Restaurateurs are some of the ultimate entrepreneurs, taking big risks in a world with a high failure rate. But when a restaurant succeeds, it is worth looking into what they’ve done well and applying those lessons to your own industry.
Heidi Gibson is the VP of Product management at Tanjarine, which is an integrated dining and entertainment platform that allows bar and restaurant guests to order from digital menus, play games and music, and pay from tablets at their tables. Gibson is swimming in the world of restaurateurs (including her own kick ass grilled cheese restaurant chain in San Francisco) every day and is part of the technology shift inside the walls of our favorite eateries. In her own words below, she offers the top seven marketing lessons that can be learned from restaurateurs.
1. Customers increasingly want and value self-service/do-it-yourself options. Technology is facilitating a shift in restaurants towards customer-driven service. Customers, especially millenials but not limited to, want what they want when they want it. Online/in-line/mobile pre-ordering/kiosks and tabletop tablets are increasingly popular for that DIY mindset. Restaurants were afraid the guests would view technology replacing humans as a negative, but they don’t – it’s a positive, and it frees humans up to be personable and responsive instead of pushing buttons on a POS. How can customer-driven service, with your customers defining when and how they interact with your product and employees, improve your relationship with your customers?
2. Loyalty programs work and create brand ambassadors. Loyalty programs are widespread in the restaurant industry, and for good reason: they work. There are a lot of stats available proving this point. Customers love special attention and loyalty programs let you reward your best/repeat customers and motivate those who have fallen off the radar. Can you identify your most valuable customers? What programs can you put in place to reward them and motivate them to continue to be proponents of your brand? Another key piece of loyalty programs is that this is almost the only way restaurants can communicate to their guests when they’re out of restaurant. Surveys and direct mail does work but since guests are opting in to say – “talk to me” – then using technology in venue to facilitate that request is saying that the restaurant is paying attention the guests’ needs.
3. Timing is everything. Restaurants have to adjust their product mix, pricing and marketing tactics to react to seasonality, time of day, and other external factors that affect their business – even the weather is taken into account. Your business may not be affected by snows and heat waves, but external factors that change over time affect every business. Figure out what your ‘seasonality’ is, what changing external factors influence your customers’ purchase decisions, and pay attention to those things so you can pivot and adapt in a changing world. Offer what your customers want when they want it.
4. Create community! It’s no coincidence that the rise of restaurants leveraging Facebook, Twitter and Instagram came at the same time as the ‘communal table’ trend in restaurant design. Social media changed the nature of restaurants’ customer communications from one-way broadcasts (emails, TV ads, table tents, etc) into 3-way conversations between the restaurant and between the customers themselves. Restaurants quickly realized the power that creating customer community can bring, and began changing the very way guests are seated to facilitate that same sense of community and conversation inside the restaurant as well as online. Restaurants that do this well have created valuable emotional brand value, at zero cost. How can you facilitate your customers creating a community around your brand and product experience?
5. Segment and target. You can’t be all things to all people; sorry, but it’s true. In the hyper-competitive world of restaurants, this is never truer. Carefully segment your potential customers and focus hard on serving specific targets well rather than trying to address every possible need of everyone walking past the front door. Restaurants get 80% of their profits from 20% of their products, so the best ones pick the products that their target market values most and excels at delivering.
6. Be internally consistent. When you walk into a fine dining restaurants, the prices are high, the presentation is crafted, the servers are in crisp identical uniforms, and the bathrooms are nice – right? The website, the décor, the music and even the fonts on the menu all back up the market positioning as ‘fine dining’. When you hit up the local roadside BBQ joint, you have a different set of expectations – service will be fast, décor lower end, the bathroom won’t be fancy (but hopefully clean – and people DO rate service and kitchen quality with bathrooms) and if there are servers at all they’re wearing tshirts and jeans. It’s intuitively obvious in a restaurant, but a lot of other businesses don’t figure this out: every single thing you do, every detail that a customer sees and interacts with (including messaging), must reinforce your brand promise or you sow distrust with your potential customers. Imagine walking into that upscale fine dining restaurant and loud punk rock is blaring over the music system… or a waiter in a tuxedo brings you your brisket plate while you sit on a pine bench next to the smoker on the back deck. Be clear who your product is for and how you fit into their expectations, and examine every single thing you do to make sure it reinforces those expectations. Bottom line, be true to yourself (brand and identity) AND you customer!
