These tips help restaurants optimize marketing programs to boost business results.

Capturing eyeballs to close the sale makes digital signage a valuable tool in a restaurant’s marketing arsenal. Whether the sign sends signals via menuboards at the point-of-sale or just inside the restaurant foyer, those animated messages help spur profitable consumer behavior, marketing experts say.

Given the competition and lean margins of the industry today, operators are looking for new ways to differentiate their restaurant environment, says Tony Treadway, president of Creative Energy, an ad agency specializing in the foodservice segment. “Most of the sales growth in full-service is in take-out and delivery, so the investment in bricks and mortar must offer a special restaurant experience,” he says. “I am seeing more interest in digital signage from customers because of the unique ability to daypart content on screens with a low day-to-day investment when compared to printed materials. The ability to include motion in the digital content is equally exciting.”

To maximize success with digital signage campaigns, signage experts say to follow these 5 key steps.

1. Define Objectives

Because digital signage is capable of accomplishing so much, it’s important that restaurant leaders define goals for the signage to maximize its impact and strategically plan which content to show. “Digital signage builds awareness,” says Brian Elles, director of product marketing for Mood Media, which specializes in digital signs for the restaurant industry. “It conveys opportunities before customers order. Another use is entertainment, and there are some really cool options for people to surround standard television with branded content or completely control the experience and create their own television networks for the less than the cost of cable or satellite.”

Inside, the restaurant is competing with the customer’s smartphone for attention, so it’s important to show content that interests viewers. “By rotating content between menu items with trivia questions, sports scoreboards, or promotions for local charity initiatives, customers can engage with your brand longer and not their smartphones,” Treadway says.

Bottom line: View screen as valuable visual real estate and know exactly how you want that real estate to work for you and fit into the customer experience.

2. Screen Placement and Timing

Once the objectives are set, choosing where to install displays within the restaurant becomes a matter of logic. A display visible from the street or parking lot could entice those outside to come inside, “but the time of capturing a two- or three-second impression with consumers walking or driving by your restaurant should also be considered,” Treadway says. “Rotating images on a street-visible display is important. I would recommend that street-visible display content should rotate every seven seconds.” He notes that motion signage can increase customer engagement by 500 percent. Local municipality laws may regulate outdoor motion signage, however, especially at night for road safety.

The promo board inside is often the first thing customers notice when they come inside, so its placement is important. Because diners stay in the waiting area for a while, messages can remain on-screen longer than in other areas.

3. Dayparting

Digital signs enable restaurants to tailor messaging to different dayparts. “You can target the message to the meal,” Elles says. Coffee and donuts hit the display at breakfast, with different promotions appearing at lunch and dinner and for nightly specials, kids’ menus, and holiday offerings. Digital signage can also upsell desserts or drink specials. Even if the wait staff forgets to mention an upsell, digital signage gets the message across.

Those messages can also be tailored to customer interests. Elles says his company works with a Mexican restaurant that uses digital signage to promote soccer games available on the restaurant’s televisions, because that’s what people are coming in to watch.

4. Don’t Forget the Employees

As the cost of signage becomes more affordable, Elles says targeting messages to employees in back-of-house can also reap dividends. Use it to support training and deliver internal communication; display recognition programs, like employee of the month; or use signs in place of a bulletin board that may not get as much attention. Training reminders and entertainment to keep workers happy are other popular uses for back-of-house digital displays.

5. Test for Success

Because digital signage gives restaurants more flexibility to maximize performance through quick updates, testing is crucial. Elles says it is a matter of trying out different content with an A/B system to see what’s working.

“Start with a benchmark,” he says. “What are sales-to-date prior to digital signage? Leveraging that signage should be focused around two or three principles. It’s going to work on very targeted campaigns. The goal should be to increase a certain product event or outcome, like increasing sales of a specific menu item or testing the content. Does the phrase ‘BOGO’ work or do I have to spell out ‘buy-one, get-one?’ How long does the spot air? A day, a week, or a quarter? You also want to measure how many times it plays and the location count.”

For accuracy in measuring results, Elles recommends a 60-day test at minimum, but 90 days is preferable. “The more effort you put into content strategy, the more effective you’ll be and the greater your return on investment. That doesn’t mean it has to be hard. With a powerful content management system that is easy to use, executing an effective digital signage content strategy is not difficult. Look for providers who also provide content management support and services to assist.”

Complex testing might be more appropriate for large, multi-location brands, but single locations can still do some simple testing, he says. “What is the purpose and placement of the screen? At the most macro level they should know those answers. Do I need to sell more product? Leverage new offers? Where do I place the signage to achieve those goals?”

Providers like Mood Media can also create animations that scroll across a digital sign. “This is very important for operators who may be short-staffed on the marketing side of the business,” Treadway says. “I would also recommend that an operator create a content calendar covering several months to assure that you take advantage of themes related to the holidays, sports, and local events to demonstrate that your operation is engaged with customer interests and your community. Pre-program your graphics ahead of time and be sure to integrate your messaging with your social media and other forms of advertising.”

Treadway says suppliers who can also integrate programmable music in tandem with the digital signage identity “are preferred because they have better understanding of strategies that have worked for other operators and their ability to provide a turnkey solution to sight and sound.”

When a restaurant is ready to move forward with digital signage, evaluating the right digital display company should include the company’s breadth of experience, as well as abilities.

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