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Your Restaurant's Customer Experience Remains Your Best 'Ad Campaign' [Expert Corner]

Photo: Jim Fisher, Triumph Advisors

Your Restaurant's Customer Experience Remains Your Best Ad Campaign [Expert]

In this Expert Corner we hear from Jim Fisher of Triumph Advisors. Fisher is a senior marketing executive who has built a marketing advisory from his real world, revenue-building track record spanning every restaurant segment from quick-serve restaurants (Mc Donald’s, Pizza Hut) to fine dining (Smith & Wollensky).

Here, Triumph's Fisher elaborates on the restaurant experience being a catalyst for customers connecting emotionally with a restaurant brand. 

What are the key elements of a brand?  When it comes to brand building, what does management need to think about once it has two or more restaurants? 

Fisher: Too many restaurateurs see big advertising campaigns or clever social media successes and think it takes media and money and organization to build a brand. I have experience with both big money—even award-winning campaigns—and efforts based on much more limited resources where menu panels are the biggest factor in the marketing budget.  

What truly creates and drives a brand is the “interior” effort, the total customer experience.  Why? 

  • Human beings are wired to remember emotional experiences.  It’s the way our brains work.  It’s how we survive.  A customer will remember your restaurant if their experience touches them emotionally – for good or bad! 
  • A major leader of an upscale but casual chain in Boston will tell you that over a dozen things affect a customer perception even before they see the food! 
  • It’s a cliché, but still true: The best advertising is word of mouth (WOM).  Look at the success of BzzAgent and the impact of social media.  Every restaurant can afford WOM, and they are getting it whether they have signed up or not. 

Regardless of restaurant sites being managed, leadership needs to think about creating a consistent and visible culture. Whether that culture is built on outstanding value, a distinctively creative menu for the category, exceptional service, personal attention, an exuberant décor, highly respectful treatment of the staff or some – most likely –combination of the above, it needs to be solid and clear, and fully understood. 

What are the marketing elements needed to communicate the main message and value proposition of a brand?

Fisher: It was a while ago, but I was working with the man who helped found Century 21, the first national real estate company. When it came to buying houses, he would say: “People search on logic but buy on emotion.”  Similarly, a brand’s foundation includes “Logic + Emotion”...the physical but competitive attributes plus the personality that connects the customer to the experience.

For sustainable sales growth, management must tie together the main message and value proposition–where the experience and pricing meet– and they must do it over and over.  Every communication, from the greeter to the server and from the exterior signage to the physical menu and table tents, must consistently exist within a brand framework. 

One client gave me a project of turning around his three worst-performing restaurants in a chain of 15.  We moved those bottom three into the top five in a matter of months through a tactical effort targeted toward bringing in new customers and getting current customers to come back more often. Best of all, we communicated what the brand had always stood for and put more money on the bottom line than was invested in the programs!

Tell us about two or three key aspects of a social media strategy that tie into that example.

Fisher: Social media is an extension of your restaurant, reaching out to your current and future customers with information and personality (“Logic + Emotion”).  Social media reaches your customers in the best way possible: one to one.  

The first step to an effective social media strategy is to understand where your brand sits in the Internet world, and what your customers think of you and your competitors. There is inexpensive research which can measure Internet awareness and quality perceptions. And, there are free Internet software programs that will track what your customers are saying about you and the competition. 

The second and third steps are closely related as both will engage your customers by leveraging your brand and personality. Listen to what your customers are saying and respond to them directly, and make sure this role is given to someone who understands and can represent your brand. Then, establish your Facebook page along with other social media vehicles which also allow you to talk to your customers. Let them know the great experience your restaurant is offering – and it doesn’t have to be a discount!

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This artcle will also appear in Eatery Pulse, our sister publication, for those readers who like touch-and-feel news and best practices they can read on-the-go.

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Fisher began his career developing creative and marketing programs for food service giants like General Mills, Campbell’s, and Del Monte. Today, as managing principal of Triumph, he focuses on what he calls the “total customer experience” to drive sustainable marketing programs. His hands-on expertise includes rebranding, turnarounds, start-ups, targeted unit support programs, and social media programs often built with limited budgets.

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(02-09-12)

Copyright: Kandessa Media. All rights reserved.

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