popularity with consumers getting more involved with more hands on food demonstrations and making their own meals. Some guests are joining local chef’s jarring their pickles and fruits right along with curing meats, baking bread and making sausages. The growing and making wouldn’t be complete without Eating, and sharing food with guests that have helped plant the garden and reap the rewards, is the most food forward trend coming.

Locally Relevant

Trends and Predictions for Restaurant Marketing in the New YearEver heard that most of your restaurant guests come from the 3-5 mile radius surrounding your restaurant? This statistic HAS NOT changed over the years. Marketers must realize EACH three mile radius is DIFFERENT and typically every restaurant is different (sometimes signs or décor vary due to cities and size, respectively), and it becomes more and more important to focus on being locally relevant. Examples of locally relevant include, partnering with the local groups and offering them a place to host their after rehearsal or after practice dinners. For instance, a local theater group is performing the musical Grease, and a local restaurant invites them to host a 50’s themed fundraiser, (a buffet for a price), and monies are donated to the theater group who performs several numbers from the popular musical, while attendees enjoy their food and entertainment. Does your franchisee or general manager know the top employers in the 3-5 mile radius to target for catering? Does each of your locations have a connection with all the area nonprofits? Sports teams and groups? If not…time to look LOCAL and become locally relevant—before some other restaurant brand does and you get blitzed!

About the Author

Linda Duke is chief executive officer of Duke Marketing, LLC, a California based full service marketing firm specializing in multi-location and franchise organizations for more than 20 years. Ms. Duke has consulted Fortune 100 brands and many of the top restaurant companies in the United States and abroad, and is a nationally recognized marketing expert, educator and a published author, She is a sought after speaker for restaurant industry events, franchise and client conferences. In 2010 she founded and published Restaurant Marketing Magazine, a quarterly magazine for restaurant marketers, and LSM-U, Local Store Marketing University, and educational program for increasing sales. Ms. Duke is a member of the board of directors of the California Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation (CRAEF) and one of the founding members of the National Restaurant Association’s Fast Casual Council (FCIC). She holds bachelor degrees in both Advertising and Marketing and an executive master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University. Her complete bio and client portfolio may be seen at