craving the 'experience factor'

If you're a coffee shop, pub, restaurant owner or similar, have you recently stopped to check that you're turning a 'good meal out' into a 'memorable experience' for your customers? Are you ready to face the truth that, more often than not, your exceptional food is still not enough to please? It's time to tackle the 'experience factor'.

Last year, industry consultants and Mintel research cited the 'need for experience' as the leading/top-ten influence on the foodservice industry. Exceptional food, service and atmosphere will still be at the core but the fact is that, to really shine amongst the crowd, caterers must now push themselves even further.

The jargon & aim

To get with the marketing lingo, or in case you want to google, what we're talking about is 'Experiential Marketing'. These quotes help to explain the thinking...

1) "Experiental marketing is a strategy that encourages the customer to feel a part of a company's evolution or culture, so that they have a deeper connection to it".

2) "Suppliers can create high value, differentiated experiences via NPD (New Product Development)...and other enhancements that make a meal more memorable".

3) "Two-thirds of consumers say dining out is a form of entertainment. Successful operators realise that the total experience must be memorable...and a means to creating a potent point of differentiation".

The aim of this experiential approach? To lift recall and loyalty (securing your return footfall) and enhance your reputation (boosting new footfall). It's an aspect that is becoming increasingly important in the strategy plans I create for businesses, and from which you can hang many rewarding tactical opportunities. (Need such a plan? Get in touch here).

the relevance to caterers

Restaurant, cafe, pub and other foodservice business owners are well positioned to succeed with this 'experiential approach' for a few reasons:

Firstly, we all develop strong bonds with the food we love (it pulls on both the logical and emotional sides of our brains). Secondly, everyone feels entitled to an opinion (it's a very vocal, review-driven industry, right?). Thirdly, Millenials are busy being notorious 'experience junkies' and actively seeking out brands they can interact with. Finally, and extending beyond the Millenials, restaurants and cafes have been recognised as providing a welcomed chance for conversation outside of the digital world and offering the chance to 'experience' other cultures and entertainment closer to home. It all stirs together for one very hot 'experiential' brew!

how to create a sense of experience?

Earlier this year, I held a workshop exploring the various ways that businesses in the foodservice industry could increase their profits through the experience-factor. (See workshop feedback or discover upcoming events here). It followed the 2017 TripAdvisor Review that claimed:

80% of UK restaurants believe they should be doing more to promote themselves. Yet over half say they dedicate only 10% of their time to it.

It doesn't surprise me and nor am I critical. There's never enough hours in the day, and that's the very reason I decided to launch BrandLanterns. Whilst I'd firmly advocate the importance of a bespoke approach for your business, I'll keep sharing some tips on the subject of 'adding a sense of experience' through the BrandLanterns Lunchbox blog, including a few right now to get the conversation started...

shared values / common causes

This relates to initiatives that look to market the brand or 'why', rather than the restaurant/cafe itself. If an establishment has defined its personality (ask me if not!), then this approach can work well as there is a greater bond, 'buy-in', sense of honesty and community.

Common examples include those focused on animal welfare, environmental concerns, 'buy local' and off-grid lifestyles, but it needn't be so mainstream if it's truly 'you' and resonates with your audience. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned businesses or aspirational brands struggle with higher margins as a result, and that's where the BrandLanterns team can help you with cost efficiencies, profit reviews, sales and marketing, to craftly turn those negatives into positives. Don't avoid it just because it seems hard, it can really pay off and help differentiate you from your competition in a more meaningful way.

By the way, the plastic-free movement is relevant here. Many businesses are making fantastic efforts, but the compostable packaging is increasing costs and the 'no-disposable-cups' stance is losing sales. Of course its the right thing to do, but help yourself as well by making sure you're softening the financial blow by using it to your brand's advantage (think packaging design, PR exposure, loyalty initiatives, new followers etc - and BrandLanterns is here to help if you need it).

customer inclusion

There are many ways to heighten the role of the customer and make them feel truly part of your business or brand (the best tactics will depend on who your audience is), and this is certainly a smart move to enhance the sense of experience in the long-term, whilst strengthening credibility and loyalty.

Successful examples of this approach? Customer-led image libraries (usually via social media), crowd-funding, online-polls (a great tactic tied up with our interior design services), charity-votes, volunteer days etc. (Ask me if you'd like more tailored ideas on how it could work for you).

A related idea is where your cafe/restaurant or such like builds a 'community with low barriers to entry' (marketing speak for when almost anyone can join easily) but with exclusive rewards (% discount for card holders, VIP-kids-eat-free, free refills, window-seat priority booking etc).

follow up and share on!

This may seem obvious, but many cafe, pub, restaurant owners etc fail to reap the rewards of their efforts as well as they could, simply by not following-up (in order to data-capture, maximise learnings and keep the bond going) and by not making it easy enough for customers to share the positives of their experience (via reviews, widgets, vouchers, social media, email etc). You'll see these are vital ingredients within most BrandLantern strategy plans or tactical ideas.

when you know how,

it's 'a brighter way'

Foodservice operators are increasingly accepting that, alongside the food and service, they need to provide a fitting, appreciated experience in order to compete well. Like I said at the beginning, it's tipped by leading consultants to remain one of the biggest influences for a while yet. Yet don't be led into thinking 'experience' means 'tacky'. I'd run a mile from the approach if it did. There are many different ways of adding a sense of experience. It's about understanding your customer needs, defining your brand personality, having fun with creativity, and reaping the financial rewards of super-happy, highly-vocal customers...which is all what BrandLanterns is about!

For further ways to develop experiential marketing within your foodservice business, follow @BrandLanterns on Facebook for new blog alerts and ideas, or give me a call to get going!

SJ x.

Sara-Jane Williams Mobile: 07975 728819 Office: 01271 372620


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