September 14, 2020

The Evolution of Media Mix Planning for Your Restaurant in Unprecedented Times

By Kellye Hubble

This time period has been incredibly challenging and has brought many changes to the way restaurants operate, from staffing to menus to cleaning procedures. In addition to operational changes many restaurants are evaluating marketing efforts to reach new and existing customers. While this may be frustrating and confusing, the trends we see in media consumption may be pointing to possible solutions.

We know that people are spending more time per day with media. Driven by a combination of the effects of the coronavirus crisis and pre-pandemic trends, the average time US consumers spend with media is projected to rise more than 1 hour per day this year, to 13 hours, 35 minutes.

Where are we seeing growth? While social distancing, people are starting to put more trust in digital services that satisfy both personal and social needs. Smartphone time and digital video time are rising, with an extra-large bump in 2020. Consumers are spending more time per day on social networks. US adult social network users are projected to spend 82 minutes per day on social networks, a significant increase over the previous forecast of 76 minutes.

Considering how much has changed since the beginning of 2020, it makes me wonder how the consumer’s experience with your restaurant brand has also changed?

Even though some stores and restaurants have reopened, and some face-to-face interactions have returned, consumers continue to shop online more often to purchase everyday items they need, such as groceries. Shopping online has helped to fuel the enormous increase in digital engagement with consumers, and it is unlikely to go away, especially with people continuing to work from home.

What does this mean for restaurant brands today? More than ever before, brands need to be on top of communications, service, and support. Consumers who already had high expectations of digital engagement are now even more demanding. In the past, digital engagement meant sending the brand a message, and checking in later for their reply. Now consumers are sitting in front of the screen waiting for an immediate response.

5 Step Guide to Developing a Media Mix For your Restaurant Brand

We are experiencing extraordinary times and while we are in the midst of this all playing out, there is no playbook for us to follow. For restaurant brands, the correct media mix is driven by a complex consumer ecosystem, ever-increasing communication channels, and KPI’s to measure success.

In these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to stand apart from your competition, find new ways to make media work harder, and to connect with your consumer like never before.

The best recommendation for what to do right now, is to take a simple approach to the challenging media-mix question of what’s next? and incorporate our 5-step guide in your media mix planning for the balance of 2020 and into 2021.

1. Don’t Go Dark with your Restaurant Marketing Efforts

There’s an old adage in marketing: “In good times you should advertise. In bad times you must advertise.” This statement is backed up by significant research. Restaurants that maintain or increase marketing spend during recessionary periods drive incremental revenue and market share growth during the downturn and long afterward.

Sure, your media plan will pivot, twist, and turn. It may even shift to different channels or strategies in dramatic ways. After all, you need to stay connected to your restaurant consumers in ways that better their lives and going completely dark will not allow your brand to do that. Good media plans never stop looking for ways to reach targeted audiences. Great media plans are always a work in progress and include the next steps.

2. Know your Audience and How They Connect with Their World

Defining your ideal target audience goes beyond demographic descriptions. It involves research that describes who you want to reach and how you can get there in a way that stands out from competitors.

Knowing what people are into, like hobbies, helps you connect with your audience in a relatable way and unearth buyer motivation and behaviors. Consumers who enjoy cooking as a hobby are likely interested in new recipes, or recipes for signature dishes you may serve in your restaurant.

People who identify with a shared experience could lead you to target a specific subgroup. This would be a specific music scene or genre of entertainment. People define themselves by subcultures, and restaurant brands can use those cultures to understand who they’re reaching out to. One example of a subculture are consumers who identified with HBO’s Game of Thrones. Many restaurant brands created products and content to connect with this audience on a personal level.

A great way to connect is on social channels where they already spend much of their time. Social platforms continue to pop up and gain popularity, and your restaurant marketing needs to keep up with your audience as they move around the internet.

3. Test, Test Again, Repeat

Now is the time to try new channels and tactics. Every media planner knows the best way to beat last year is to stay agile and always look for opportunities to improve the performance of every media dollar spent. To do that, you must have a robust testing process. Getting in front of your restaurant consumers on multiple channels helps increase your chances of engagement and drives them further down the funnel.

If you haven’t done something in the past, you need to test it. It’s time to be bold and think strategically. Look at the top of the funnel, through the middle and the bottom. Put predetermined notions aside and begin testing in areas that have been put on the back burner, or even forgotten.

4. Be Skeptical of Historical Media Mix Modeling

Should a media plan be scrapped and replaced? Yes, if it relies solely on historical models. Historical media models look at ad-spend performance over the past one to three years and historical trend data drives decisions when using this approach.

Currently, putting precious marketing dollars to historical data is risky. Unfortunately, there is no historical data that adequately represents what we’re experiencing today and what is around the corner. Social change and an economic reboot will happen, we just don’t know when.

Use this time to your advantage. Build a deeper understanding of attribution models that deliver real-time media-mix data. Then build the strength and skills to develop measurement routines and systems to make better decisions. Search for ways or methods to measure both online and offline media efforts as a mix rather than one-offs.

5. Micro-Manage your New Media Mix

If you think media responsiveness and effectiveness are about the same across Designated Market Areas (DMAs), COVID has certainly changed that. Some DMAs are open for business, while others are closing. Expect periodic cycles of open and closing throughout the back half of 2020 and into 2021.

Consequently, your media plans should be focused on using the most effective and cost-efficient channel mix for each DMA. It can be daunting to deal with this level of granularity, but it can unlock a great deal of value for your restaurant brand.

Evolving Your Media Mix to Keep Pace With Consumer Behavior:

The road ahead is uncertain but not impossible. Persistent evolution is the only way to keep pace with changing consumer behaviors. Services we once considered nice-to-haves will become must-haves. Same-day delivery is quickly becoming an expectation and click-and-collect will become a more predominant service to meet consumer demand. By keeping in mind a consumers experience with your brand and accelerating innovation, brands can thrive even during the most unpredictable times. To connect with your restaurant consumers your media mix will look much different in a post-2020 world. If you stay diligent, challenge your thinking, and ramp up testing and reporting, you can position your company and restaurant brands you represent to win in a vastly different world.

TLDR:

  • Restaurant consumers are spending more time with media, driven by online media consumption. More than ever before your restaurant brand needs to be on top of communications, service, and support. Consumers today expect immediate responses.
  • There’s no playbook for what we are experiencing today. Be nimble with your media mix and most of all don’t go dark, or your brand may suffer a longer recovery time period.
  • Planning your media mix using solely historical data is risky. Use this time to test new ways to connect and engage your restaurant customers.