Marketing a restaurant brand can seem like an overwhelming endeavor especially when funds are limited. Where do you start? Where should you advertise? What will get the most bang for the buck? The questions are seemingly endless.
While there is no simple answer, marketing doesn’t have to be an undefeatable monster. When you’re in a startup phase, the key is to be lean, mean, and agile. You don’t have to do all the things all the time. Instead, you should be selective until you’re in a position where hiring a full-time marketing staff makes financial sense.
The number one goal of startup is to build awareness around the brand. People don’t know it exists, what food it makes, and why they should care. So marketing at this phase is more about getting as many eyes on the brand as frequently as possible. These two elements are known as reach and frequency. The bad news about building awareness is that it doesn’t create a direct path to a sale and that’s where many restaurateurs find their first frustrations. Why is this?
Simple. When people are unaware they’re also not interested. Chances are they already have a favorite spot for the food you’re bringing to market so there’s no reason for them to pay attention to your brand. You have to give them one through creativity in places where they spend their time. It’s not enough to just snap food pictures and throw them out there. No, you need to do something different. Something that gets their attention, holds it, and makes it worth their time for having looked at it. A lot of that has to do with creativity, and that’s for another article at another time. For now, let’s dive into the marketing channels that you should be mastering.
There are three core marketing channels that create the greatest opportunity to build awareness and intrigue around a new restaurant brand. They are Instagram, email, and search engines. Knowing them well will give you a competitive edge so let’s dive in.
Aka “The Gram”, is the number one way to build awareness around a brand, the food, culture, and vibe. This multi-sensory platform is one of the strongest ways to grow a brand’s traction with local markets. Instagram has grown its features so much over the years making it potentially overwhelming. That said, mastering the basics of Instagram is attainable.
There are four features of Instagram that you should use: Basic Posts, Stories, Advertising, and Boosting. The basic posts are the ones with which you’re probably most familiar. They can be still, video, or even a slideshow and hold a permanent place on your brand’s account page. The Stories are temporary, but get a ton of traction in Instagram’s algorithm. They can be still or motion.
Advertising and boosting are paid methods that help you get even more traction out of the platform. Advertising is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a single post that’s pushed into other people’s timelines based on geography and demographics. Boosting is a way to get a standard post with more views and engagement.
All of these features should be leveraged to tell your brand’s stories.
Yeah, that email. It may seem old school, but email is as effective as ever at getting your messaging in front of your patrons. Before you start blasting away, however; you need to play by some rules. The most important of which is: DO NOT EMAIL TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT OPTED IN. Period. Therefore, it’s imperative that you build your own email list as soon as possible. This can be done in a few ways including a signup form on your website that’s tied to a deal. When your doors open, you should have a way to signup either digital or analog. If analog, the business card drop still works well but requires some admin time to type in the details.
Your email marketing campaigns can cover more than just deals. Yes, deals will get the most traction, but if you’re truly building a brand, you have to tell your story. What makes the food great? Why is your chef amazing? What makes your brand’s attitude believable? Email is a great way to tell these stories.
A restaurant website must be optimized for natural search prevalence. While this is a long-term goal, it starts at the beginning. A real search engine optimization (SEO) strategy takes time, effort, and a bit of sweat. It’s probably more than a startup brand can endeavor to master. However, basic structural optimization is a must. To kickstart the traction while natural SEO builds, paid search marketing is a great accompaniment.
Paid search marketing involves setting a daily budget, selecting keywords and phrases, and identifying your geographic and demographic focus. It’s a highly successful way to get traction for those searching for your restaurant’s food in the local neighborhood. There are professionals that have this mastered. They can get you even more bang for the buck when the time is right.
These three media outlets can be deeply intricate if one really digs in. At the top level though, they’re quite easy to launch and employ. As the results start to show, the confidence builds and more investment will be easy to approve. So get started and jump in!
One final note, every marketing effort should be measured. Having a measurement system in place helps you see what’s working, and what’s not. It empowers you to get more effective with each of these channels. We’ll dive into some tools and tricks in future posts with measurement in mind.