Raise your hand if your 2020 marketing plan included messaging about wearing a mask. No one?
How about weeks-long dining room shutdowns? Still nothing?
To say this year has been unpredictable is becoming cliché. By now, the trying situation facing many restaurant owners and managers around the country is simply a predictable reality. Curbside takeout and no-contact delivery are the norms. If a restaurant can open its doors, the rigid rules for containing the spread of COVID-19 are habit.
That’s not to say anything about this year has been easy. We’re in the midst of a crisis, and the challenges presented by it will likely be with us long after a working vaccine is adopted. But we’ve been operating in this environment long enough that we can begin to form new long-term strategies.
And when it comes to those marketing plans, 2020’s lessons will, at least, provide good advice for 2021 and the years to come.
Be a Teacher
When the pandemic reached our area and we closed our dining rooms, it was clear that our messaging would have to change. Before COVID-19, people ordered takeout or delivery for their own convenience; after the virus struck, it was because they had no other option.
When it comes to those marketing plans, 2020’s lessons will, at least, provide good advice for 2021 and the years to come.
Even then, it wasn’t the normal form of takeout or delivery — it was curbside takeout and no-contact delivery. The tweaked distribution methods that all restaurant owners and diners are acquainted with today required us to educate our customers on the simple-but-unfamiliar processes.
Teaching is one of the themes when it comes to communicating through the pandemic. Instead of traditional marketing, we were engaging in more interactive (and socially distanced) marketing that focused on education. Through our social media channels, mailers and email, we were explaining things we never imagined we would be: What is the procedure for a delivery? How often do we clean our stores? How do we make sure employees are healthy?
None of those are questions about pizza, but they had to be answered in clear, concise terms that could easily transfer to different forms of media. For a time, our messaging more closely resembled a public service announcement than a call to action to order our food, but that is what people want and need to hear during a time of crisis.
Expand and Be Fexible
For weeks this year, thousands of dining rooms went quiet nationwide — or are still closed today. That can’t be a reason to stay silent with your marketing, though. Instead, new and challenging circumstances demand owners adapt.
When it comes to marketing, we doubled down on our digital efforts. Given the rise of social media, this already had our attention, but at a time when physical contact and materials are so limited, tweets, posts and screens are the best way to reach people.
Our digital marketing expansion manifested in two ways. First, we started an email newsletter, which has since become an excellent vehicle to share updates on store openings, new processes, menu spotlights, promotions and company culture. Feeding into the “teaching marketing” we found ourselves focusing on, especially in the early days of the pandemic, it was a clear channel to spread our message. Even as our stores begin to reopen and we inch closer to something resembling normal times, the newsletter will remain a valuable marketing tool.
Second, we emphasized video creation. Even if people couldn’t visit our restaurants, videos allow us to welcome them into the dining room and the back of the house. We give viewers an inside look at how our products are created and introduce employees. People love a behind-the-scenes story, learning how things are done and why we do what we do.
Even without the current crisis, we may have adopted these new and expanded facets of our marketing, but the pressure of the moment made us look for ideas beyond our traditional efforts. With growing subscribers for both our newsletter and video channel, it’s one of the few positives we can take out of a difficult year.
Coming at a time when people are relying on each other — as much as social-distancing allows, anyway — we did the same with our friends and colleagues. From social media inspiration to professional groups and any outlet featuring thought leadership, great marketing ideas are all around us.
One of our more successful developments in the past months was the introduction of “pizza kits.” They’re simple, customizable boxes of branded ingredients, including our homemade dough, that allow people to make our product on their own. We’ve sold thousands of dollars’ worth of kits this year — and the idea came from a shop in another part of the country. We made some adjustments to the concept, making the idea our own, even if it wasn’t originally.
Consistency Is Key
As this year is making clearer than ever, no one can control Mother Nature, be it weather or pandemics. But you can control your marketing. Even if you can’t open your dining room, you can stay on top of your customers’ minds with consistent and helpful messaging.
Explain your new processes, expand your efforts to new channels, or explore what’s trending in the business. As long as you’re doing something productive, it will help you get through times of crisis — and you’ll be better off when the calendar turns to a better year.