For years now restaurants have been instructed that marketing through social networks is the wave of the future. A second dot.com boom has surfaced with companies promising closer ties to consumers for restaurant owners. Social networking does provide a tremendous opportunity to restaurants that commit to successfully managing their online presence. The reason why this works is that your potential guests are more likely to take the recommendation of friends or fellow customers over a much more expensive advertising campaign. This is an important element of a restaurant’s marketing strategy, but I would contend that it leads too many restaurants to ignore a much greater marketing opportunity.
The highest form of bond you can create with a guest is not having them become your “friend” or “mayor.” Instead, a greater bond is formed when a guest feels that a restaurant shares their values and believes in the things that they believe in. I refer to this as “Core Value Marketing.” The premise of this is simple. People care far more about a number of issues than they do about where they eat. If your restaurant can convey to these guests that it cares about their issues, loyalty is created with the guest. In saturated markets where several similar restaurants serve similar products at similar prices, this is the best way for a restaurant to stand out.
The tremendous upside here is that there are many causes that people care deeply about. People who care deeply about an issue will often be members of groups and online communities, or write blogs dedicated to these issues. A mention in the PTA newsletter or on a popular community blog will create a far greater impression on a potential loyal guest than a simple advertisement. It is more than just creating awareness of your restaurant; it is making a statement about what your restaurant believes in. It is speaking to the core values held by your potential guests. It gets the attention of your potential guests in a much more profound way than a special menu offering or discount ever could.
This has a number of benefits for the organization you choose to partner with as well. They are able to generate funds without a great deal of extra work. Instead, their supporters can contribute simply by choosing your restaurant instead of your competitor. This means not having to send their kids out to sell something or hassle friends and family for a donation. It does not require the organization to put forth much effort. No upfront expenditures are required of them. This means that the group does not have to spend a portion of what they raise to sponsor the event. All you ask of them is to make their supporters aware of the promotion. They do a little marketing and the restaurant does the rest. This makes it a win/win for the organizations you are helping.
The long term benefits are also tremendous for the restaurants. This type of promotion donates money to an organization, but does not devalue your menu. Coupons, groupons, discount cards, etc. all reinforce the idea that your menu contains a great deal of markup. While guests are always aware of this, these types of promotions place it in the forefront of their minds. Making a donation from the guest’s total is seen as sacrifice rather than merely a discount. This maintains the integrity of your pricing and creates the impression that you are charitable rather than momentarily less greedy.
The other long term benefit is creating a long term bond with your guests. All other things being equal, a guest will still choose the restaurant that made a contribution to their favorite organization in the past over competing restaurants. The exposure you gain from these types of promotions is far more likely to create long term guests. Guests that come in for a deal will often only return for another deal. Guests that are aware of your support of an organization that they care about will often return at full price as a sign of gratitude. I have never seen a coupon create that kind of loyalty.
The best part of Core Value Marketing is that you can do well by doing good. You can maintain most of your profit margin while creating a greater sense of community. There are a number of creative ways to do this as well. If you create a successful partnership, there are also many opportunities for free publicity. In searching for stories for my Saturday column this week I came across examples of restaurant benefits for UNICEF, diabetes awareness, parent/teacher organizations, and many others. As John Maxwell said, “You can get everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”
In the next post, I will outline some of the steps necessary to launch a Core Value Marketing effort. This will highlight some of the best practices of successful efforts and how to avoid some of the potential pitfalls. The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive. You need a way to stand out from your competitors. This is a way to market your restaurant while giving back to your community and the causes that you care about. This is a rare opportunity to help improve your bottom line and the lives of your guests.
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