Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | Edited by Daniel Moores
||Top Restaurant Marketing Trends for 2012
Marketing Agency Predicts Ways to Tap 'Influencers' to Drive Traffic
With the battle for market share expected to get even tougher next year, restaurant operators will have to be smarter in how they target "influencers" -- people others turn to for restaurant advice -- to drive traffic.
So says Carin Galletta Oliver, president of the San Francisco-based world-of-mouth marketing agency Ink Foundry, who predicts six restaurant marketing trends for 2012 -- plus one trend she contends restaurant operators should rethink in the new year. Ink Foundry has worked with restaurant brands such as Bonefish Grill, Fogo de Chao, California Pizza Kitchen, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill and Carl's Jr.
Consumers are growing ever more selective about restaurant choices as they cut back on dining out occasions, Oliver said.
"They're going to want to feel they're making a safe choice," she said. "And that puts more pressure on restaurant operators to make a connection."
Oliver predicts five key tactics restaurant operators will use next year:
Data. The number of tools that allow restaurant operators to collect information about social media, public relations, e-mail marketing and advertising is growing. Savvy restaurant operators are also collecting data on their customers in various ways.
The key, however, will be how well restaurant operators integrate that data and develop a more holistic analysis across all platforms.
Most restaurants keep data in separate silos, Oliver said, thinking of marketing, public relations and influencer relations as separate departments.
"You need to break down those walls," she said, and merge that information to more effectively mine insights.
Identifying and activating influencers. Restaurant operators tend to define their customers in demographic terms, but today's restaurant influencer is likely to defy or transcend more traditional demographic characteristics, like income level, gender or age.
A powerful restaurant influencer today, for example, might be a young woman who traveled through Europe, living in bargain-rate hotels so she could spend more money on high-end restaurants.
"If you looked at her on paper, she probably wouldn't be on your list" based on demographics, said Oliver. "But if you listen to her conversations, you'd realize she's in your restaurant five times a month and spends more money" than the average diner.
Those are the people who are driving restaurant recommendations these days, Oliver said, and restaurants next year will be developing tools to encourage those people to spread the word about their brands.
"We need to identify those folks and create programs for them so they can more easily pass along information to friends and family," Oliver said.
Some restaurants, for example, have used gift certificates given to specific influencers to share with friends and family members. "That's like a third-party endorsement from someone they really trust," Oliver said.
And as gift certificates become more available in digital form, restaurants can track how they're used, who is sharing them and their impact.
Signature items. Most restaurants have a signature item or two that stands out, but Oliver sees the role of the signature dish becoming increasingly important.
Having a great signature dish is one way to offer influencers a "wow experience," Oliver said. "It gives them something to tell their friends about."
It also gives people something to search, she said.
Consumers tend not to search online for generic terms like "steak restaurant." Instead, they'll look for where they can find a great macaroni and cheese dish or taco.
Oliver noted the Bonefish Grill chain, which is known for its Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer, an item that creates positive chatter on Yelp.
"It's extremely challenging to sway diners from one restaurant to another, but a great signature item has the power to do it," she said.
Loyalty programs look to gaming. Loyalty programs are effective tools for driving traffic, but next year Oliver predicts more restaurant operators will be integrating aspects of social gaming -- offering rewards for certain actions, like referring friends or multiple visits.
Rather than offering guests nebulous titles, like the mayors of Foursquare, Oliver said restaurants will offer more tangible offline incentives for participation in loyalty games.
One-to-one accessibility. Restaurant chefs used to stay closed in their kitchens, but the age of social media has allowed those who cook to engage with those who eat in ways that were formerly impossible.
In 2012, however, Oliver predicts that customers will be demanding even more direct interaction with chefs, both on and offline -- and not through an intermediary on the marketing team.
Expect to see personal messages directly from the chef to his or her best customers informing them of menu changes, nightly specials and suggestions based on past orders, Oliver said.
"As chefs get more comfortable with being in the limelight and with using technology, we'll see even more engagement," she said.
Coupon personalization. In 2011, many restaurants experimented with social coupon sites, such as Groupon or LivingSocial, with both positive and negative results, Oliver said.
Next year, Oliver predicts restaurants will continue to experiment with social couponing, but they will do so with more realistic expectations. They will also look for ways to have more control, to customize the offers and to ask for more data on results.
