3 Reasons Why Your Independent Restaurant Needs a Marketing Plan — Right Now

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Marketing is a big buzzword that gets thrown around. We all know we should have a marketing plan. But guess what? Most restaurants don’t ever put one together and that is what is killing the independent restaurant. So, if it is so important to long-term brand success, then why do so few have one?

The number one reason is this: They don’t see the value in creating one.

If your brand is the heart and breath of your business, then marketing would be the air you need. Marketing is more valuable than you realize. Let’s explore why you need to jump on the marketing wagon today.

1. Marketing is the Great Equalizer

Marketing has not always been affordable for the small independent restaurant. Unless you had the multi-million dollar budgets of large chains, it was very difficult to hang with the big boys. Then the social media revolution came along and the entire game changed. Marketing is now a silver bullet to fight competition on a playing field that is easier to conquer.

If you can be creative, you can capture the attention of millions on social media. Is it easy? No. Can it be done? Yes. The key is to dial your marketing in on emotional triggers. All marketing is really just pulling on the emotions of the guest. Do you think that those sexy perfume commercials you see are about the perfume? You can't smell a commercial, so how do they get you interested? They sell the emotion or desire that they want you to associate their product to. That’s marketing.

The first thing you need to stop doing is playing the same emotion over and over. Most restaurants play the hunger card way too much. Granted, what we sell on the surface is food and beverage. Underneath, we really sell experience and memories. What memory are you really trying to market? Is it pride for local ingredients? Family? Community?

You want to make marketing multidimensional. You need to understand the way people are consuming content. Jennifer Smith, account director at Restaurant Social+, a company that specializes in restaurant marketing for restaurants says, social media is evolving.

“Video will be the way to connect to your guests this year. Look at the rise of Snapchat, Facebook Live, and now even Instagram Live. People want to be taken behind the scenes and allowed behind the curtain to your restaurant. It’s about showing them who you are and why you do it, not just posting your daily specials,” she said.

In the past, you would have had to hire a video production company to come in and shoot. That would have been out of reach for most independent restaurants. Today, smartphone have incredible optics and you can download apps right on your phone to make you a video powerhouse in your market today.

2. Marketing is Cost-Effective

Billboards, print ads, and direct mail are still out there. They are becoming outdated just because the way we now consume information, which is through mobile. Life today is fast-paced and guests need to be reached on-the-go.

The money it would take to run a billboard for three months could be used more effectively with targeted Facebook ads, and if set up, correctly could pull people into your restaurant today. Think about how many billboards you remember from your commute to work today. It would be safe to say that you might struggle to think of any that really stood out and made you want to drive to that restaurant today.

Then there are apps like Waze (the world's largest community-based traffic and navigation app) that can literally drive guests to your front door. Geo-targeted ads on Waze pop up when guests are close to your business, shows them your offer, and with the push of a button, will give them directions to your business! For the right restaurant concepts. that can be very powerful marketing.

Most social media marketing costs nothing more than your time to create and post. Creativity is the key and getting out of the same boring mindset that most restaurants stay in. So, if marketing on social media is so great, then why do most restaurants just do the same thing? They are stuck in their comfort zone.

People get stuck because they listen to those voices of doubt in their head. You know that voice. It says things like,

“My guests aren't on social media.”

“Social media is not for me.”

“I don't need to market. I rely on word of mouth.”

Word of mouth. Let’s talk about that. Yes, we all want great testimonials and positive word of mouth. Yes, before the rise of the internet, you needed it more than ever. You also needed a Yellow Pages ad. When was the last time you used a physical phone book to look up a number? Exactly.

Word of mouth is now world of mouth with a single click of a button. Your restaurant can reach more people with more frequency and with lower costs than ever before. You just need to jump in the pool and start swimming.

3. Marketing Keeps Your Brand Top-of-Mind

More and more restaurants open every year. Some analysts suggest that we are approaching a restaurant bubble that will burst within the next few years. With more restaurants clawing for piece of the market, you’ll need to not only keep your standards high within your restaurant, you’ll need to keep your brand what is known as “top of mind.”

That truly is the goal of marketing: It’s to keep your guests thinking of you over the competition. That's why using multiple social media platforms is so critical to a well-designed marketing plan. You need to use at least three platforms to get what I call is the Triad Effect. There is synergy in using multiple platforms.

You might use Facebook as your primary, however, you can boost that by also incorporating other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Now, you’ll need to do a little research to find your perfect triad for your restaurant and market. Once you find your “power three,” you can create a yearly marketing plan to hammer your message into the subconscious of your target demographic (known as your avatar). This is the only way your brand will survive the burst of the restaurant bubble coming.

Marketing, like having outstanding food and service, takes two things: commitment and consistency. You cannot have effective marketing without a plan. If you just post when you feel like it, you’ll get very little results and those voices will appear and say something like, “See, it doesn't work.” Remember this: half-ass effort produces half-ass results.

One common denominator in failing restaurants is a lack of a marketing plan. Your restaurant is a reflection of you. Good or bad. You are your biggest hurdle to marketing your restaurant and you are also your best solution. Don't think you need to market your restaurant? That’s fine. Just remember that your competition does and will market theirs.