Innovation isn’t reserved for tech experts or a traditionally “cutting edge” industry. Innovation is everywhere, including food. High-end cuisine in the last 10-15 years has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Chefs have erased boundaries and unleashed creativity on the possibilities of food presentation – sometimes yielding results that can undeniably be considered modern art.
Chefs and their restaurants don’t typically devote much attention to traditional marketing, they let their product speak for them (the epitome of content marketing). They lean on customer word-of-mouth and praise from respected outlets like Zagat, consumer-driven platforms like Yelp, and on the highest-end, Michelin. The more notoriety gained, the easier this philosophy becomes. For up-and-comers and those trying to gain a foothold in a crowded space, the need for brand awareness and a strong brand identity is vitally important. This can be a fun case study, in that restaurants devote the majority of their available funds to ingredient acquisition and their superior products. How they choose to market and brand themselves can be as unique and interesting as their food.
Los Angeles is most often associated with Mexican food, seafood, ethnic specialties, and the city’s thriving reputation for world-class level dining. BBQ isn’t anywhere near top of mind in LA for most. So how are chefs adapting – and how are they getting the word out?
Let’s assume you’re serving great BBQ (or offering a great service…whatever your business may be).
Adhere to these 3 Baseline Essentials:
Make your website effective and easy to navigate
- Brick & mortar food establishments need to clearly communicate where they are located, what they specialize in, and what makes them a better option than competitors. If your website can do this quickly, you’re a step ahead of many and have already set the initial hook. From a branding perspective, visitors to your site will put you into a bucket within 10 seconds. Have you branded yourself to be fun, hip, and affordable? Are you a one stop shop for a giant crowd-pleasing menu? Are you a sophisticated, high-end option? Whatever your identity, the reader should be able to gather this quickly. If they can’t, your brand identity either isn’t clear or simply hasn’t been established at all.
- Tell your story. Everyone loves a relatable story. Don’t tell us the ingredients of your food, tell us how you got started, show us who you are, and why your creations are so important to you.
- The Park’s Finest and Maple Block Meat Company deliver clean, easy to navigate websites. They’ve compiled the most frequent customer questions when browsing a site and effectively answered those questions as quickly as possible. Visitors don’t have to go searching for menu, hours, or location. Their use of hi-res photos adds extra enticement to place an order. The Park’s Finest in particular does a great job of telling their origin story and tying an emotional element to their brand.
Devote time and effort into an effective social media presence
- Social media is expanding its scope and showing no signs of slowing down. As such, you need a strategy, a target audience, and an effective way of reaching them.
- Successful chefs in BBQ and across the entire food spectrum are taking advantage of social media platforms like Instagram. A new or little-known restaurant’s best friend is shared instagram photos from diners & influencers enjoying their food. People eat with their eyes first, and much like beauty products, instagramming food at a restaurant can have a massive effect on sales. Since consumers won’t have any way of accessing the most valuable sense of taste without actually dining at the restaurant, they are forced to go by 1. Word of mouth/reputation and 2. Sight…visuals provide the next best enticing call-to-action, far more than even the most well-written description.
- Little Meats LA has utilized Instagram well. They have amassed nearly 7,000 followers with frequent posting (nearly 1,000) of photos and videos. They also do a great job of tying in the emotional and communal aspects of food. Little Meats will often show their chefs creating the food and their patrons enjoying it, rather than just pictures of the food itself. The Park’s Finest has built an impressive Facebook following of 21,972. The formula is similar, frequent posting with an emphasis on showing the people behind the scenes, humanizing the brand and forming a connection with the audience.
You have the product, so let others speak for it
- Yelp has popularized and glorified the online user review. It is a great way to have your voice heard by a large audience and contribute to the conversation. Using not only Yelp, but the customer review process in general can sway comparison shoppers and those new to your competitive landscape.
- Salazar has been getting rave reviews, and showcases them well. Their website is so absurdly retro that it just might work. If you’re taken aback by the 90’s video game theme, your concerns will quickly fade when you see the site emblazoned with glowing reviews from LA Weekly, Los Angeles Eater, and renowned food critic Jonathan Gold. Bludso’s BBQ also utilizes reviews well on their social media pages and builds awareness through entering local and national contests.
Whatever direction you decide to take with your marketing efforts, make sure it is clearly defined, with reasoning to back it up. Make sure you have answered some key questions about your brand:
- What is our personality?
- What is our mission?
- Who is our target audience?
- What is our key differentiator? In other words: why should that audience choose us?
If you take a cue from our friends in barbecue – it should be to start with an excellent product, then find ways to make it the star of your marketing campaigns.