7. Know who your real competition is, and how you fit into the ecosystem. I (Heidi) own a small chain of grilled cheese restaurants in San Francisco, and people think my big competitor is the other grilled cheese themed chain in town. Wrong! When I surveyed my target customers on their lunchtime dining habits, it turns out they won’t go more than 2 blocks from their office, so my competition is actually the other casual lunch spots within a 4 block radius – and the other grilled cheese place is clear across town. We only compete in the press and on Yelp, not in reality. Also in reality, and maybe counter-intuitively, my shops do best they’re located near other similarly-priced lunch destinations… being close to my competition helps me. Together we draw more traffic into the neighborhood than we would on our own, and over time we’ve evolved our menus to complement rather than directly compete. I think this nuanced understanding of competition, and realizing you operate in an ecosystem of products and offers, can help entrepreneurs in other industries optimize revenues and minimize marketing expenses.
How becoming better listeners eliminates our culture’s growing isolation
(BUSINESS MARKETING) We have all be frustrated by someone who doesn’t listen to us; so why not make sure that you are taking the steps to not be them, and be better listeners.
We all want the same thing: to be heard. In this digital age, we’ve created an endless stream of cries for attention via comment sections, forums, and social media feeds—shares, retweets, tags, videos, articles, and photos. Worse, our words echo in our digital bubbles or specific communities, doing nothing but making us lonely and isolated. However, in the midst of a divided political climate, we can all stand to strengthen our ability to listen.
Me? A bad listener? What are you trying to say? I got enough flaws to worry about and don’t wanna hear about another skill to improve. Oh, the irony.
“Bad listeners are not necessarily bad people,” assures Kate Murphy in her new book You’re Not Listening. “Anyone can get good at it. The more people you talk to, the better your gut instinct. You’re able to pick up those little cues. Without them, you’re not going to get the full context and nuance of the conversation,” she says in an interview with The Guardian’s Stephen Moss.
Our bad listening aside, we can all remember a time when we weren’t treated with the attention we craved. Moments where you’d do anything for the person you’re conversing with to give a sign of understanding—of empathy—to validate our feelings, to acknowledge the vulnerable piece of ourselves we’ve entrusted to them is cared for. Nothing is worse when we’re met with blank expressions and dismissive gestures or words. These interactions make us feel small and lonely. And the damage can stay with us.
- Show you care by making eye contact and putting away your phone.
- Patience. Everyone opens up on their time.
- Ask open-ended questions. Yes/no responses inhibit the flow of conversation.
- Repeat what you’ve heard. This clarifies any misunderstanding and validates the speaker.
- Give space. Let the conversation breathe—silent pauses are healthy.
By becoming better listeners, we show care. We become curious about and empathetic towards others, leaving our bubbles—we become a little less lonely.
Audio branding: Is this the next big boost in brand recognition?
(BUSINESS MARKETING) Brands have invested heavily in audio branding in 2021, here’s how that is changing up the branding rankings for businesses.
Media consumption and engagement with brands across digital platforms is increasing, according to sonic branding agency amp; and companies investing in audio branding are creating a significant competitive advantage. The Best Audio Brands (BAB) index created by amp uses 5 key criteria to measure audio investment performance: Customer recognition, customer trust, customer experience, customer engagement and customer belonging. The agency claims that companies investing in high quality audio assets for their brands have gained ground by establishing a recognizable audio identity.
Michele Arenese, amp CEO said, “Making a brand heard is more important than ever before. The past 18 months have accelerated the importance of sound and voice as vital elements of the brand identity and customer experience toolbox. Meaningful and purposeful brand communication takes advantage from a ownable and authentic sound ecosystem.”
For the second consecutive year, Mastercard ranked highly across all key criteria measured by the BAB and topped the list. Other brands that fared well on this year’s index were Netflix, which moved up 27 places by using it’s famous “ta-dum” more widely and Coca-Cola which collaborated with Tyler the Creator and invested more in bespoke music. In addition, 5 new brands to make the top 10 this year were Audi, Mercedes, Netflix, Hyundai and Siemens. The highest climbing brands were in the financial sector: HSBC, American Express and J.P. Morgan. The highest climbing sector, however, was beverages followed by automotive. Brands that dropped in the rankings this year were Google, Amazon, Colgate, Goldman Sachs, and Danone.
Björn Thorleifsson, Head of Strategy & Research, amp said: “This year has shown that those who were already embarking on their sonic branding journeys have increased their lead on trailing rivals – now clearly falling behind. Given the evolving ability of sound to reach consumers whatever the device or channel they’re on, we expect to see increased investment from brands looking to stand out amongst the online noise. There are already best practice examples from leaders, such as Mastercard, and we’d encourage those who want to improve brand recognition and even performance, to adopt a little less conversation on sonic branding, and a little more action.”