Oliver said more restaurants will use their customer lists to promote such social coupons, focusing on top influencers to provide a value-added experience and reward pass-along recommendations.
More generalized coupon seekers "tend to just come for the coupon and never come back," Oliver said. "And you can't upsell them."
Search local. Allocating resources to enhancing local search engine efforts is not likely to drive traffic, Oliver said.
Surveys by Ink Foundry have found that consumers tend not to select where they dine out based on online search engine results, she said.
Word of mouth is far more effective, Oliver said. Once consumers have a recommendation from an influential friend or family member then they turn to sites like Urbanspoon or Yelp to look up information.
Restaurants may be better off spending marketing dollars on identifying and courting those influential guests, rather than pouring dollars into local search enhancements.
"You want a well-rounded approach," Oliver said. "Remember, most influence happens offline."
(Source: Nation's Restaurant News, 12/19/11)
||Last-Minute Hotel Reservations on the Rise
Smartphones are empowering a segment of hotel customers often overlooked by the industry: last-minute buyers who aren't traveling.
Hoping to draw impulsive buyers addicted to daily coupon alerts, hotels and online travel agencies are introducing a flurry of new specials and features targeting those who book a room locally on the day of the stay.
They include couples celebrating anniversaries; long-distance commuters working late; people without electricity; travelers whose flights are canceled; and suburban deal seekers who can't resist a 30% discount at a fancy downtown hotel.
Orbitz, which launched its Orbitz-Hotels app for iPad in the summer, says 65% of its mobile bookings are same-day reservations (vs. 14% on desktop). Orbitz also recently launched a redesigned mobile website that includes a new tonight-only deals feature.
Hotel Tonight, an app featuring daily deals from hotels cutting prices by at least 20% for the night, is one of the most popular travel apps, with more than 800,000 downloads.
Priceline launched its Tonight-Only Deals feature in October, selling discounted deals from hotels that disclose their names. (Priceline's name-your-price auction doesn't reveal hotel names.)
About 60% of mobile bookings are for the same day, says John Caine, Priceline's senior vice president of marketing. "There's a certain portion of travelers who don't like planning," he says.
"In Connecticut, more than half the people were without power for days and days" after an October snowstorm, says Priceline CEO Jeff Boyd. "We literally watched the hotel reservations light up on our mobile devices."
The hotel-tonight trend is part of a broader buy-now shift in the economy enabled by mobile technology. But hotels, especially independent properties, are willing to participate in this new sales channel because about 40% of rooms on average go unsold each night.
Hotels also like the feature because they don't have to commit a minimum number of rooms, says Sam Shank, CEO of Hotel Tonight.
"Technology is making it easier to fulfill the need that's been out there," says Andrew Kauffman, vice president of e-marketing at Marriott.
About half of Marriott's mobile bookings are same-day reservations, he says.
Large hotel chains are also concerned about any new technology that might detract from a hotel stay being "an amenity-driven, emotional experience," Kauffman says. "We don't want to make it solely about price. It's undermining all that we do that makes hotels great."
(Source: USA Today, 12/08/11)
||In Tough Times, a Boom in Cremations as a Way to Save Money
As Toni Kelly battled lymphoma, first with a bone marrow transplant and then with brutal rounds of chemotherapy, she worried obsessively that her four-year struggle would destroy her family's finances.
Her husband, Doug, refused to consider her pleas to stop pursuing costly therapies. But she knew that after she died, which she did on Sept. 29, there was one way she could keep from adding to the $200,000 in medical debt she would leave behind. Like a growing proportion of Americans, she said she wanted her body to be cremated.
"We did everything we could to cut down other costs, and one of the things Toni said was, 'Let's find out how much it costs to be cremated,'" Mr. Kelly said. "If there was a way we could save even $500 or $1,000, it didn't make a difference. Her major thing was not ruining the family."
All but taboo in the United States 50 years ago, cremation is now chosen over burial in 41 percent of American deaths, up from 15 percent in 1985, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Economics is clearly one of the factors driving that change.
The percentage of bodies that are cremated has risen steadily for years, for reasons ranging from spiritual to environmental. But a recent study shows that the increase has accelerated during the downturn, and many funeral home directors say they believe the economy is leading people to look for less expensive options.
