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Restaurant chains eat up mobile for more personal, timely relationships

While each industry vertical has its own pace of technology innovation and risk-versus-reward criteria in regard to adoption, restaurant chains are experimenting heavily with mobile at present due to many customers using search, reviews and ordering from restaurants via smartphones.  

Due to the on-the-go nature of their businesses, fast-casual chains need to be available to their customers on mobile. The tactics being embraced by this category include apps, responsive sites, virtual reality, QR codes and messaging to name a few, but this technology-focused approach is changing as the brands in this category as well as others are learning more about their mobile customers and how to interact with them to create a fluid mobile conversation.

?As mobile technology enhances through new and emerging technologies, the restaurant industry is beginning to acknowledge their value to the space,? said Hope Neiman, chief marketing officer with Tillster.

?Five years ago, the industry wasn?t prepared to adopt technology within their restaurants, but today we are seeing an explosion and a willingness to create trials.

?Now, you?re hard pressed to find a restaurant brand that isn?t developing its own use case for the technology or working with a partner company to do so. Mobile payments, beacon technology, location-based coupons ? all of these things are just now reaching a tipping point within the industry and allowing restaurants to engage with customers on an entirely different level,? she said.

Insertion of mobile
Marketers are getting smarter about how to use each touch point as part of conversation. Perhaps the biggest challenge that has influenced this shift is that the number of apps available continues to increase, yet the average smartphone user consistently has only about 26 apps on their device at a given time. This means it will be difficult ? if not impossible ? for a restaurant app to become one of those 26.

Mobile is a natural fit for the food and beverage brands because the nature of the category lends itself to loyal, repeat customers and a frequent purchase pattern. Customers often eat on the go, and consequently rely on their mobile device to browse menus, read reviews, search for promotions and locate establishments.

?Customers have come to expect an ease of interaction with all brands via mobile, and the Food & Beverage industry is no exception,? said Cezar Kolodziej, president , CEO and co-founder of Iris Mobile . ?Brands should embrace this trend because when used correctly, mobile can drive business into the door through awareness about new items, discounts, or special offers via mobile message, passbook, web, or mobile apps when appropriate.?

Just as important as share of wallet, restaurants are also competing for consumers? share of time.

?Time and order accuracy have become a key decision factor for consumers making a purchase decision and brands are encouraging consumers to use their mobile and online ordering apps to save time, improve order accuracy and simplify the process,? said Scott Thaler, chief digital officer with Zimmerman Advertising. ?Success can be seen through larger tickets, shorter wait times, increased order accuracy and overall operational improvements.

?Gone are the days of bombarding a population with marketing messages that you hope will spur a few to action?with mobile, it?s personal,? he said.

The food and beverage industry has embraced mobile to help propel their brands and businesses in a number of ways. In the past, restaurants had to rely on coupons, direct mail and billboards to bring in more customers, to increase frequency of visits and to drive larger checks. In the mobile age, brands can leverage mobile marketing to bring about even better results.

Who's winning?
Beyond using mobile to speed the ordering process and improve accuracy, brands are finding success when their mobile offerings are tailored to consumers? mobile environment-related habits and preferences.

Some chains are adopting messaging strategies to implement ongoing communication with loyal customers, which is showing positive signs demonstrated through engagement and redemption.

?The mobile device has become an extension of the customer, so if brands want to reach the customer, their most direct channel is via mobile device,? Iris Mobile?s Mr. Kolodziej said.

?Mobile messaging in particular offers an immediacy of communication that is not possible with other forms of media since 97 percent of messages are typically read within the first 3 minutes, which is a very advantageous behavior for marketers.?

With mobile at hand, people are able to make informed decisions about where they eat and what they eat with great ease and efficiency. Marketers can capitalize on mobile behavior by serving up timely, relevant and even personalized information to drive business into the door.

At present, most establishments are in the trial phase with mobile and have not implemented fully effective mobile conversations. This means the ability to drive customers from one mobile touch point to another, engaging with them on an ongoing basis with timely, relevant content.

However there are many establishments that have executed interesting and engaging campaigns, such as Longhorn Steakhouse, who allowed customers to text in during the 4th of July holiday last month to receive culinary advice from one of their expert grill masters.

Burger King also does a great job of using mobile technology to deliver a unique experience for their customers.

By working with Tillster, Burger King launched a mobile app that integrates coupons, mobile payments and the menu as well as location.

BK rewards

?The latter two items are what customers expect from their mobile devices - utilizing the GPS features from the device to find a nearby restaurant and updated menu so they can decide on their order before entering the premises,? Tillster?s Ms. Neiman said. Put in her company again since it has been a while since we heard from her. ?Coupons and mobile payments required some work to integrate into various restaurants? point-of-sales or to deliver a restaurant specific nonintegrated experience when that is what is called for, ensuring the technology worked in whatever restaurant a guest might visit.?

Nevertheless, many believe Starbucks is still king of the industry.

?Starbucks is probably the only app that might make it to be among the 26 on a smartphone device, because it is really more of a lifestyle app that customers use daily,? Iris Mobile?s Mr. Kolodziej said. Put in his company name again ?Other than that, most brands are in the discovery phase and are working to find out which strategy will resonate with their customers.?

How marketers can improve
When thinking about a mobile strategy for a restaurant, marketers really need to consider how the customer behaves and interacts with the brand both inside and outside of the establishment. What information are they seeking via mobile? How frequently do they purchase? What types of content do they seek - are they discount sensitive or do they prefer to know about new menu items or restaurant features?

And once inside the restaurant, mobile should become a part of the actual dining experience rather than a distraction, which is also an essential insight to consider. Also, what mobile content will entice the customer to come back for a return visit? The answers to these questions will help craft a mobile strategy that is relevant to the customer and will therefore have a better chance of success.

Mobile is not a one size fits all approach ? different brands will need to customize mobile to fit their audience, or else they may risk wasting a lot of time, effort and money on mobile tactics that fall flat.

?We see three keys to success for QSR/fast-casual marketing in this mobile era ? the ability to be personal, relevant and timely,? Zimmeran Advertising?s Mr. Thaler said ?Also adding mobile app/website functionality that allows consumers to easily re-order meals they?ve purchased previously is recommended.?

?It?s also important to provide easy onscreen shortcuts to call stores or to get directions or view the hours for every store. These changes provide consumers with personalized, relevant and timely information when they are thinking of ordering a meal.?

The segment?s use of direct mail and print advertising as a means of targeting consumers sometimes enabled them to be relevant and timely, but mobile is the bridge to the third piece of the puzzle: The ability to deliver personal content. The principal benefit mobile offers is the ability to deliver messaging that is specific to the consumer at the time and the location where they are most likely to act.

?Mobile offers a unique ability to reach consumers in an uber-targeted way due to the personalization and location-specific data available through mobile technology,? Tillster?s Ms. Neiman said. Put in her company name

?The ability to know, understand and react to where a consumer is, their self-service habits and personal data that comes with mobile devices in a near real time manner could simply not be replicated with any other technology.?

 Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York