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Creating positive and memorable experiences for customers does take effort. But it can go a long way.

Experiential Marketing 101: Here’s How Restaurants Do It

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With a dash of creativity, restaurants can engage customers and turn them into loyal patrons.
By Vivek Patel April 2019 Expert Insights

In the modern world, customers are looking for unique and outstanding experiences, and are willing to pay top dollar for it. This applies to the restaurant business, too, where the scope for experiential marketing is tremendous.

Seventy-seven percent of marketers use experiential marketing as a vital part of a brand’s advertising strategies.

To make the most of experiential marketing, restaurants can leverage the sensory advantage with taste, sight, and smell, and then create unique experiences. With a dash of creativity, restaurants can engage customers and turn them into loyal patrons.

Creating an effective experiential marketing campaign, however, will require plenty of primary research and strategizing. Here are a few tips in this regard.

Prioritize Customer Feedback and Experience

Customers are essentially at the heart of all experiential marketing initiatives. The ultimate goal of any restaurant should be to personalize experiences in order to attract customers, appeal to their senses, and leave them wanting more. Listening to their feedback and formulating strategies accordingly will help get the job done.  

Restaurateurs need to gain a thorough understanding of how customers interact with their offerings, and how the brand resonates with them at the emotional level. Only after this has been worked out, is it possible to formulate and experiential strategy that patrons will relate to.  

Most modern eateries get their feedback on digital platforms such as Yelp, social media sites, and through online forms on their website. Such platforms make it easy to gather information on how customers are experiencing the brand, and how it’s shaping their perception. This data is treasure for restaurants serious about basing their experiential marketing initiatives on customer behavior.

Work on Enhancing Your Brand Experience

To make a tangible difference to customers, a restaurant’s offerings need to become an indispensable part of their lives. Restaurateurs need to refine their brand’s core values by having concrete answers to questions about what they stand for, how they enrich customers’ lives, and why customers should choose them over their competitors.  

Nine in 10 marketers agree that brand experiences deliver more compelling engagement.

Restaurants should clearly define their brand, and align their experiences with their message to their customers. This, in turn, can inspire loyalty and be reinforced by allowing them to understand the products/services with multiple senses.

Eighty-five percent of consumers are likely to purchase after participating in events and experiences, and over 90 percent have more positive feelings about brands after attending events.

Food sampling events can work wonders for restaurants as they allow customers to try products/services before buying them, which can result in successful marketing activations. A few great ways to get there include inviting customers for glamorous outdoor dinners, wine pairing classes, or trials of experimental cuisines. Restaurant owners can also organize a masterclass or demo so attendees can learn about new food products and/or cooking techniques from well-known influencers or celebrity chefs.

Restaurants can augment their brand experience for customers by taking them on a behind-the-scenes tour of their establishment to their kitchen, processing areas, or produce gardens. The idea is to give them something valuable (other than food). Arm customers with knowledge and positive emotional experiences, and they’re sure to keep coming back.     

Create Interactive and Engaging Experiences

Does your restaurant fulfill a customer need that your competitors cannot? Does it address customers’ pain points (these could be related to products, service, and pricing)? Is it engaging customers in interactive ways to convey your brand’s message adequately? Does your brand stir up specific emotions in your customers? If yes, it is possible to create experiences that fill a void, like providing a quick meal, making customers feel like royalty, serving plant-based food, catering to particular diet plans, and so on.    

Pop-up dinners are popular in the food industry as a means of offering diners something unique in terms of the location, interactions, menu, and themes. These are carefully crafted for customers who crave not just a good meal, but an exciting dining experience. Consider coming up with a pop-up restaurant at a concert, a music carnival, a holiday festival, or even a fashion show.

Customers can also be offered the best food items on the menu along with a thematic twist like McDonald’s, Austria did with their tongue-in-cheek April Fool’s prank that they called “McDrive Surprise.” They replaced their regular staff with unusual characters such as a wrestler, an opera performer, an astronaut, a zombie girl, and so on. The element of surprise (clubbed with a dose of humor) can be instrumental in creating positive and memorable brand experiences, making customers feel special and campaign go viral in no time.

Give Customers Something Shareworthy

Since experiential marketing focuses on promoting a brand’s message and reputation rather than just selling products, restaurants need to leverage commonly-used tools to do so and reach a wider audience base. Social media plays a huge role here.

A bakery, for instance, can have 10 people over for a masterclass on cake frosting, and all of them may post their exciting and positive experience on their social accounts. They might also tell everyone they know about the bakery and its products. Social sharing can take this to the next level.

In short, these ten attendees/participants have the potential to become brand advocates, who will probably do a lot of selling for the bakery. Also, this kind of content will likely outlast any experiential marketing campaign.

It is, therefore, highly recommended to take the shareability factor into consideration when formulating an experiential marketing campaign. Consider how the content posted on social media will convey a brand’s messages and shape untapped audiences’ perception of the restaurant.   

Consider a Complementary Partnership

Working on enhancing a restaurant’s presence online will probably necessitate a partnership with an SEO expert. Similarly, experiential marketing will require restaurateurs to partner with complementary businesses whose brand ethos and message coincide (to some degree at least) with their own.

This can be extremely helpful for restaurants that cater to niche customers or provide specialized products and services. Consider partnering with another businesses or events to be able to share costs arising from running the campaign, renting a space, hiring people, and so on.

Doing so will also facilitate access a new customer segment that may have been ignored or gone untapped before. No wonder, 62 percent of senior marketers plan on investing more in live events in the future both, in budget and number of events!

Conclusion

Harnessing experiential marketing is a great way for restaurants to differentiate themselves from competition while connecting with customers on a deeper level. Because experiential marketing is largely human-driven and interactive, things may not always unfold as planned. With careful planning and execution, however, earning customer loyalty, positive word-of-mouth, social mentions, and an improved bottom line become easy. Creating positive and memorable experiences for customers does take effort, but can go a long way in helping restaurants achieve the big results that matter.

Vivek Patel is a Local SEO Marketing Consultant at E2M, one of the fastest growing digital marketing agencies in India. We specializes in content strategy, creation, promotion, and SEO for domestic and overseas clients. I look after local search optimization and link-building strategies. In my free time, I love to stay updated with the latest photography lessons and enjoy photographing on my cam