Four Steps to Successful Email Marketing for Restaurants

One tip Scott Shaw offers is for restaurants' marketing content to have personality and a voice. "Avoid the cardinal sin: don't be boring."
One tip Scott Shaw offers is for restaurants' marketing content to have personality and a voice. "Avoid the cardinal sin: don't be boring." Image Used with Permission

Scott Shaw has the game plan for restaurants to create impactful email marketing and social media integration.

"I think it's better to say that there is an emerging playbook, and I don't think it's being passed around," explains the CEO of Fishbowl, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that works with solely the restaurant industry to help brands leverage email marketing smartly. Fishbowl's platform is used by more than 230 restaurant brands, primarily chains, which puts it in 50,000 restaurant locations.

While the majority of Fishbowl's clients are chains with broad geographical reach, Shaw says independent restaurants actually have the marketing advantage in the current dining climate. "The playing field is uneven today, and it's stilted toward independents," he says. "This is a game about reach and content. And independents can run circles around the chains, because they're simply closer to the community and to the guest; they typically have so much more to say, since they're more involved with the community. If you give them the tools, they will make hay from it."

Shaw, who is a former restaurant operator himself, started Fishbowl 15 years ago to address concerns with email marketing in the industry. "When you can reach outside the four walls of your restaurant and touch customers, good things happen," he says. "So, 15 years later, we're doing it for 50,000 restaurants, not just my five or six restaurants, and we're doing it with a lot more people."

Fishbowl has evolved beyond email marketing to now become a social media marketing manager that handles a restaurant's online reputation, creates a marketing calendar, writes content for it, and can also track offers and promotions. A Brazilian steakhouse in Chicago used Fishbowl’s offer tracking feature to great success over the summer, finding that a generous "buy one, get one free" offer yielded upwards of $18,000 in revenue in one week.

"We want to make sure their online presences is as sparkling as it is in the restaurant," Shaw says.

According to Shaw, the aforementioned email marketing playbook is best compared to a table with four legs, each leg representing a step in the customer acquisition process: audience, channels, content, and execution.

1. Audience. Audience is built through messaging mix and frequency, and the greater the size of a restaurant's audience, the more impact the eatery has. Once a restaurant knows who its primary audience is—whether it's a demographic that makes above a certain yearly household income, all families with kids at a family-friendly pub, Millennials who drink wine, or any group in between—it can direct its messaging mix to the proper customers, through the proper channels.

2. Channels. This step trips up many independent operators, Shaw says. "You'd be amazed how many operators skip this, and do what I call chasing shiny objects," he explains. "A sales rep walks into their store and tries to sell them some kind of digital advertising or acquisition. But they have it backwards." The place a restaurant starts is with building a customer database, using social media and email, and only then is it appropriate to consider aquitision campaigns or paid media.

Shaw adds that he prefers Yelp and FourSquare for discover and acquisition, and the go-to channels for engagement should be Facebook, Twitter, and email marketing.

"You want to listen before you talk," he advises. Facebook and review sites including Yelp and Trip Advisor are good starting points for listening and understanding how customers perceive the brand, while email is the customers' preferred method of being reached, according to data from Deloitte.

3. Content. This is similar to the programming on a TV channel, Shaw says. "I may like Law & Order, but you can't air Law & Order all day. You want a mixture of what's going on in the restaurant." Messaging mix, then, is finding a balance between local store marketing, charity involvement, an engaging website, the menu, and events.

"Independents always have events or new things going on in the restaurant and in the community, so it's not hard to build a content calendar for them," Shaw says.

4. Execution. This is the last, and hardest, step, according to Shaw. It requires knowledge, time, and commitment for an operator to consistently create messaging and marketing for consumers to respond to, through both email and social media. 


By Sonya Chudgar

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