The disposition of Ms. Kelly's remains cost about $1,600, and that total included a death notice, a death certificate and an urn bought online. It was a fraction of the $10,000 to $16,000 that is typically spent on a traditional funeral and burial.
Family and friends remembered Ms. Kelly, a 54-year-old artist, at a simple memorial service at the golf course in Virginia Beach where Mr. Kelly works as an assistant pro and where she liked to walk their dogs. It was the first cremation on her side of the family, Mr. Kelly said.
"Neither one of us felt that the body itself was really all that important," said Mr. Kelly, who raised two sons with his wife during their 28-year marriage. "We had no interest in being put in the ground, no need for a memorial for the whole world to see. Her concern was the financial devastation she was bringing to the family."
Many others share that concern, according to a national telephone survey of 858 adults conducted last year by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council. It found that one-third of those who chose cremation in 2010 said cost was a primary factor, up from 19 percent in 1990.
With the cremation rate rising one-third faster than at the middle of the last decade, the cremation association projects it will pass 50 percent by 2017 (still lagging behind Canada and much of Europe and Asia). Although state cremation rates vary widely, from 13 percent in Mississippi to 73 percent in Nevada, every state has experienced an increase since 2005.
Until recently, said Michael W. Nicodemus, president of the cremation association, concerns about cost rarely entered into his discussions about cremation with families at the Hollomon-Brown funeral homes in Virginia's Tidewater region, where he is a vice president. The rationale for cremation in the past was more typically that the family plot had become anachronistic in today's transient society and that cremation afforded relatives and friends more time to gather from afar for a memorial service.
Today, he said, nearly half of his consultations eventually turn to worries about money, and the cremation rate at the company's nine funeral homes has risen to 55 percent, up from 35 percent six years ago.
"People have lost money in the markets," Mr. Nicodemus said. "Their retirements aren't what they used to be. A lot are living off Social Security." Some families, he said, have reversed burial plans because life insurance has lapsed or savings have been drained by uninsured medical expenses.
"We had six families to see yesterday, and all six were cremations," Mr. Nicodemus said. "That tells me something."
African-Americans, steeped in the traditions of open-casket funerals and rousing eulogies, remain the most resistant to cremation, according to surveys. But in the Virginia Tidewater, as elsewhere, even that cultural wall is crumbling.
Kenny Alexander, owner of Metropolitan Funeral Service in Norfolk, Va., said there was enough demand in the area's black community to make him consider buying a crematory, a $125,000 investment. He said 2 or 3 of every 10 families that come to him now asked for cremations. A decade ago, Mr. Alexander said, he did not even know how to price one.
"Unemployment, coupled with the downturn in the economy, the realities of people losing their savings and not being insured, has certainly caused African-American families to look at cremation in a different light," Mr. Alexander said.
In some instances, he added, families do not want friends to know because it may carry the stigma of financial hardship. "We just say the burial is going to be private," he said.
Whatever the precise cause for the shift, the funeral industry is having to adapt, making up for lost revenue with higher volume and more services, like catered receptions and ash pendants.
Sales of crematories -- there are about 2,200 across the nation, according to the cremation association -- are growing steadily as funeral home directors decide to perform cremations themselves rather than paying others to do so, said Paul F. Rahill, president of the cremation division at Matthews International, a major manufacturer. The ovens burn at 1,800 degrees for 90 to 120 minutes, and a grinder crushes the remaining bone into powder.
To broaden cremation's appeal to the environmentally minded, and to comfort people fearful of fire, the company is marketing a new "biocremation" process that dissolves the body with chemicals.
Families seem intrigued. "In their minds," Mr. Rahill said, "it's a gentler process."
(Source: The New York Times, 12/09/11)
Daily Sales Tip: Competing Against Yourself
The truest measure of your success is not whether or not you're better than everyone else, but if you are better than YOU used to be!
You can be better than everyone else and still be WORSE than you used to be, which is no reason to beat your chest in pride.
Remember: Your objective is not to become successful and then let your pat on the back turn into a massage. Rather, your objective should be to strive to reach your maximum potential.
As long as you continue to grow, you will never reach your maximum potential. It is an endless journey. But it's the journey that keeps you moving; stretching; learning; hungry and humble.
Source: Sales author/trainer Dave Anderson