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Retweeting, Sharing, Liking and Locating: Shifting Digital Restaurant Trends in the COVID-19 Era


As recently as last year, restaurant brands made media waves trolling one another (and customers) on Twitter. Wendy’s and Burger King traded jabs. The launch of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich brought an unbelievable amount of press and customer engagement. Things were hot. Then COVID-19 disrupted everything, and restaurants had to adapt, shifting to take-out and delivery only, fundamentally reshaping the position of every single restaurant brand in the world.

With this transformation came an almost immediate shift in tone; the largely for fun but still inflammatory social wars of yesteryear are gone from today’s marketplace, and consumers’ views on restaurant patronage have changed.

How then should your brand approach social and digital in this challenging new era of restaurant marketing? By rethinking your presence and how you position your brand; By defining what makes you essential to your customers; and Evaluating how you can best elevate those attributes in the marketplace.

Here are five ways to enact social and digital changes during this new normal:

Adopt a more local social presence

On television, you will find no shortage of brands communicating commitment in uncertain times to employees, consumers and community. These ads reflect the major change in what consumers are looking for from brands. Today, consumers are looking for value – to self and community.

Consumers are leaning into local during the pandemic. But that doesn’t necessarily mean no chain brands. Understand that local is more than big brand versus small brand. All franchise operators are important members of their community. And, big brands are just as much operated by members of local communities.

But, consumers just aren’t traveling much. They aren’t meeting friends for dinner across town. Instead, they’re showing support for those restaurants that care about community. It’s important for independent brands and franchises alike to communicate localness. Follow local hashtags and utilize location-targeted messages to communicate your value (and your values) to local communities.

Leverage local heroes and communicate local giving
The restaurants most involved in good works tend to receive positive news coverage. Are there members of your healthcare community or an at-risk group you can support? Consumers want to support community-entrenched restaurants with their dining dollars, and corporate good works are the key to visibility and brand cache in today’s climate.

Be an engaged member of the community. Stress your local roots. Find ways to help and celebrate unsung people and community-based efforts on social media. These favors will be returned in visibility and brand perception, as guests are inspired to talk about you and support you in turn.


Understand and utilize changing location capabilities

Even before the pandemic reshaped the industry, the times were changing in geolocation. On the one hand, brands can use geodata to wow guests more than ever. For example, it is now possible to geo-fence app-based pickup orders so that food is prepared exactly as guests near your restaurant, resulting in hot and fresh meals every time.

At the same time, Apple has begun putting new restrictions in place on the use of location-based services. It’s getting harder to retain “always on” location capabilities, or to utilize geo-conquesting, as users are now alerted to apps that track their location when not in use and are encouraged to limit location capabilities.

Use location services wisely, not just to target broad marketing audiences but to deliver better service to engaged customers.


Get today’s unwritten push notification rules right

Consumers today do not want blind mass marketing. They want value. They want corporate works. They want real news from the local community.

So, use push notifications to share good news, and valuable offers that should truly matter to your customers. People are strapped for time and cash. Put a smile on their face. Make lives easier. Push your best offers.

Those same offers can benefit you as well. Every restaurant has a harder time predicting inventory needs today. If, for example, you have too much fish in stock, use push notifications to create a one-day half-off seafood offer to drive local fish sales and to ensure that you're getting the most value from your inventory.

Use online ordering as your sales funnel of choice

With online ordering, not only can you segment email marketing intelligently and encourage app downloads, but you can also personalize offers. For customers frequently engaged with your brand, ensure they’re receiving something special that others won't necessarily get. Reward the customers who are listening. And showcase your understanding of them as consumers.

Online ordering is a great place to showcase your personalization capabilities, by offering the right menu items and most effective offers to the people most likely to be inspired guests. With the right personalization efforts in place, you can drive incremental orders to lunch and dinner alike and can tantalize customers to go that extra mile for your restaurant.

The rules have changed more drastically for restaurants than nearly any other industry, and nothing is more important today than your local ground game. Are you connected to your community? What are you serving in times of crisis beyond menu items? Can you inspire and motivate on social? Do your online platforms personalize experiences for guests? Are you ready to geolocate effectively?

It’s a different landscape than ever before in restaurant marketing, and the winners are surely asking themselves these questions.

About the Author

Hope Neiman is Chief Marketing Officer for Tillster.

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