Monthly Archives: March 2011

Meal Deals: Why The Limited Marketing Menu?

Take a look through your inbox.  Chances are, you’ll find a veritable glut of emails from restaurants and pubs offering discounts, promotions and offers.  Since the recession, these printable voucher codes and deals have been very much de rigueur – especially at office lunch outings.

But in the few years that these vouchers have cemented themselves as staples of British dining (along with complaining, too much wine and poor tipping), the marketing mechanics behind this form of promotion have remained frustratingly stale.

These vouchers are not the preserve of some exclusive ‘club’ – they get forwarded around any office as frequently as gossip, jokes and topical memes.  So in theory, vouchers are simply a form of agreed advertised price at certain times and for certain meals.

So why not shift the qualifying criteria from a piece of paper to something that genuinely benefits your brand?

UGC (user-generated content) is authentic, effective and embodies the very ethos of social media marketing, yet the majority of mainstream restaurants continue to miss a trick.  Why stick to mailing out vouchers that become crumpled up pieces of scrap paper when the qualifying mechanic could so easily become a source of useful UGC for your brand?

Take Instagram for example.  Last week, I blogged about Starbucks’ excellent use of 2011’s hottest photo-blogging app to curate authentic, consumer-led photos of brand experiences.  Restaurants could so easily offer the same offers for customers who upload a photo of their meal for example, and tag it with the name of the restaurant.

Foursquare too is a channel with such potential if it only shook off its autocratic ‘mayoral’ system.  Sure, ‘mayors’ can receive a free pizza / drink etc. with their meal, but this instantly excludes every other brand advocate who regularly checks in – should their (loyal) brand advocacy not be rewarded too?  ‘Check-in’ between 12-3 to [insert voucher offer here] would result in lots of check-ins and thus lots of digital buzz.  What’s to think about?

From a commercial perspective, I understand that physical pieces of paper offer a tangible ROI for bean counters at various head offices.  But with tills (or cash registers for the Americans amongst you) that are sophisticated electronic computers, collecting and measuring social media mechanics / footfall drivers is surely a relatively simple task.

I’m also keen to stress that I’m not advocating the eradication of printable paper discount vouchers.  My mother, for example, finds the concept of sharing your personal life on Facebook ‘very strange’, so clearly asking her to geo-tag a photo or check-in on Foursquare would exclude her (very valid) custom.

But in my opinion, social, mobile and digital technology is now getting so advanced, and UGC is becoming such an authentic and desirable form of marketing content, that brands putting all of their eggs into one printable voucher are missing a huge trick.

Food for thought.

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Instagram: Instant Success for Digital Marketers?

Unless you’ve been living under that proverbial rock for the last six months (and perhaps even if you have), you’ll no doubt be aware of the phenomenon that is Instagram.  For the rock-dwellers amongst you, Instagram is a smartphone app that allows users to share photos with each other, in a ‘stream’ fairly akin to Twitter.  Its variety of vintage filters allows users a level of creativity too, which is proving highly popular (especially amongst the denizens of Hoxton).

Instagram could easily be the latest in a long line of social media ‘fads’ that are picked up and dropped a few weeks later by promiscuous digital aficionados, but substantial growth figures seem to suggest otherwise.  The app now has over 2 million users, to which it is adding 130,000 every week.  3.6 million weekly photo uploads are also adding credence to its viability as something that’s ‘here to stay’.

So the question is, how can marketers claim a slice of this rather lucrative social media pie?

Starbucks is one brand that is utilising this latest tool to fantastic effect.  And, as is typically the case with social media, brand advocates are doing much of the legwork for them.  So how is Starbucks causing a stir (indulge me the tenuous coffee pun) on Instagram?  By adhering to some of the fundamental principles of social media:

Giving fans access to ‘exclusive’ content

On the company’s Instagram profile, users can see all manner of interesting photos, from coffee tasting sessions in the boardroom, to bean-roasting machines, new logos and new product ideas.

This glimpse ‘into life at Starbucks’ offers users a genuine ‘behind the scenes experience’ that they receive as a member of the social community.  There is value to them being part of that community and enables them to feel involved within the company.

Giving their fans a voice

Starbucks’ own page is only a small element of their Instagram presence.  The real genius lies in their involvement of their fans.  The real ‘perk’ is the rich range of content produced by brand aficionados who upload relevant pictures using the #Starbucks hashtag.

Instantly, Starbucks has a diverse range of UGC (user-generated content) that the company is able to use in its social and marketing communications.  And fans feel that they are being given the chance to share the brand they love.

‘Facilitating’, not ‘Controlling’

The days of one-way communications have not ‘gone’.  But those wishing to engage in effective marketing communications have entered the era of digital democracy and dispensed with closed, one-way ‘shouting’ to accommodate democratic, participatory discussions within the social sphere.  The glut of comments on Starbucks’ photos shows that social channels such as Instagram genuinely do facilitate user interaction – “build it, and they shall come.”

From a marketing perspective, Instagram is clearly not going to be suitable for every single business, brand or service.  But for many brands, it will be.  Taking a leaf out of Starbucks’ book is vital however – the channel is different, but the rules are the same – be social, offer value and ENGAGE.