Those of us who earned our stripes in ops will know that operations, pre-lockdown, had largely remained the same since the dawn of time; deliver a consistently brilliant (& safe) guest experience through personality, empathy & charm, backed up by effective systems & procedures to get the nuts & bolts done. It’s a function that operated pretty consistently across the hospitality industry as a whole.
As times changed, and business got harder, operators embraced technology (from scheduling platforms to wastage trackers) – and the data they generated.
At both strategic and site level, teams have poured over the data trying to understand why things went well, and not so well; chiselling away to find the often marginal gains that turn ever decreasing sales & margin into bottom line profit.
It’s fair to say operations was as much about the numbers, the tweaks, the next piece of technology that might give us the tiniest edge over our competitors, (and our own previous performance), as it was about showing our guests a good time.
Yet marketing, in many cases seemed stuck in a time warp, where decisions were driven by gut-instinct and executed with a very broad brush.
And this crisis has highlighted that marketing is still very much thought of as an expense rather than an essential investment, shown in part by the number of marketers on furlough.
And yet, the marginal gains found in our operational data, exist just as clearly in our marketing data; if only we’re prepared to look for them.
Imagine if I told you there was an operational system that could significantly increase footfall without sacrificing margin; or a system which compelled people to return again and again, without wasting precious promotional spend; or a loyalty scheme which kept users engaged without the need for constant giveaways – most operators would grab these systems with both hands.
And yet, similar sorts of gains can be achieved with the systems which already exist in many marketing functions – when they’re used correctly, or as the developer intended.
So here are 3 of the biggest drivers of acquisition, conversion & retention (and the good news is, you’ve probably already got them).
1.Website & online
Imagine your website as a flower, attempting to lure in a constant stream of bees. But how do those bees know which flowers (or websites!) hold the tastiest nectar?
Just like some of the most successful flowers have evolved to develop incredible fragrances, or wide-open petals, which make it easy for the bee to work out where best to focus its efforts; we can use Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), or targeted online ads to highlight our own best features; making it easy for your potential customers to know where to focus their efforts.
And Google doesn’t just help people find your website.
Having a correctly set up and optimised Google My Business profile, puts your brand’s nectar front of mind for anyone opening a map on their mobile device. And given that there are 24.9 million searches of ‘restaurants near me’ taking place every month, (according to SideDish Media), being correctly listed and optimised is a really important way of getting seen, at exactly the time people are searching and ready to make a decision. Kind of like your flowers giving their petals a little shimmy to attract our thirsty bee.
But the benefits of getting people to your website don’t end at that one search. By using pixels to track your visitors, you’re able to directly re-target them (and people who share the exact same characteristics as those interested visitors) on a range of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin.
Your CRM system is a really useful place to divert and hold the data coming into your business, continually enriching the profiles of your database. And this data can help you learn not only who your most common customers are, but who your most valuable are, in terms of recency, frequency and loyalty.
And now you’ve used your data to get properly (if virtually!) acquainted, use what you know about their interests and behaviour to give them compelling reasons to stay engaged, and most importantly, turn interest into action – whether that’s a booking or purchase.
UK Director of Sprout CRM, Dhilon Solanki explains; “How you manage and leverage your data will ultimately drive long-term loyalty and advocacy for your brand. It’s crucial to understanding their interests, behaviour, frequency, all the key ingredients to create a richer customer profile.
Strong engagement, combined with targeting the right message, giving a reason to visit / purchase, at the right time generates repeat customer business – something that is highly sought after now and will be of utmost importance when restrictions start to be lifted.”
But misuse of CRMs can damage engagement and conversion. As tempting as it may be to blanket send a message to the whole base, this lack of personalisation or relevance will quickly erode engagement, turning your oasis of opportunity into the driest of deserts.
As the crisis hit many brands paused their social through, what would be understandably seen, as financial necessity.
However, social media is the emotional, up close and personal connection you have with a brand, and those who paused it were effectively saying, ‘we don’t have anything to say to you as long as we’re not able to sell you something’; which is the equivalent of the friend who stops returning your texts when you stop offering them a lift to work.
But it’s not enough to plonk pictures of food, with cliched messaging, encouraging the user to ‘enjoy’ or ‘try’ your wares. Brands must create and maintain a strong and engaging presence in the most creatively authentic ways. Which maybe feels a little odd while venues remain closed, but will pay dividends as restrictions (whether government or self-imposed) start to lift.
Marketing Consultant, Vikki O’Neill says “At a time when your existing guests and target market are spending more time than ever on social – where are you? It’s the perfect opportunity to be interactive, authentic and creative – and why wouldn’t you want to know how your guests are feeling or thinking? I’ve seen an increase in every social stat; from +120% in engagement, a 1000% increase in social profile visits, from regulars; but also people who didn’t know the brand but had been exposed to our content and were wanting to know more. This has helped drive a 36% increase in Google searches for one particular brand in the 5 weeks since lockdown -all working to maintain our focus on acquisition and conversion once we’re through the other side”.
While operations, finance and marketing are often, inexplicably, not only on different sides of the fence, but also in completely different fields; a consistent approach to technology and data throughout a business can drive success across all functions.
And with a combination of both marginal and more significant gains maybe being the difference between sink or swim in these coming months, there’s never been a better time to use what’s within the easiest grasp.