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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One response to “Meal Deals: Why The Limited Marketing Menu?

  1. I think you’ve answered it yourself: printed paper vouchers work for the lowest common denominator. Almost everyone has access to a printer (whether it’s the office printer or, at home, the £10 inkjet with £40 cartridges).

    I think the balance between various factors settles on paper vouchers:
    – elasticity of demand: how badly do people want the discount for this place?
    – discount itself: 10% off. Not interested. 50% off? OK, now we’re talking.
    – Hoops: what hoops do you want me to jump through? Register to a newsletter? Print something out? Register at Foursquare and (remember to) check in 10 times?
    – Staff: Almost all staff get the idea of accepting a piece of paper and applying a code at the till. Fewer of them get seeing a Foursquare screen or scanning a QR code (surprised the girl at the cinema with this one!)
    – What does the restaurant/bar want? Demographic data, buzz, repeat visits, campaign monitoring. Or just more bums on seats.

    With that all said, I’m surprised at how many places offer Foursquare promos – what I’ve not tested is the ease of cashing in a promo. Times are a-changing – just a matter of years ago, it was sufficient to collect tokens in newspapers, and the idea of mailing lists and printing tokens from email was niche. With that kind of progress, I can see mobiles and other means becoming better understood as tools for marketing.

    Good to see you’re keen for change and exploration here – as a geek, you just have to sometimes wait for the rest of the world to catch up with the trail you want to blaze!

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