Buffer’s four-day workweek experiment: Boost or bust?
(BUSINESS MARKETING) After trying out a four-day workweek last year, Buffer is moving forward with the format going into 2021, citing increase in productivity and work-life balance.
The typical five-day workweek is a thing of the past for Buffer, at least for now. The company has decided to implement a four-day workweek for the “foreseeable future.”
Last year, the company surveyed its employees to see how they are dealing with the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic and the anxiety and stress that came along with it. They soon learned employees didn’t always feel comfortable or like they could take time off.
Employees felt guilty for taking PTO while trying to meet deadlines. Juggling work and suddenly becoming a daycare worker and teacher for their children at the same time was stressful. So, Buffer looked for a solution to help give employees more time and flexibility to get adjusted to their new routines.
Four-Day Workweek Trials
In May, Buffer started the four-day workweek one-month trial to focus on teammates’ well-being. “This four-day workweek period is about well-being, mental health, and placing us as humans and our families first,” said Buffer CEO and co-founder Joel Gascoigne in a company blog post.
“It’s about being able to pick a good time to go and do the groceries, now that it’s a significantly larger task. It’s about parents having more time with kids now that they’re having to take on their education. This isn’t about us trying to get the same productivity in fewer days,” Gascoigne said.
Buffer’s one-month trial proved to be successful. Survey data from before and after the trial showed higher autonomy and lower stress levels. In addition, employee anecdotal stories showed an increase in worker happiness.
With positive results, Buffer turned the trial into a long-term pilot through the end of 2020. This time, the trial would focus on Buffer’s long-term success.
“In order to truly evaluate whether a four-day workweek can be a success long-term, we need to measure productivity as well as individual well-being,” wrote Director of People Courtney Seiter. “Teammate well-being was our end goal for May. Whether that continues, and equally importantly, whether it translates into customer and company results, will be an exciting hypothesis to test.”
Buffer’s shorter workweek trials showed employees felt they had a better work-life balance without compromising work productivity. According to the company’s survey data, almost 34% of employees felt more productive, about 60% felt equally as productive, and only less than 7% of employees felt less productive.
However, just saying productivity is higher isn’t proof. To make sure the numbers added up, managers were asked about their team’s productivity. Engineering managers reported that a decrease in total coding days didn’t show a decrease in output. Instead, there was a significant output increase for product teams, and Infrastructure and Mobile saw their output double.
The Customer Advocacy team, however, did see a decline in output. Customer service is dependent on customer unpredictability so this makes sense. Still, the survey showed about 85% to 90% of employees felt as productive as they would have been in a five-day workweek. Customers just had to wait slightly longer to receive replies to their inquiries.
With more time and control of their schedules, Buffer’s survey shows an increase in individual autonomy and decreased stress levels reported by employees. And, the general work happiness for the entire company has been consistent throughout 2020.
What’s in store for 2021?
Based on positive employee feedback and promising company results, Buffer decided it will continue the company-wide four-day workweek this year.
“The four-day work week resulted in sustained productivity levels and a better sense of work-life balance. These were the exact results we’d hoped to see, and they helped us challenge the notion that we need to work the typical ‘nine-to-five,’ five days a week,” wrote Team Engagement Manager Nicole Miller.
The four-day workweek will continue in 2021, but the company will also be implementing adjustments based on the pilot results.
For most teams, Fridays will be the default day off. For teams that aren’t project-based, their workweek will look slightly different. As an example, the Customer Advocacy team will follow a different schedule to avoid customer reply delays and ticket overflow. Each team member will still have a four-day workweek and need to meet their specific targets. They will just have a more flexible schedule.
Companies who follow this format understand that output expectations will be further defined by area and department level. Employees who aren’t meeting their performance objectives will have the option to choose a five-day workweek or might be asked to do so.
If needed, Fridays will also serve as an overflow workday to finish up a project. Of course, schedules will be evaluated quarterly to make sure productivity is continuing to thrive and employees are still satisfied.
But, Miller says Buffer is “establishing ambitious goals” that might “push the limits” of a four-day work week in 2021. With the world slowly starting to normalize, who knows when a four-day workweek might reach its conclusion.
“We aren’t sure that we’ll continue with the four-day workweeks forever, but for now, we’re going to stick with it as long as we are still able to hit our ambitious goals,” wrote Miller.
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