A friend recently asked me about a new restaurant after I posted on social media post about my visit. As I started declaring my love for the intimate space, the cozy ambiance, the cordial staff, he interjected with a question so simple but yet startling, “How was the food?” It was wonderful, delicious, succulent, invigorating, luscious, and every other five-dollar word I can’t remember. Funny that my dinner wasn’t the first, second, or even third thing I remembered about the restaurant. The food wasn’t even why I was telling him, begging him, to take his wife there for date night. It was more than that. The entire, multifaceted experience was the reason I enjoyed the place so much that I was willing to post about it as well as give it a resounding endorsement.
The point here is that as a restaurateur you are selling more than food. The meal is only part of what customers want. The rest is an intangible feeling tied to the experience of eating at your restaurant.
Customer Experience Marketing: The Art (and Science) of Selling the Intangible
The best way to build a brand lies in one word: connection. Make people feel connected to whatever you’re selling, and they will not only buy it, but they will integrate into their lives, post about it, and recruit others for you. In short, they become what we in the industry call “loyalists.”
By marketing an experience and its corresponding emotion, customers effectively create a mental attachment to your brand, and they will seek it out in an effort to revive that positive sentiment. Executing this chain of emotional events, called “experience marketing,” lies at the intersection of art and science.
5 Ways to Market a Dining Experience
1. Make Your Customers Feel the Way They Want to Feel
The Southwest-inspired Limited Time Offers might soon be forgotten, and your tiramisu could be nothing more than a delectable post-dinner treat, but our emotions born from an experience outlast our taste buds. The key is figuring out which emotion your customers want to feel and then tailoring your restaurant marketing to provoking that emotion.
“We sell food and drink. That is what I do at the most basic level, but at a higher level, I sell experiences. The food and drink are a medium to those moments. Learning to market that is the tough part.” – J.J., Restaurateur
Science finds that humans have 27 emotions that guide our decision-making process. Knowing which one to target is a mixture of art and science that those in advertising call “planning.” Through customer focus groups, interviews, surveys, ethnography, and site visits, a planner determines the feeling people want when visiting your restaurant. The planner then sets a campaign strategy embodying the target emotion.
What is also as important as targeting the correct emotion is ensuring that it is present at every touchpoint of the customer experience. Because we live in a digital world, your customers’ first interaction with you will more than likely be over a website or social media page. Do your social channels exude the same feeling that you want your restaurant to provoke? When you log onto your website, do you feel the same way as you do when you walk into your restaurant? You should.
“I work to make sure that everything from websites to menus to napkins all speak to the brand I am creating. The whole thing, every detail, feeds into what I am giving my customers.” – Elliot, Restaurateur
Start the customer experience from the first connection, and you are well on your way to serving up a memory and not just a memorable dish.
2. Sharing Spreads the Word and Your Brand
Interaction leads the way when creating an experience. Entering into a symbiotic relationship with your customers starts on social media – where 23% of users visited a brand’s page in the last month. Make sure that what you post aligns with the feeling and experience you want to create. Giving people content they can react to, comment on, and the most valuable, share, works as grassroots advertising for your brand.
There was the Instagram-able food craze, which had restaurants creating dishes just for their ability to dazzle on social media. That trend, thankfully, has started to wane. Think about the more subtle ways to incorporate social media throughout your brand.
In the summer of 2020, Arby’s made headlines because of the paper bags it uses. A customer noticed that the bags had a label saying they could hold up to 25 pounds. The man put the bags to the test and shared his experiment on social media while asking why the bags were built to hold so much weight. Arby’s cleverly responded – 100% on brand – “because we have the meats.” The video was not only viewed more than 500,000 times. There were more than 21,000 comments, and national news organizations picked the story up.
That level of publicity is irreplaceable.
3. Old School Marketing with A New School Twist
Before Instagram, Facebook, and even the relic MySpace, there was good ole’ word of mouth marketing (WOMM). If you give people something to talk about, guess what? They’ll talk about it! The ripple effects will be a stronger brand, a widened customer base, and the intangible “buzz” that people talking creates.
WOMM works too. According to Nielsen, 8 in 10 people say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family. Another study finds that peer-to-peer recommendations fuel some $6 Trillion in consumer spending a year and accounts for 13% of consumer spending.
Because social media gives people an outlet to share their opinions – good or bad – it’s important that each experience you provide reflect your brand, what it stands for, and what it values. Translating your brand promise into a brand experience well can help you capitalize on WOMM. If you need a refresher on bridging that gap, be sure to read our previous blog post on that topic.
Bottom line: don’t forget the power of word of mouth marketing. It’s a powerful tool to drive profits and popularity. Give people a positive experience, and they will make sure everyone in their circle knows about it.
4. A picture is worth a thousand words.
The art of showing and not telling is a powerful tool. Humans are hardwired to remember, learn, and emotionally respond to images. Pictures allow people to experience the scene through their senses and feelings while visualizing themselves living out the event. One study found that it even helps people remember – with recall improving 65% when there was a picture attached to a social media post.
“I can tell people all day how amazing our sandwiches are, but it falls on deaf ears. I mean what restaurant owner isn’t going to brag about his food. But if I show them a picture of a bagel sandwich stacked with sausage, ham, bacon, egg, and cheese, they can’t help themselves.” – Aaron, Restaurateur
Don’t forget that social media is another brand touchpoint, so take care to align it with your overall strategy. The quality of photographs and/or videos is important too. Nearly 70% of customers say the clarity of media is “very important” in affecting their purchase decision.
5. The story is what makes it stick.
Stories are the way humans have communicated since the beginning of time. We relate to one another through them and create a shared history when we tell each other our stories. Some say storytelling is a human survival mechanism. Although we now have more ways to tell them, passing along experiences through words remains a powerful branding tool.
Marketing your restaurant is no different. Find out what your story is first. Did you decide to open your restaurant after learning to cook from your grandma? Was your inspiration a trip or a family recipe? Identify the moments that made you and weave them into a narrative. Your customers will latch onto it and see your restaurant as more than a menu; they’ll begin to see you as part of their story.
Find out what your story is, find out the best way to tell it, and see how it enriches every experience your customer has with you.
Our lives are composed of a string of experiences. When we talk about our favorite restaurant, more than food comes to mind. It’s how feelings that the location, decor, ambiance, and whole experience provoke that make the memory. Marketing those moments starts with identifying a sought after emotion, creating shareable content and a buzz-worthy aura, using interesting visuals, and telling your brand’s story. If you do, customers will see your restaurant as well as your marketing as part of a greater experience, littered with memorable moments.