May 23, 2024

Using tech to personalize marketing, respond in real time

Industry vets share how they’re testing out technologies to improve messaging, operations, and sales.

MEG panel moderator Jeremy Thiesen and panelists Paul Macaluso, Jamie Richardson, and Beth Hardy talked about tech tools that are improving marketing.

At the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executive Group conference (MEG), May 15-17 in Chicago, Paul Macaluso, President & CEO of Another Broken Egg, Jamie Richardson, White Castle’s VP of Marketing, and Beth Hardy, VP of Marketing for Modern Restaurant Concepts, addressed how the development and adoption of social media marketing, mobile apps, loyalty programs, and other tools, help brands improve the customer experience, operational efficiency, and sales. 

What are some best new tech tools to improve marketing?
Macaluso: We’ve invested heavily in our marketing tech stack, adding resources to help us harness online and third-party ordering and gather more feedback from our guests. We’ve partnered with online ordering platforms to provide our guests with convenient takeout, catering, and delivery options. We’ve also developed a mobile app and are working on a loyalty program that provides value beyond traditional discounts and focuses on the quality of our menu and full bar experiences.

When it comes to social media marketing, we’ve recently taken advantage of AI-powered reputation management tools to better connect and engage with our guests. As we add new locations, this software helps our social media specialists better interpret and more quickly manage the increased volume of reviews. Also, local social media tools are helping us gather more complex consumer insights.

Richardson: New tools are powerful, especially to maintain relevancy with key audiences. We’ve invested robustly to get consumer feedback in real time, particularly with online research platforms.

We’re working with Headspace, our research partner, so that instead of taking six weeks to pick cities and plan travel to conduct focus groups, we’re using screening tools that allow us to have simultaneous conversations with groups across three different time zones in one session. Any technology that allows us to save effort, money, and get smarter about the investments we’re making is a triple-win that empowers us to go from good to better to best, faster.

Hardy: We’ve had a loyalty program and app for several years, but they are constantly evolving. That enables our loyalty marketing to evolve and improve as well. Last year, we rolled out a points-based program, as opposed to our previous dollar-based one, and guests have really taken to it. 

One of the benefits with points is it enables us to offer nondiscount rewards. We, like many brands, look for ways to provide guest benefits without discounting our product. Offering double points for ordering at dinner time or extra bonus points for visiting more often can be mutually beneficial to us and our guests. It also helps gamify the program, which could create more usage and frequency. 

We’ve also turned to a first-party data provider to help generate consumer lists for digital-ad targeting. It’s helped us identify and reach our target audience more precisely and see a higher return on ad spend (ROAS). This strategy has been helpful in raising awareness among new guests, which is critical.

How is technology reshaping the way brands market themselves, attract, and retain customers?
Macaluso: In today’s marketplace, consumers expect personalized experiences, and technology is fundamental to gathering the insights that make those touchpoints possible. With the help of AI-enabled reputation management platforms and digital marketing tools, we can make more data-driven decisions and interact with guests in real time, strengthening the relationship and creating incentives for repeat visits.

Richardson: When it works as intended, technology enables us to be more human, more engaged, and better listeners. The wall dividing consumers and marketers is gone, torn down long ago. In today’s world, we’re all marketers and we’re all consumers. Technology allows us to provide an exceptional dining experience in two ways: more personalization—think app ordering and loyalty programs—and removal of pain points. Ordering is easier, customer service is faster, and team members are free to share their heart for hospitality as tougher manual labor tasks become increasingly more automated.

Hardy: Technology and the digital experience enable brands to market to many more customers and track performance more accurately. The metrics acquired from tracking help brands target their core customers better, reduce waste, and potentially attract more loyal guests.

Technology also helps customize guest experiences, whether it’s how and where brands reach them, how they engage with them, or how they provide an enjoyable experience. We recently onboarded a guest experience management platform to help track guest sentiment and obtain a Net Promoter Score (NPS). It’s helped us identify and respond to issues quickly, before they negatively affect our guests and restaurants on a large scale. It also allows us to ask guests specific menu-item questions and receive real-time feedback on LTOs and seasonal menu changes.

What tech activations are “low-hanging fruit” for operators to enhance marketing effectiveness?
Macaluso: AI-enabled reputation management platforms are a no-brainer. Not only do they save your marketing team valuable time that could be spent on other tasks, they also foster a direct connection with customers. Guest feedback is so important to all facets of our businesses because it helps us make informed decisions that ultimately improve the bottom line.

Richardson: Consumer-facing tools allow us to provide richer, more fulfilling experiences.  As a family-owned business for 103 years, our vision is to “feed the souls of craver generations everywhere.” One way to do that is through personalization. Technology allows us to have more personal conversations with customers. We want to make sure we respond to their needs in ways most important to them.

Hardy: It’s rare to find brands these days that don’t have a loyalty program. It’s an effective, fast way to enhance marketing efforts, grow frequency, and build loyalists. It’s also an excellent tool to help you learn more about your guests’ purchasing habits, target similar potential new guests more effectively, and customize your marketing to fit their interests. 

I also highly recommend investing in a guest-experience management platform. You can read Google and Yelp reviews, but they don’t compare to an actual tool that helps you keep your finger on the pulse of guests’ feedback. Reaction time can be faster, and you can ask questions that are more pertinent to providing excellent operations, and culinary and marketing experiences.

Stay on top of the ways marketing benefits from technology from fellow marketers. Learn more about MEG here.