In today’s highly dynamic restaurant industry, technology innovation is continually redefining the marketing function and presenting new opportunities and challenges. Marketing teams aim to partner with IT organizations to leverage the latest advances in data analytics, intelligent automation, social media and other tools to gain a competitive edge.
For a multi-national restaurant chain, a marketing strategy based on delivering a consistent guest experience is critical to building brand identity and driving repeat business. Consistency also enables more effective analysis and improvement of loyalty and promotional programs. At the same time, flexibility is essential to address national, regional, language and cultural differences across disparate global markets, as well as to engage a wide range of independent-minded franchise operators.
Technology is impacting the dining experience and enabling more personalized and relevant communication from the brand to the end user.
Finding the right blend of consistency and flexibility presents a major challenge. One obvious issue is maintaining some semblance of a uniform look, feel and brand identity across multiple languages. Menus and restaurant hours must be adjusted to accommodate national and regional food preferences and dining habits. Franchise operators, moreover, vary widely in terms of technology sophistication and resources, ranging from corporate owners with deep pockets and extensive expertise to mom-and-pop enterprises that manage one or two restaurants.
In this environment, marketing technology assets such as website templates, customer apps and social media campaigns must walk a fine line. They need to be sufficiently robust and sophisticated to appeal to franchises that embrace digital innovation, yet accessible enough to ensure utilization by operators with little time to become tool experts and limited ability to invest in new tools.
To deliver the right blend of standardization and flexibility, Brinker International, Inc. has adopted a hub-and-spoke model with a centralized repository of marketing assets that are utilized by franchise partners across the globe. Leveraging a digital platform developed by Softtek, the model is designed to allow for customization within defined parameters. This aligns with Brinker’s philosophy of brand guidelines, providing a “river” that franchisees can navigate freely from shore to shore, as long as they keep the boat in the water of basic standards.
By focusing on tutorials, user training and consulting, the platform aims to minimize the learning curve and enable rapid adoption of the full range of available capabilities across the diverse spectrum of global franchises. The centralized hub of the model, meanwhile, enables Brinker’s global team to capture and analyze data from myriad franchise operations; insights gained from this analysis are then used to define best practices to be shared with franchisees through the digital platform.
For Brinker guests, technology is impacting the dining experience and enabling more personalized and relevant communication from the brand to the end user. By deploying analytics tools and business rules, franchises have begun to deliver personalized outreach to guests. For example, guests with children receive “kids eat free” email promotions, with reward and incentive offers linked to past purchases and preferences.
Delivering the right blend of standardization and adaptability, ease of access and customization requires close collaboration between marketing and IT. One key to achieving this collaboration is mutual understanding. For example, marketing teams must understand the process application development teams follow when developing functionality, and be familiar with roles and responsibilities and specific actions involved in completing a development cycle. IT teams, for their part, should from the outset of a project be aware of the overall business strategy, as well as specific issues facing franchisees, particularly with regard to the guest experience. This understanding can provide context for business priorities and timelines.
Communication and transparency are imperative to achieving this mutual understanding. Regularly scheduled calls and meetings allow both sides to ask needed questions, gain insight into essential details and maintain alignment with the business vision. Lacking this structured and operationalized communication between marketing and IT, one side will inevitably make misguided assumptions about what is or isn’t important to the other.
Digital technology is transforming how restaurants engage and communicate with their guests. The opportunities to deliver a unique and tailored dining experience are enormous. The challenge of marketing for restaurants lies in successfully executing existing strategies, while at the same time staying abreast of new ideas and ensuring that tomorrow’s innovations are deployed to yield competitive advantage.
About the Authors
Jorge Pederzini is Director of Global Marketing (Chili’s® Grill & Bar) at Brinker International, Inc.
Camila Casale is Chief Marketing Officer for Softtek US and Canada.