Ask nearly every restaurant owner what their number one, long-term marketing ‘program’ or tactic is, and most will say effective word of mouth. This can be great until it starts to fizzle down or another new restaurant opens up down the street resulting in the competition becoming the new talk of the town.
Instead of shooting into the wind and hoping ‘word of mouth’ with deliver desirable long-term results, restaurateurs need to embrace a program that is an extension of word-of-mouth marketing, by developing what is called ‘brand ambassadors.’
A brand ambassador will positively represent and promote a restaurant’s venue. They will embrace the company values, vision, mission, and culture. They will strengthen a restaurant’s identity within the community by providing additional visibility and overall awareness.
Yes, word of mouth happens organically over time because of excellent food, drink, service, and experiences, don’t get me wrong. But what if there was a way to double-down and create multiple micro-communities and multiple levels of ambassadors to promote a restaurant’s brand?
That’s where an ambassador program comes in.
Owners & Operators
A winning brand ambassador program begins with guests and staff. However, as with any program, there needs to be a leader. As a restaurant owner or operator, there are many ways to be included within a brand ambassador program and be looked up to as the leader of the program.
Business Networking – Restaurant owners and operators can further ‘humanize the brand’ by networking within the community and showing the face behind the brand at a variety of business events that every city or community holds. Building effective hyper-local relationships is the first step to a winning program.
Community Involvement – Restaurants can build and protect their reputation by being involved in as many community based events as possible and even collaborating with other restaurant or foodservice operators within their area. An open mind and community driven mindset is essential.
Community Influencers – Restaurant owners and operators should also look to build long lasting relationships with community leaders, city officials, F&B distributors, local media, and bloggers— who are all influential within their city. These individuals can further amplify a restaurant’s positive message.
Set Goals – Once an owner or operator is on board with a true brand ambassador program, setting clear goals for both guest and staff ambassadors, is required. What do you want to see come out of this program? When setting goals, remember this one key rule a friend once said – ‘numbers lie and relationships rule’. Don’t look at the financials first; the money will flow once relationships are built.
Happy customers are everything. They are the foundation to effective word of mouth. Outside of hoping they share their experience with their social network, there is a multitude of ways to get them further involved in the process of building true brand ambassadors.
Focus Group – Develop a group of individuals who show great interest in the restaurant (regular guests) and meet with them either once per month or quarter. Discuss upcoming community events, new menu items, or possible events to hold at the restaurant. Get them involved and give them something to talk about. For example, provide food and beverage samples of new menu items they will surely take photos of and share with their network.
Social Amplification – Similar to focus groups, consider holding ‘Facebook Only’ parties for example, where the only guests are ones that are fans of the restaurants page. This will surely amplify your messaging, product, and experience as they will be sharing photos or even live video of the event with their network.
Loyalty Programs – Every restaurant should have some form of loyalty program. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, but the general rule is that it will only work if the restaurant makes it worth something of perceived value. This comes down to knowing customer profiles and thinking of creative ways outside of just the standard ‘get one free after ten purchases’ loyalty program that everyone sees.
When restaurant staff members are effectively on-boarded, trained, and are emotionally happy in their environment (a venue where they get a sense of achievement, respect, and wages) they are more often than not, willing to share the positive moments, effectively becoming brand ambassadors.
Provide Empowerment – When staff members are given empowerment to make minor decisions, a lot of positive can come from it. Customer service is the number one benefit, and happy customers as we know, continue returning. A training program that focuses on customer service sequence training (role playing) will allow staff the opportunity to create relationships with guests while providing both confidence and empowerment within their respective roles.
Double the Social – Nearly all employees will be active on some social media platform. Restaurants should look to encourage the use and even supply employees with content to share with their network. A social media training and a social media policy however, needs to be clearly articulated and signed off on to protect the brand. Furthermore, make sure staff members are included as much as possible with community events and any focus groups to amplify the social reach.
Create Stay Interviews – When staff members are happy, make a record of it. Create a ‘stay interview’ which is asking them questions such as why they love working at the restaurant so much? Create a video, share it, and post it on the restaurant’s website. This will create a positive brand perception which will improve hiring processes, reduce turnover costs, and set the stage for future brand ambassadors.
In summary, doing the unexpected, getting involved, creating engagement, highlighting staff, and listening to guests, will instantly develop the foundations for not only word of mouth, but that of a brand ambassador— delivering the desired long-term results!
By Doug Radkey, Industry Expert