Once content merely to have a presence on the Internet with a corporate website, restaurants have been steadily adding microsites and blogs to their online marketing to more effectively target niches within their customer bases and support new-product promotions.
Chains contend that microsites and blogs give their brands added exposure and attract new diners while forging even stronger emotional ties with loyal customers.
“It’s more than reaching people; it’s communicating with them on a level that they want to talk about,” said Tiffany Rosenberger, senior marketing coordinator for the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Krystal sandwich chain, which has nearly 400 units.
Krystal already has a social-networking site at www.thebigredcouch.com , a public-relations blog at www.krystalist.com , another message-sharing site at www.krystalloverslive.com , a “calendar-girl” site at www.krystalchik.com , and now it has a blog at www.twitter.com/ksquareoff to promote its annual Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship. The blog includes posts, podcasts, videos and photos.
“The Internet can reach a wide range of people, but they’re on it for different reasons,” Rosenberger said. “That’s why we have a wide portfolio.”
The new blog is an example of how restaurant chains are devoting online sites to support specific promotions or products, in the same way that McDonald’s Corp. used a microsite at www.facetheglory.com for a monthlong coupon promotion for its new Southern-style chicken biscuit and sandwich. In 2007 and again this year it launched www.filetofish.com in a Lenten promotion for the Filet-O-Fish sandwich.
Hungry Howie’s Pizza, based in Madison Heights, Mich., recently launched its first microsite at www.whatcrustareyou.com to educate consumers about the chain’s flavored crust. Chain president Steve Jackson said the site “gives people an opportunity to have a little fun, and it’s not focused on sales.”
Spicy Pickle, based in Denver, has a microsite at www.languageofflavor.com , part of a campaign to help the nearly 40-unit chain recapture its “edgy image.”
Microsites and blogs give marketers a way to communicate with customers that’s more effective than using a standard website or traditional marketing, said Brad Wahl, Krystal’s vice president of marketing.
“There are more and more opportunities [for consumers] to have a conversation with our brand,” he said. “Consumers are demanding it.”
Through behavioral research studies Krystal has learned that consumers who go to one of its blogs or microsites have different behavioral attributes than visitors to its other sites, allowing the chain to tailor marketing messages to them, Wahl said.
Even small outfits, like eight-unit Home Run Inn, a pizza chain based in Woodridge, Ill., have turned to microsites to promote new products. It has launched www.homeruninn.com/halloween to conduct a video contest for the best original 90-second horror film featuring Home Run Inn and to promote the rollout of two pizzas—Signature and Ultra Thin—to the chain’s line of frozen pies.
Home Run Inn’s target audience is mothers 25 to 54 years old, who make purchase decisions, and their teenaged children, who influence those decisions, said Gina Bolger, director of marketing.
“The strategy with the contest is to get people onto the website to see the new varieties we carry, as well as to see the other things we have to offer,” she said. “We want people to feel comfortable coming to the website.”
The chain’s Internet presence started as an informational website and evolved to a source of revenue as a result of selling frozen pizzas nationwide, Bolger said. The contest allows Home Run Inn to promote the quality and nutritional value of its frozen pizzas, she added.
The health aspects of the pizzas need to be reinforced because other pizza brands have essentially relegated frozen pizza “to the junk-food category,” she asserted.
If a restaurant chain has to choose between launching a blog or a microsite, Internet marketing consultant Jay Berkowitz advises that they go with the blog to gain the most traffic.
“Search engines love blogs,” said Berkowitz, chief executive of Ten Golden Rules, a consulting firm in Boca Raton, Fla. “A website is static, and a blog is what’s happening today. Blogs are also attractive because people will subscribe to a blog.”
On the other hand, it takes two to three months before a microsite shows up on a search engine like Google, he said.
Rusty Coco, co-owner of Beaumont, Texas-based Jason’s Diner, writes a blog that’s linked from the chain’s website. A recent blog poll on whether the deli should switch from high fructose corn syrup to cane sugar drew more than 800 votes, a response “we never expected,” Coco wrote.
Consumers view executives who blog as more approachable, Berkowitz said, and blogging “humanizes” the executives.
“I think people respond very well to a more humane and personal message,” he said.