When it comes to COVID-normal hospitality, tailored marketing has never been more important

Following a year of social distancing, SevenRooms senior vice-president of marketing Marybeth Sheppard argues now is the time for personalisation to assist in bringing customers back.

Australia’s well-renowned hospitality sector has boomed over the past decade with a growing ‘foodie’ culture, an increasing population, and innovative operators willing to evolve to meet changing consumer demands. In 2020, the industry was hit hard as a result of COVID-19. However, the sector – as resilient as it is innovative – is poised to bounce back.

According to recent reports, there are over 85,000 places for Australians to eat out – including 22,000 restaurants and nearly 7,000 pubs and bars. So, in a market in which diners are spoilt for choice, how can restaurants differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd? The answer lies in data. With new and emerging technologies, coupled with the ever-changing dynamics of COVID-19 recovery, leveraging data to create tailored marketing and personalised guest experiences has never been easier – or more crucial.

Maximising customer data through tech

Incentivising loyalty by creating personalised experiences has never been more important. Restaurants who are able to provide their guests with a tailored, memorable experience — from greeting guests by name or offering them their favourite drink upon arrival, to providing bespoke menus to diners with specific requirements — will be more likely to have repeat customers. Delicious food and beautiful ambiance is, and always will be essential, but so too is the way venues personalise their marketing and experience.

Customer data is critical to this personalisation. It allows marketers to not only meet but anticipate and exceed their customers’ needs. Technology helps facilitate the collection and segmentation of approved customer data. For the best results, businesses need a platform that allows them to build direct relationships with their guests and leverage the data it collects to tailor marketing and create exceptional experiences.

Understanding how customers want to be interacted with — from SMS marketing, to their preferred booking method, through to email follow-ups — helps build customer loyalty and repeat business. With access to the right data at the right time, such as a customer’s order history or preferred seating option, restaurant marketers can create strong campaigns that lead to the unforgettable guest experiences that build loyalty. For example, providing a guest with their favourite prawn appetiser on their tenth reservation, or showing them to their preferred bay view seats each visit.

The power of promotions

In a recent study, 83% of Australians said they would share their personal data (including their email address or dietary restrictions) with a venue for personalised experiences – such as tailored promotions. Giveaways, freebies, and promotions can help make guests feel special with a gift that costs the businesses less than the “surprise and delight” value it delivers to the customer. Promotions can be ongoing or seasonal, from celebrating national holidays like Christmas or Easter, to annual events including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day.

Special promotions and giveaways are a simple and easy way of boosting businesses and driving bookings. They can include items like complimentary desserts, a premium table, kitchen tour or even welcome cocktails. Promoting these offerings in advance helps attract guests by making it easier for the reservation booker to wow their dining companions. After all, everyone wants to feel special when dining out.

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Personalisation is key

Receiving a truly personalised email from a restaurant, or any brand for that matter, is rare. By utilising data collected across the customer journey, marketers can easily segment diners and send them emails tailored specifically to their needs and preferences. Emails like “we miss you” sent to drive repeat visits, or one providing a frequent diner with early access to book during busy periods are simple ways of making diners feel valued.

With a traditional one-size-fits-all approach to marketing and promotions, a venue may alienate or lose a diner. But through the power of data, operators can personalise their communications to promote, for example, their fresh seafood platter to diner A, a shellfish lover, while simultaneously promoting a new dessert menu to diner B, who’s allergic to shellfish.

Once the main message for the email has been chosen, there are several ways marketers can ensure it sounds truly personalised. Sending an email with the customer’s name rather than ‘dear customer’ is key to creating a more personalised email within the first two words. Personalisation also means choosing the right wording and tone to connect to a particular customer. Knowing the primary demographics of your customers — such as age, marital status, gender, etc. — can help marketers develop a holistic picture of each guest and plan content, image assets and tone accordingly.

Most importantly, in a transient industry in which staff turnover is high, venues can and should leverage data-driven technology to ensure every guest feels understood and valued. Marketing doesn’t end with an email and to foster loyalty operators must ensure they have the right technology in place to craft a flawless on-site experience. Whether ensuring a ‘free appetiser’ doesn’t suddenly get charged to a bill, helping a server know to provide a glass of Prosecco upon arrival, or even just a simple ‘welcome back’ to a repeat guest, technology can help facilitate a truly exceptional guest experience. These ‘wow-worthy’ experiences are what ultimately turn a guest from a one-time visitor into a loyal regular.

The rise in tailored marketing strategies

In 2021, customers have come to expect seamless, streamlined and personalised experiences, both offline and online. Every interaction a customer has with a brand, restaurant or business needs to be truly personalised in order to incentivise repeat visits, increase brand loyalty and maximise profits. Brands and venues that choose to ignore the growing importance of personalised marketing risk losing customers to the competition who are creating better customer experiences through personalisation.

Marybeth Sheppard is the senior vice-president of marketing at SevenRooms.


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