The COVID-19 pandemic has given restaurant brands an opportunity to revise and reset their digital and social-media strategies, marketing experts said Monday during the annual Chain Operators Exchange 2021.
“Things like this are a great opportunity to really reset your strategy and to take a long hard look in the mirror,” said Annica Conrad, chief marketing office for Global Franchise Group LLC, Atlanta-based parent to Great American Cookies, Marble Slab Creamery and other franchised brands, at the COEX “Digital and Social Media: How to Reach the Consumer” panel. COEX is being held virtually through Wednesday and sponsored by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association.
Conrad joined Katie Borger, vice president of marketing for Boston Pizza Restaurants, on the panel, saying the pandemic was a good time for companies to reflect and say, “we can't keep doing what we always did and so literally let's put everything we spend a penny on under the microscope, and let's use this opportunity to really reset and keep what's working and get rid of what isn't.”
Global Franchise Group, which has 1,500 units in 16 countries and also includes MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream & Treatery, Pretzelmaker and Round Table Pizza, said the pandemic accelerated the addition of online ordering for at least one brand and streamlined the ordering process by reducing the number of clicks a customer had to use.
Katie Borger of Dallas-based Boston Pizza Restaurants, which has 23 casual-dining 23 units in the United States as well as 400 in Canada and 17 in Mexico, said the company deferred royalty marketing fees to give franchise operators more flexibility during the pandemic, but that impacted marketing budgets and staffing.
By leveraging digital and social media channels, Boston Pizza communicated its newer options such as contactless menus and pay at the table capabilities, she said.
Conrad said Global Franchise brands promoted a “hand-holding” message.
“For example,” she said, “Great American Cookies is very family oriented. The celebratory cookie cake is something that you know people use for occasions.”
With celebrations going smaller, with such innovations as pandemic drive-by birthday parties that were ideal for the cookie cakes.
“We actually felt like that was a brand that we could say it's still OK to celebrate,” she said. “People still have a birthday just because you're at home doesn't mean that your child doesn't have a birthday.”
Borger said Boston Pizza turned to Instagram and provided short 10-minute story reads, which were aimed at parents with children at home.
“Our target demographic is primarily made up of younger parents — 30 to 44 year olds,” she explained, adding that it “was a fun way just to engage our guests that wasn't a branded message but really just trying to be there for them and just understanding what life is like at home.”
Borger said Boston Pizza also tapped into its loyalty cub.
“We saw that our loyalty guests we're spending twice as much as non-loyalty guests during our lockdowns,” she said, “so we really tried to not only get new involvement but just showcase just all the benefits of being a loyalty member.” The brand crafted offers “to fill the gap” for those who might be furloughed or on tight budgets with free kids meals or free small pizzas as loyalty benefits.”
Both marketing executives said they were open to teaming with suppliers to create content for their social-media channels.
Conrad said Global Franchise’s Round Table Pizza recently teamed with Pepsi for a loyalty promotion.
“If a partner wants to come forward and say ‘help me help you,’ let's have all ships rise,” she said. “I think we're all ears.”
Borger said Boston Pizza in 2020 partnered with Idaho dairy farmers and sponsored a “saying cheese at Boston’s” contest for selfies and a Red Bull contest earlier this year.
Conrad said it’s still unclear how the pandemic will change customer behaviors long-term.
“I think you're going to see a lot of offices offering flexible hours, things like that, so I think I think you're going to continue to see a tremendous amount of work from home and I think that really blurs the dayparts,” she said, and a reliance on convenience will not go away.
Borger said that Boston Pizza in July will launching a new menu with about 20 reformed recipes.
“We have some innovation sprinkled in but really where we're trying to focus our efforts especially operationally is how do we make it easier in the kitchen,” she said.
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