When Nokia’s CEO said our “platform is burning”, he meant that they are in trouble and may have to take a leap into some uncertain waters. You might wonder how a leader like Nokia could even worry of such things, right? Maybe we should ask that to the publishing business, the travel industry, the mighty Microsoft and even the weary and giant Google. Business is on a new path of velocity and understanding the changes is what will make us successful, not a “wait and see” attitude.
So when I say “The Restaurant Industry is Burning”, I mean we are faced with a whole new set of challenges as we come out of this recession. For those of you that have not secured talent, locations and digital strategies while all of that was cheap and easily accessible, you’re ship is on fire and there are just a few ways to put it out! The restaurant industry saw a minor jump in overall sales at just 1.1% after three years of declining sales. The future is still focused on building and maintaining sales volume since that is the answer to growth right now. But as I see it, we are still faced with some major issues in our resurrection of a 3-5% sales growth annually.
Choice is still one of our biggest nemesis, consumers have it now like never before. With more than 3,000 multi-unit concepts in the U.S. and close to a million total restaurants, consumers get to pick from an array of segment competitors and sometimes many in the same menu category. Do we just have too many restaurants? In some places the answer is yes, but there are still tons of highly underserved markets that can add great value to our business. The challenge is finding them before the onslaught of competition hits em’ too! The beauty of this is we have an all-new way of identifying such hot spots with social and location-based digital CRM.
The Talent Zoo is back and they are restless! As an industry, we face one of what I believe to be our biggest challenges ever, keeping and attracting the best minds we can find. The teams inside our corporate offices need to be better. We face tremendous technology leaps in the coming years and a whole new way to reach out to customers will be our biggest concern.
The decade of the door hanger has officially ended, the yellow pages are extinct and the printing of promotion materials is dropping so fast the rain forest may yet get a reprieve after all. The simple truth is that smart phones, social media and the connected consumer is the real answer for our future and how to spread the word. An all-new consumer science is emerging in the restaurant industry. It’s one that needs to have real science applied to it to enable us grow our business.
The most influential fast casual restaurants
Recently we tracked the most influential restaurants in America and broke it down by segment - Casual, Fast Casual and QSR. The results were somewhat expected at the top where millions are being spent to drive the digital brand. But the next layer was a whole new set of players. These are players that get it and are making the most of this new found way to reach out to consumers and make them raving fans.
The natural was Starbucks as the most influential brand. We studied a variety of layers of the social web; how they engaged, how their consumers engaged with them and how influential their consumers are. It is how the Social Ripple effect works in social media. I believe the difference is that if you place the engagement in the right position, strategically; the impact can be amazing for your business.
Jimmy John’s was number two with Genghis Grill and Coffee Bean trailing very tightly at number three and four. The amazing part here was a small chain the size of Naked Pizza took the number five spot in our Fast Casual segment leaders.
This is our future. The great part is that we at least know it. The recent NRA 2011 Forecast suggested that social media and digital brand development would play a big part in our business growth over the next few years. So the big question is what can we do to get there?
Here are just a few steps to take in your new digital direction.
1) Get a real digital strategy in place with talent that can help make a difference. This is not an intern handling your twitter account. It requires strategy and tactics with a full understanding, not only of the technology we are using, but the business impact it can have as well.
2) Get positioned in mobile quickly. This is the reality of how consumers will engage with you for location, referral, menu, ordering, loyalty and best of all, repeat customers WORD OF MOUTH.
3) Social CRM is the next phase – work fast on targeted audience acquisition. That's what we here at DigitalCoCo do best. Just like building your email list is a priority, social CRM is one that you must have as well.
4) Start a year-round digital campaign development that can be integrated into all of your marketing.
5) Bring in your franchise or management teams and educate them so they understand the impact and can help with idea generation. The marketing message has shifted and you will have to teach your team how to talk the new social language. The game truly has changed.
6) Get digital quick; every major platform should have your brand represented.
7) Build your digital content plan. You have to become a publisher instead of a marketer. In the past, you published marketing material like mad right? Now you will need to shift to real content that makes sense to your customers. The noise is so great that they are no longer listening to your marketing messages.
8) Analyze your digital competition. With open access you can see your entire competitor’s plans being executed right in front of you. The successes and failures are transparent as well, but the value is that with the right strategy and tools you can start to evaluate trends. These trends will help you big time!
9) Work on many fronts at once. This will require some heavy lifting and shifting of marketing, operations and even HR budgets but you must shift your plan into all aspects of your business. Get your suppliers involved. If they don’t have a digital and social strategy it’s time to change suppliers.
10) Listen. It is a simple tip but in reality it’s the hardest to do. We still think we know our business best and we do but we must listen to our guests and our staff. Social media and digital branding is not just an outward persona. It is a revitalization of your entire organization. Analyze your customer’s tweets, posts and videos. Empower your employees because if you don’t someone else will.
(Full Disclosure - Genghis Grill and Camille's Sidewalk Cafe, which are both in the top list, are partners with our digital branding group, DigitalCoCo.)