Mobile, social media present moving targets for operators

September 17, 2015

Foodservice operators, like marketers in many other business sectors, are playing catch-up when it comes to mobile and social media communication technologies.

As the use of mobile devices soars — it passed desktop use last year in terms of hours per day spent online — marketers are seeking to leverage the right platforms to engage consumers with the right messages at the right times.

Marketing leaders plan to more than double their spending on mobile marketing during the next three years, according to The CMO Survey for 2015, a poll of 255 top marketing executives. Companies in the survey, which is published by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, report that their spending on mobile marketing would increase about 160 percent in the next three years, to 15.6 percent of their total marketing budgets, versus about 6 percent now.

New social media and other content platforms for mobile devices are emerging rapidly, and observers predict an increase in mobile-app use as carriers become more generous with their data plans and mobile-device makers create more space for app storage.

Christine Moorman, director of The CMO Survey and a professor of business administration at Duke, says marketing fundamentals still apply when seeking to make use of these new platforms.

“Among the most important steps are fundamentals of marketing strategy, including selecting your target customer, developing and communicating a benefit that meets customers across all aspects of your marketing, including mobile, and then figuring out how to reach and engage customers at the right time and in the most effective ways,” she says.

One restaurant chain that is upping its game in social media and mobile marketing is Taco John’s. The Cheyenne, Wyo.-based quick-service Mexican chain expanded its arsenal of social media platforms this summer with the launch of a Snapchat account, adding the picture- and video-sharing platform to the chain’s Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine feeds that it uses to communicate with its customers.

To kick off its Snapchat launch, the chain posted an exclusive offer for the company’s OREO Churros, a new dessert item created in a partnership between J&J Snack Food Corp. and Mondelez International, parent of the OREO brand.

“We had a great reaction to it,” says Billie Jo Waara, chief marketing officer at Taco John’s. “The response was almost double what we’ve seen with other dessert item sales.”

Waara says OREO Churros were a good fit for the young consumers that are heavily involved with Snapchat.

“For us, this was a great opportunity to launch a new platform around a menu item,” she says. “It wasn’t just saying, ‘Taco John’s is now available on Snapchat.’ It was really tied into what we offer, and giving people a reason to engage with us on Snapchat.”

The chain enjoys a “strong, cult-like following” on its social media channels, Waara said, and often uses those channels to launch new products.

Taco John’s is currently developing a mobile app, and is working on enhancing the customer experience across all of its digital platforms.

“You’ll see a lot of activity on all of those fronts from Taco John’s in 2016,” says Waara.

Robin Zebroski, vice president of digital marketing at Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Lawrence & Schiller, the ad agency for Taco John’s, said she sees potential for more mobile-app functionality in the foodservice arena around ordering and payment, as well as increasing uses for apps in loyalty and customer relationship management.

Among the mobile marketing areas ripe for opportunities is the use of mobile for broadcasting live events via platforms such as Meerkat, Periscope and Beam, Zebroski says.

“Brands are thinking about how culture can come to life through live video streaming, particularly for events, such as grand openings,” she says. “You can bring those events to so many more people than are just there in person.”

The increasing array of social media platforms requires marketers to learn how each is used by consumers, and what the best strategies are for communicating with customers through those channels.

Zebroski explains that Taco John’s, for example, uses its Instagram account less as a promotional platform and more as a branding tool for sharing lifestyle images related to Taco John’s food.

Twitter has been successful as a one-on-one communication vehicle, she says, and Taco John’s plans to continue using Snapchat as a platform for exclusive deals.

Meanwhile, on Facebook Taco John’s has revamped its marketing strategy as the social media giant has pushed marketers toward buying more paid content, Zebroski says.

“We ran an experiment this summer where, rather than posting organically every day, we paid to post two to three posts per week instead to see if we’d be able to get greater reach and engagement,” says Zebroski. “It has worked, so we will continue with that strategy.”

Waara of Taco John’s agrees that content has to be tailored for each individual digital platform.

“The same content that you post on your website is not the same content you post on Facebook, and that’s not the same as the content on Twitter,” she says. “While the message is cohesive, the execution is certainly built for each type of channel.”