The core philosophy at M&C Saatchi is "Brutal Simplicity of Thought." In this edition of Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine's ongoing Talking With series, Maria Smith, executive creative director at the firm's office in Santa Monica, California, explains how this philosophy relates to restaurant marketing and branding.
In her role, Smith wears many hats: copywriter, creative director, interrogator, experimenter, maker, big-idea lover and more. M&C Saatchi LA generated a 27 percent increase in year-over-year net sales growth for Fox Restaurant Concepts by distilling the communal motivations of each of the restaurant group's 13 sub-brands.
Define “Brutal Simplicity of Thought” and give an example of how it applies to restaurant marketing.
Brutal Simplicity of Thought is our core philosophy at M&C Saatchi. It’s easier to complicate than it is to simplify, but simple messages enter the brain quicker and stay there longer, so Brutal Simplicity of Thought is a painful necessity. With so many dining options to choose from, restaurants need to find a way to cut through the clutter and not just appeal to tastebuds, but to win over hearts and minds. Because the restaurant industry itself is so complex, we think the most direct path to success with consumers is a brutally simple solution.
How has restaurant marketing evolved?
A restaurant can no longer be just the food that it serves. Maybe there was a time and place where you could simply lead with the offering. But today’s consumers now want to buy into an experience, whether that experience happens to be fine dining or delivery or food truck or quick service. Marketing has had to evolve to speak more and more to the experience and how it fits within a customer’s lifestyle. Food is still very much the foundation of restaurant marketing efforts, but the experience is what gives a restaurant meaning to its customers.
Food is still very much the foundation of restaurant marketing efforts, but the experience is what gives a restaurant meaning to its customers.
What are key challenges of restaurant marketing?
When it comes to food, the only thing that’s certain is that customer preferences will change. Whether it’s a trend toward exotic flavors, healthy snacking, or the next home delivery subscription model, the food business is an exciting, albeit challenging vertical.
The restaurant industry is at the heart of this complex consumer landscape. With so much changing, so quickly, a key challenge for all restaurants is staying relevant and top of mind for consumers who’ve never had more dining options to choose from.
What are important factors for restaurants looking to begin marketing efforts?
When we go into any new marketing effort, we ask our clients some big questions. One of them is, “If your restaurant were to disappear tomorrow, what would the world have lost?” It’s a question that people often grapple with, but it’s one that’s important to answer, because it forces you to distill your business into its core values and truths. You need to identify, debate, refine and then nurture those core values before you can market them.
We also like to ask who the antagonists are – this could be an actual competitor, but often it’s a mindset (for example, our antagonist could be time-strapped people who’ve written off the need to sit down for lunch). If you can identify your core values and your primary antagonists, you can start to create the framework for who you need to market to, as well as when, where and how.
Can they go it alone?
Sure, a restaurant can go it alone, but there is already so much that goes into running and operating the core business, finding the bandwidth to also spearhead marketing initiatives can be tough. Even when our restaurant clients have had robust internal marketing teams, they’ve found value in bringing us in as agency partners for both our perspective and our additional support.
If you can identify your core values and your primary antagonists, you can start to create the framework for who you need to market to, as well as when, where and how.
Often, an outside perspective is all it takes to help bring new insight to what feels like an insurmountable challenge. Partnership and collaboration, of course, are key. We want our restaurant clients to see us as part of their team – we share the same goal of seeing their dream take off and flourish.
How important is social media compared to more traditional marketing techniques?
You can’t go out to eat these days without seeing someone at a nearby table taking a photo of their meal and sharing it on their favorite social platform. Social media is essential to building a restaurant brand that people want to identify with. But social media always works best when it is part of a bigger digital strategy – one that includes things like website, mobile and email marketing. For restaurants that are brand new to a competitive marketplace, traditional media in the way of targeted out-of-home placements is also still a good way to get on the radar of potential customers.
Why is marketing vital to the survival of a restaurant?
When marketing is done right, it provides the nudge that customers need to book a reservation or place an order. A big grand opening event is a one-off that can help you create a splash and put you on the map.
A smart marketing campaign helps to not only sustain that excitement but also continue growing your customer base. Marketing allows restaurants to nurture their relationships with customers, it keeps them in constant conversation with the people who are vital to their longevity and success.
Are there any marketing trends you see on the horizon?
Influencers continue to wield enormous cache, especially in social media marketing, but I think we may be nearing a saturation point. I was recently judging entries for an advertising awards show, and I reviewed entries from two different brands who featured the same YouTube influencer in their case study. You cannot cut through when you deploy the exact same tactic, and I think neither one of the brands would have been happy to see how closely their efforts had mirrored each other.
Marketing allows restaurants to nurture their relationships with customers, it keeps them in constant conversation with the people who are vital to their longevity and success.
How important is having brand authenticity within marketing efforts?
If one of your core values is authenticity, then authenticity is crucial to your marketing efforts. What’s interesting is that food is one of those places where people are often open to experimentation and happy to seek out the next new thing. The popularity of fusion cuisine or molecular gastronomy or even food trucks comes to mind. Because the industry welcomes innovation, having authentic origins may not be as important.
That being said, it’s still important to have an authentic voice. If pushing the envelope is part of your restaurant's DNA, then that passion should come through in a compelling and authentic way.
What are some marketing mistakes brands make?
When you have a story you want to tell, about your restaurant or your brand, the default is to say too many things. Often, there are a lot of things that make your restaurant great, and you want to talk about all of them. But if you think about how people consume media these days, and how many messages they’re bombarded with, you’ll realize that the average person just can’t process a story that has too many threads.
We use an analogy in the agency where we ask clients to imagine throwing a bucket of tennis balls to someone and yelling “Catch!” Chances are, that person is going to catch one, maybe two of those tennis balls. So instead of throwing a bunch of different thoughts at customers and hoping they catch the right one, we help our clients hone in on one, easy-to-grasp message, and then we help them pitch that message in a way that their customers can’t miss. It all goes back to our philosophy, really — that’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought in action.