We often think of marketing as advertising, which in its bluntest form a) grabs attention and then b) shoves the name of a product into that attention space. A more modern, nuanced and humane approach to marketing is to build a good relationship with potential and existing customers.
Good restauranteurs know this. They do their best to provide a welcoming and satisfying experience. The best spend a lot of time directly connecting with diners by visiting tables, chatting with them at the bar, giving the young couple on a date a secluded table for two and not the table for four in the middle of the floor.
Those owners, managers and staff who connect well with diners win the golden goose of this business: repeat customers. They know how to make people comfortable, and they really know how to make the conversation about the customer: How are you doing? Is everything good here tonight? Is there anything I can get for you? Believe it or not, this is good marketing.
Many restaurants do this well in person, so why does it all break down so often when it comes to online marketing, especially in the social media space? Online marketing all too often sounds like this:
Do you see the pattern? Can you imagine if someone talked to you like this in real life, going on and on about what the customer can and should do to promote them?
Here's an example, not from a restaurant but from a veterinarian asking (actually, telling) customers to vote for them in the annual Best of Vancouver survey. To make it worse, this survey needs at least 25 answers to qualify. That's not a small amount of time they're asking for, and nowhere in the email does it even say 'please'. This is the only time they've emailed me, and this is not why I gave them my email address.
How is the vet when I go in? Not like that: they ask how I'm doing, how is kitty, and sometimes they let me know about upcoming specials. Sometimes they throw a few samples my way. But they never ask me to do some marketing legwork for them. I don't want to pick on my vet, but it highlights the difference that happens too often between online and real-world marketing.
Here's another example, this time from a national restaurant chain that put a bunch of work and money into getting some big number of Likes on Facebook. The author calls out the problem of determining how much value was earned by this marketing effort, noting that it comes with some rather high costs.
What I'll add is the annoying, get-in-their-face approach just to get people to click a Like button. If you're getting the feeling that these campaigns are more about the tech and less about the customer, you and I are on the same page.
So how do you market your restaurant online without coming across as a needy social media robot that keeps commanding customers to engage? It's easy: you humanize it. And just how do we do that? So glad you asked!
1. Look Good
You need to look presentable in these online spaces. Get a decent quality image of your logo from your graphic designer, and specify that it's for use as an image used online. (Of course, you'll want to look good on mobile, and if your website doesn't you know who to turn to for that, so we won't beat that to death here.)
If you use Twitter, consider having a custom page background designed that complements your brand. A background that repeats your logo or a photo of your restaurant over and over is exactly what you don't want. If you send out a newsletter, get a template designed to reflect the look of your website so that people feel the coherence of your vision.
The point is to make sure you look presentable online, and making that job manageable is the next point.
2. Choose Your Channels
I like to call the different social media tools 'channels' to sound sophisticated, but also to show that they are not created equal and can carry different kinds of messages. Rather than jumping on to every new service that comes along, take the time to investigate them and ask if they really line up with how you like to do things.
Are your customers likely to act on deals announced through their smartphones? Foursquare or Groupon Now can help with that.
Are your customers chatty? Twitter is a good place for that, and the 140-character limit ensures that you don't spend all day typing.
Do you run a strong takeout business? There are numerous services that can help with that, and the soon to launch Food.ee is one of them.
If you're really feeling lost, consider a social media marketing agency or freelancer who focusses on winning good customers rather than numbers of followers or a presence everywhere. This will cost you more money than doing it yourself, but it can make life a lot simpler going forward if this is new to you.
3. Make Your Customers Rock
If there's one point to take to heart, this is the one. How do you make your customers rock? Educate them about where your food comes from or the realities of your industry. Share the tips and tricks you've found that make life easier. Let them know ahead of time when specials are coming up and when the best time to get a good table is. Greet regulars like royalty when they bring in their friends. Share pictures of what you've made today to get their mouths watering. Talk back to them when they talk to you. Thank them when they mention you.
Every time you do something that makes your customers a bit smarter about what you provide, or makes their lives a bit better in general, they feel better about you. That's good marketing. It's not about saying how great you are, it's about showing it by treating your customers like people and making their lives a bit better. It's about being as welcoming and friendly and helpful as you would be in person. It's about making people feel good, and that's a marketing plan that we can all like.
Oh come on, you knew there had to be a Like pun in here somewhere! So what do you think? Is this all philosophy, is it only about the numbers, or is making marketing about your customers the way to go?