October 22, 2020

Long-term Branding vs. Short-term Selling: How to use both in your restaurant marketing plan

Creating a marketing plan for your restaurant is as essential to your bottom line as serving delicious food. Reaching new audiences, keeping your brand top-of-mind for existing customers, and promoting the latest limited-time-option (LTO) are all cornerstones of many restaurant marketing plans. What most restaurant strategies lose sight of amid the rush to advertise the newest special is the overall story of the brand and how every short-term marketing set should fit into a long-term strategy. Short-term goals are the building blocks of long-term success, so learning to leverage both is imperative to growth.

Marketing your restaurant should start a long-term branding strategy

Playing the long game can be tiresome. It can easily feel like a Sisyphean task that cannot be monetized, a hallmark of business. Also known as relationship marketing, long-term branding is the art of non-revenue centric tactics that build brand reputation. Although they do not create immediate results, the outcomes pay off immensely in the long run. Things like search engine optimization (SEO), content creation, and organic social media growth all fall into this category – seemingly tedious processes that work together to build powerhouse brands.

Long-term branding creates the aura and personality that surrounds consumers’ favorite brands. It is the map of how a company is going to get from point A to point B but forgoes the turn-by-turn directions. It allows brands to change course when needed as long as the destination point remains steady. It tells a story and pulls in the audience.

“Long-term marketing is difficult to define because it’s all the little things that feed into one big thing. It’s how the menus match the restaurant design. It’s how the words we choose for social posts and where their place is in the overall strategy.” – J.J., Restauranter

Without first knowing who you want to be, there is no way to know how you’re going to get there. Thus, the first step in setting a long-term strategy is to define where the company wants to go and what story it wants to tell along the way. That all hinges on the brand positioning and the brand promise. Identify what your brand stands for and how customers should perceive the service you provide – that’s positioning. McDonald’s has made billions off its positioning as a restaurant that serves low-cost meals in a family-friendly atmosphere. Determine what angle, or position you want to take in the marketplace, and stake your claim. This is the foundation of your long-term strategy.

Now comes the brand promise, which builds directly off the positioning. A promise is only good if it’s kept – every, single time. Regardless of where in the world someone is, if she enters a McDonald’s she can get a low-cost hamburger in a family-friendly environment. The restaurant took its positioning, put action behind it, and delivers consistently. McDonald’s long-term branding strategy is based on promoting its promise, which, as we all know, has made the company the undisputed leader in the fast-food industry.

“The trick is understanding how to execute the long-term vision in a lot of smaller steps. I know what I want in the end but getting there is the hard part. That takes skill.” – Joe, Restauranter

Long-term marketing is not about raising bottom lines quickly or seeing analytics grow overnight. Long-term branding is about the creation of a relationship with your customers. It’s presenting your restaurant time and time again with the same tone, personality, and ambiance. When executed correctly, it gives brands an aura and a place in our culture, making them synonymous with their industry.

The benefits of short-term selling for your restaurant

Short-term selling, also known as transactional marketing, and its accompanying marketing strategies are the ones you accomplish in six months or less – think seasonal promotions, search engine marketing, and special offers or promotion codes. These concepts stretch the whole start-to-finish journey in a matter of weeks or months. They are simple bursts of revenue-centric business that work to capture the attention of existing customers while hopefully piquing the interest of a new audience. Search Engine Marketing (SEM), social media advertisements, and coupons or promotional codes all qualify as short-term selling tactics; they generally have a higher cost, more guaranteed return, but normally a lower return on investment (ROI).

It’s easy for marketing and sales departments to favor this mode of promotion. The tactics produce results quickly, justify spend almost immediately, and prove the marketing departments’ worth monetarily.

“It’s kind of a rush, short-term marketing. It’s like instant gratification. We put out an ad, and customers immediately start coming into the restaurant asking for the special.” – Aaron, Restauranter

How Short-Term and Long-Term Create a Perfect Table for Two

To make sure short-term selling will provide the most benefit to your overall marketing efforts be sure it fits into your long-term strategy. A temporary boost in revenue from a promotion is not worth sacrificing your brand’s reputation that took years to establish.

“The promos bring in people, but they don’t usually come back unless there’s another one. We can’t just keep discounting to get new people in here if they’re not the crowds that’ll return time and time again.” – Joe, Restauranter

In order to ensure marketing efforts – both short and long-term – remain cohesive and work in tandem, it’s best to constantly reference the long-term strategy and measure every short-term decision against its intended goal. If it does not help position the brand closer to its desired long-term destination, then it should be thrown out. In today’s world of social media and cancel culture, a marketing misstep can irrevocably damage a company’s reputation.

“Putting things out of social (media) can be nerve-wracking because there is always this fear that someone, somewhere will be offended or take it the wrong way, and then we’re left apologizing for something that we didn’t intend to be wrong or offensive.” – J.J., Restauranter

By comparing each short-term step against the long-term strategy, avoid quick fixes or short-lived trends that add no benefit to your guest loyalty. It’s alluring to be part of a social media craze, use the latest popular hashtag, or get on the newest app. It’s simple, can be done in a relatively short period of time, and is fairly inexpensive. However, if it does not align with who and what you want your brand to be – which should include who your ideal customers are, your brand positioning, tone, and personality – the selling strategy will be a waste of time, money, and possibly brand equity.

Long-term vs. Short-term: Knowing which to use for your restaurant marketing strategy

Like most things in marketing, there is no right answer on which method to use and when. The one piece of clarity that can be added to this situation is that both tactics should align with your restaurant’s overall goals, target your ideal customer, and uniquely position your restaurant. Knowing and understanding these elements is critical to properly executing both long-term branding and short-term selling tactics.

Outline your business goals, and then decide which can benefit from short-sale selling – a new LTO, announcing a seasonal promotion – and which is best for long-term branding – promoting a loyalty program to existing customers, changing the type of customer you have. It’s important to keep both visions in mind when crafting your marketing plan. If you allocate too much to short-term promotions, you might not have enough to pay for long-term efforts to build your brand equity. On the other hand, if you only think about the distant future, you may not have enough profits to sustain your business in the short-term.

There is no perfect mix of short and long-term methods. Some years might weigh more heavily on one or the other, but as long as each effort positively feeds into the overall brand and its desired direction, which tactic is used shouldn’t matter in the end. The important thing is that your long-term and short-term efforts complement one another. Your long-term brand efforts drive customer awareness while the short-term methods bring people in the door. In the end, you’re trying to win the marketing war and each of the battles that compose it, something that requires using both long-term branding and short-term selling.