As brands try to find a sign of semblance post a period of uncertainty, it has become more important than ever to understand and evolve as per changing consumer expectations. From selling goods online to incorporating consumer feedback are some of the ways brands are trying to remain relevant. Divya Aggarwal, head – marketing, Impresario Handmade Restaurants talks about how brands and agencies can engage with their consumers–
On the playbook that brands need to adopt in the new normal
Marketing is an integral part of any industry. More so in the hospitality industry, where marketing activations have become more ROI driven than ever before. The activations and associations that brands are executing today are focused on getting the customer back to the restaurant, as dining in still remains the primary focus for the industry. However, food delivery has become much stronger and that is something one needs to give greater emphasis to as well. Content marketing remains an important way in which we communicate and interact with our consumers, while ensuring that our business objectives are being met with a keen eye on metrics. Creating brand campaigns that are extremely engaging with an increased focus on social media is a focal point moving forward.
To gain maximum ROI, brands have developed a deep focus on data insights and customer trends to create apt offerings for the consumer and giving them exactly what they desire. And one can cater to its customers well only when one has a connect with the customer’s surrounding, hence going hyperlocal with community-centric activations to strike a chord with the neighbourhood community helps to know your customer well and develop a long standing relationship. The new normal has also given an impetus to adoption of technology to connect directly with the customers and digitalisation of processes to promote social distancing and direct ordering from brands.
On the gradual return of the business – how much of its restored and the new trends which can be spotted compared to pre-Covid times
We have noticed that the customer confidence in dining in is gradually coming back since the past few months. The customer sentiment is positive and we are witnessing growth on a month-on-month basis across brands and cities. While business gradually improves, the most important thing for the restaurant industry as a whole at the moment is for its outlets to survive the storm. In the process of getting the business back to where it was pre-Covid, we have spotted numerous new trends such as an increase in direct ordering from brands, brands becoming digital first, trust and customer confidence in legacy brands, topical content marketing and a rise in the demand for affordable and safe co-working spaces.
While customers were locked in, a lot of brands took the digital course for customer outreach. The lockdown accelerated the process of digitising processes which would have otherwise taken a couple of years. From creating own platform for delivery, contactless dining and takeaway, to making menus, ordering and payment processes digital in order to minimise human contact and promote social distancing are some of the steps taken by brands to keep customers closer. As a trend, this is here to stay.
One of the key industry trends that took us by surprise is customer confidence. We have seen an exponential growth in brands that people trust. For SOCIAL and Smoke House Deli, we’ve seen delivery businesses go by 200% or in some cases even 300% (of pre-covid levels). We do believe that trust and confidence in a brand will play a big role. The practice of trying out different things for a discount will be altered. We will see a lot more customer loyalty. Trust today trumps discount. And while customers opt for brands that they have trusted over the course of years, they are also engaging more with these brands via various social media platforms. Hence, for brands, a key focus on content marketing becomes extremely important. Brands have a renewed focus on curating topical content to drive social media engagement and reach to its customers where they are looking for fresh and relevant content.
On how brands can create at-home meaningful experiences for consumers
In these times, brands need to take experiences to customer’s homes which they would otherwise only experience in restaurants and bars. At Impresario Handmade Restaurants, we came up with innovations specifically for the pandemic like the DIY kits at Smoke House Deli, where our customers were able to re-create their favourite dishes at home, cocktail mixtures from SOCIAL, D.I.Try from SOCIAL. Our F&B innovations have not only helped drive and sustain top-of-mind recall with our consumers, but also helped us aggressively double down on home delivery via our own platform and in-house fleet of delivery staff.
From the beginning of the lockdown, we started an activation called SOCIAL Indoors, where our partnering musicians started going live from our digital handles, with the idea of keeping people entertained while they are in their houses. We also ventured into something called antiSOCIAL Live Sessions, where we created digital IP’s with artists, bands and comedians and streamed it live from our digital handles. We tied up with Budweiser and curated a special Friday Menu, creating a complete experiential at home.
On the contribution of online versus offline outlets and how brands can make the most of the shift towards digital
As an industry, we have always been known for physical experiences. Hence, offline i.e. dine-in remains at the heart of the hospitality industry. When the lockdown gradually started lifting up, we have constantly been curating campaigns with a focus on getting customers back to the outlets. To drive footfall back to the outposts, in October 2020, SOCIAL introduced a pan-India bar campaign called #ThatOnePerson to destigmatize the act of finally going out. We invited patrons to come by and celebrate responsibly with their best friend by offering their first drink together on the house.
And while the customers are gradually feeling confident about stepping out, we are also doubling down on delivery and are maximising it via digital marketing to take the brand experience straight to the customer’s house. We are constantly promoting ordering directly from the brands via our own tech-enabled platform.
Direct to customer is a big component of how we consume in the new normal. And it is not just about restaurants and food deliveries but it is about most businesses. Customers are now getting used to going directly to a brand’s digital storefront and ordering directly from there. Brands people trust and brands people are comfortable with, I think customers will start ordering directly from them and not just go through aggregators.
On how your category has evolved and the steps to be undertaken by brands to connect within Tier 2, 3, 4 markets and beyond
The aspirations of people in Tier 2, 3, 4 have caught up with those in the metros due to social media exposure. In recent months, we have seen our restaurant in places like Chandigarh recover faster than in metros, and we believe the growth going ahead will come from these places. Hence, we will focus on expanding our brands SOCIAL — which contributes about 70% of our revenue — and Smoke House Deli, which contributes 15%.
However, we are conscious that while the market has opportunity, we cannot open too many outlets. Hence, we will create a statement outlet by borrowing design inspiration from the state’s culture. This month, we are gearing up to launch the first cafe of SOCIAL in Indore as we feel there is a dearth of an all day cafe in the city which caters to the needs and trends followed by the current generation of youngsters and millennials who are constantly looking out for uber cool places to hangout at.
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