Since the restaurant industry hinges on human connection, the quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast casual eateries that came out ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns were the ones that built integrated and immersive interactions with video and other technologies for delivery in store, at the drive-through, and online. At the virtual event on Marketing Innovation hosted by Brand Innovators on September 28, Scott Schnaars, vice president of sales, Americas, at Cloudinary moderated a “fireside chat” with Casey Terrell, senior director of marketing at Focus Brands and acting CMO at Schlotzsky's, a franchise chain with over 330 locations.
Previously head of global on-trade marketing and digital transformation at Anheuser-Busch InBev, Terrell addressed digital transformation and visual media vis-a-vis the food-and-beverage and QSR sectors with a focus on the challenges and opportunities. Below is a recap of his insights.
1. Digital transformation means different things to different companies
The definition of digital transformation depends on where brands are in their digital journey. On one end of the spectrum are companies like Starbucks and Domino’s, which have transitioned into technology enterprises. On the other are those that are still building their digital footprint. Terrell emphasized that, even though a smooth, integrated digital experience is paramount for boosting sales, what ultimately counts is delivering what’s best for the guest.
Of equal weight is agility that caters to long-term business goals. From advancements in personalization to new technologies, Apple’s privacy changes, and Google’s discontinuance of third-party cookies--the digital space is constantly changing, and brands must be ready to adapt to the shifts. During the pandemic, Focus Brands, which includes Schlotzsky's, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe's Southwest Grill, McAlister's Deli, Auntie Anne's, and Jamba brands, launched e-commerce and loyalty programs. For all that most sales are still occurring in store and at drive-throughs, online transactions generate data based on which companies can better understand guests’ evolving behaviors and preferences and strategize for the future.
2. The key decision is to determine whether to build or buy
A major decision many brands must make is whether to build a digital presence in house or through a vendor. Notwithstanding the expertise of Focus Brands’ talented software engineers, sometimes it makes more sense to partner with a third party rather than reinvent the wheel. Schlotzsky's practice is to design and develop the front end internally because that’s front and center to consumers, and to outsource the back end to vendors.
Proficient vendors would consider customer feedback while creating and implementing product roadmaps.
3. Visual media move menu items
Schlotzsky's leverages video and a digital menu board for in-store customers. That’s based on the proven theory that a still image or, better yet, a video of a product moves exponentially faster than items that rely solely on a menu description.
“At least with food and bev, video sells,” Terrell said.
When creating digital experiences, Schlotzky’s considers design trends. “Look no further than your mobile phone for inspiration because the design of mobile-app icons often spells the industry’s best practices,” said Terrell, adding that, in general, sharp edges and details galore are vanishing and that layouts are trending simpler.
Nonetheless, the food is the hero. Schlotzsky’s ensures that its product stands out—more so than the copy.
4. Data is king for fast casual innovators
Companies should refine audience perceptions and brand strategies according to data. Doubtless, marketers’ jobs are increasingly data focused and numbers driven. To enhance almost all aspects of their business, companies, including restaurants, must hold direct conversations with customers and solicit their feedback.
To that end, Focus Brands has instituted loyalty programs to securely collect first-party data as a basis for creating personalized and valuable experiences for consumers.
5. AR’s role in the guest experience is TBD
Augmented reality (AR) is an exciting opportunity for organizations across verticals. Focus Brands is experimenting with AR on social networks and contemplating the use of virtual reality (VR) or AR to educate franchise owners and prospects.
With respect to customer experience, however, the role of AR is more uncertain. After all, no matter that a captivating experience makes sense for, say, the Harry Potter store in New York City, how can AR or VR spiff up dining?
Thanks to the participants of the fireside chat and to Brand Innovators, Scott Schnaars, and Casey Terrell for the informative and thought-provoking session.
Regardless of where brands are in the digital-transformation process, video is playing an increasingly important role in engaging customers and growing sales, both online and offline. As a management platform for digital assets, Cloudinary helps steer you forward in the process. Do drop us a line to schedule a chat.