Restaurant marketing

For modern restaurant marketers, speed matters more than ever

Left to right: Heather Lalley, Tana Davila, Kieran Donahue and Alice Crowder./Photo by W. Scott Mitchell

Nothing tests a CMO like a viral video involving IHOP, a young hostess, Adam Sandler and milkshakes.

It was May of last year when a young hostess told the Happy Gilmore star that he would have to wait 30 minutes for a table during a busy time at an IHOP on Long Island. Sandler later tweeted that he only left after learning the chain’s all-you-can-eat deal didn’t apply to milkshakes.

IHOP quickly responded with a “Milkshake Mondays” promotion promising to donate $1 for every milkshake sold to Sandler’s favorite charity, Comedy Gives Back.

“Speed ​​is everything,” Kieran Donahue, IHOP’s chief marketing officer, told restaurant leadership conference attendees. She told Sandler’s story during a marketing roundtable moderated by Restaurant Business editor Heather Lalley.

“You have to be on top, be nimble and act,” she said.

Restaurant marketers have always had to react quickly, given the level of competitiveness in the industry. But that need for speed has intensified since the pandemic.

To take advantage of opportunities such as the one with Sandler, IHOP has a team of employees who pay close attention to TikTok and other social media channels so they can react when such opportunities arise. “We created a way to be agile in this environment,” Donahue said. “It allows us to move very quickly on these things. You need to integrate it into your marketing organization.

This agility is important because social media is increasingly essential to a brand’s marketing strategy, and the most popular social media channel is changing almost overnight. One day Instagram is the hottest thing and the next day it’s TikTok. Maybe tomorrow is the metaverse.

Name, image and likeness agreements, meanwhile, have added a whole new element for some companies. When such deals became possible, Southeast regional burger chain Krystal realized it had an opportunity, said CMO Alice Crowder. “In the Southeast, one of the things that resonates the most is varsity athletics,” she said. “Pro sports are great. But they don’t have the connectivity of college athletes.

The company began contacting athletes from various colleges in the Southeastern Athletic Conference, or SEC, and asking if they liked Krystal. “People come into college late at night with maybe a little alcohol in their system,” Crowder said. “So there is a natural affection for the brand in the audience.”

The company quickly found 50 such athletes in all major sports, men and women. Krystal goes out a few times a year with these athletes to do content tours, which feed into the company’s marketing content throughout the season. Crowder also said the company is getting strong engagement rates on this content on social media.

Many brands also had to change, and quickly, after the pandemic. For marketers, this means they need maximum value for their marketing dollar. “It reset the way we thought we were spending money,” said Tana Davila, CMO of PF Chang. “If I have a dollar to spend, I have to make sure it pays off.”

Donahue agreed. But she also said that modern marketing sometimes involves taking risks. “You have to take risks,” she says. “One thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t try, you don’t know. Try something. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it. You have to take risks there.

This return demand also forces marketers to choose wisely. Most marketers will choose platforms that provide them with data that helps them make decisions.

Technology has also become increasingly important in the post-pandemic world, and that technology is also changing rapidly. “I think about 50% of my work is technology related,” Davila said. “I learned a lot along the way.”

But this technology has helped in so many ways, giving marketers more data than they ever had. “Each customer’s action is now a data point,” Donahue said. “As marketers, our job is to take that data point and figure out what actions to take with that data point.”

One source of data is loyalty programs. Such efforts are becoming increasingly important in the restaurant space and the biggest brands all have them now or are in the process of getting them. “Data is one of the most important things that we can achieve this,” Donahue said. “It makes it real for the owner or the franchisee. I will know something about our guests and encourage them to come once more.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all our content. Register here.