March 2020 and COVID sparked changes for the restaurant industry that brought forth a new era. Restaurants were forced to shut doors or pivot to delivery and carryout. Some have returned to outdoor dining, but things are still far from the previous norm. According to Statista, seated diners in U.S. restaurants are down 47 percent year-over-year. On top of a pandemic shifting dining habits, there’s been extraordinary social dilemmas and civil unrest.
In the summer, a movement to pull advertising dollars from social media platforms, specifically Facebook, was born. Well-known brands like Denny’s, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ joined what became known as the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. Many businesses joined this movement in an attempt to wake social media companies up to hate speech. This movement reflected a change in consumer behavior. A Forrester report stated that nearly 40 percent of U.S. online adults believe social media does more harm than good and less than 15 percent believe the info they read on social media is trustworthy.
It’s not just social media being looked at differently, consumers are looking for more from brands. They want brands to speak up on issues. COVID has added new layers to this. DoSomething.org surveyed GenZers to assess their concerns related to the pandemic. Three-fourths said they wanted to see brands take action to ensure employee and consumer safety.
On top of social media issues is the continuation of data privacy concerns. This year, we saw California’s data privacy law become enforceable and federal laws were teased again. Nearly 80 percent of consumers have concerns about how their data is being used.
Many restaurants are trying to survive this year. But in order to come out of this and truly thrive, they must adapt to the future of restaurant marketing: the trust economy. The idea of the trust economy is centered on the belief that trust is the most powerful economic power to be had. Restaurant marketers need to build trust with customers related to the safety of dining in, while also gaining their trust on issues of social responsibility and handling of personal data.
Here are some of the implications of the trust economy shaping restaurant marketing for the future.
Data requires a value exchange
The days of third-party data being a viable tool are gone. As consumers are increasingly protective over their own data, restaurants must put the right policies in place to manage data responsibility. This is especially imperative as online ordering is the norm. A consumer must trust the restaurant they are ordering food from – not only with health concerns but their data. In the trust economy, restaurants need to offer something in return for data. This is known as zero-party data. Industry research by SevenRooms found that half of diners are willing to share their data with a restaurant in exchange for discounted offers or promotions. Data is still a needed tool for restaurant marketers, but with less customers coming in person and increased concerns about privacy, they must get more creative in how they gather data.
Restaurants need to align with consumer values
Today’s consumer prefers buying from a brand that aligns with their values. They want to know their money is being spent somewhere good. What this means for restaurants is they need to develop and define their purpose. If a restaurant is not finding ways to meaningfully contribute to society, they are likely going to lose out on customers. Whether it is partnering with a local non-profit organization or delivering food to essential workers, restaurants must find ways to do good. This will create an emotional connection with their customers that will build lasting loyalty.
The use of social media will change
Restaurants have to rely heavily on social media, especially local restaurants as it is a major way to communicate with customers. But in a world where social media habits are changing and national protests of platforms are commonplace, restaurant marketers must consider different channels. As Forrester said earlier this year, it’s OK to break up with social media. Now is a time to step back and listen to customers and adhere to what they want. There are better ways to reach customers than social media. Email continues to be a much more fruitful channel to reach consumers.
COVID has changed the lifestyles and habits of consumers. It has thrust the marketing world into the trust economy in powerful ways. Restaurants looking to thrive in this new era must work toward building direct relationships with their customers built on trust. Loyal customers will naturally emerge as trust is built.
Richard Jones is CMO of Cheetah Digital, a cross-channel customer engagement solution provider for many of the world’s best brands, including American Express, Hilton, Walgreens, and Williams-Sonoma. Richard was previously CEO of Wayin before the company was acquired by Cheetah Digital in 2019 and rebranded as Cheetah Experiences. Richard is an expert in zero-party data and is committed to helping brands provide a value exchange with consumers through the lifecycle in return for consumer attention, engagement and loyalty.