Marketing More with Less: Making the most of your marketing spend
“Tough times reveal character.” Tough times also reveal leadership, innovation, and the ability to adapt quickly to uncertainty. This is especially true when it comes to consumer marketing in a pandemic, where in-store traffic is down and in-home service visits are severely curtailed—reducing revenues and placing added pressure on marketing budgets.
So how can franchisees lower their marketing costs without affecting sales and customer traffic in these Covid-ridden times?
For restaurant and other food brands in 2020, one savior has been drive-thrus. QSRs and many other brands have been playing up their “no contact” service in both traditional and social media channels, nationally and locally. Franchisees who already had drive-thrus when the pandemic hit were already a step ahead of those who didn’t. Those without them scrambled to build them if they could, and rapidly create a carry-out, pickup, or delivery strategy..
Drive-thrus certainly saved Bryce Bares’ bacon at his 12 Dunkin’ Donuts in Nebraska and Kansas. And with three more in development, you know they’ll have drive-thrus.
“Dunkin’ has a very strong mobile app, so much of our traffic is going through the drive-thru. And with safety and health so important to our teams and our customers, we’re pushing our mobile payments options as much as we can,” says Bares. It’s not only a safer way to pay, he says, it also helps build customer loyalty.
“We had to recalibrate our strategy entirely,” says Bares. “We pulled a lot of our marketing dollars when Covid first hit. It made no sense to spend when customers weren’t.” Observing consumer behavior over the ensuing months, he saw an increase in drive-thru business and little to no foot traffic. So he focused his marketing spend on social media. “Social media is a very effective, low-cost way to drive traffic,” he says.
Turns out his franchisor thought so too. “Initially, Dunkin’ put a lot of money into sports partnerships and other traditional marketing media that were disrupted by Covid. Social media is an opportunity to market in a post-Covid world.”
Pre-Covid, he says, delivery was not huge to begin with for Dunkin’ especially in Nebraska. “It was a blip. Now it’s a huge part of our sales. We’ve partnered with all the delivery companies.”
Catering, on the other hand, will probably see the opposite effect, a result of the big drop-off from large gatherings and closed offices, he says. And he did have to shut one unit, located on the University of Nebraska campus. It had no drive-thru.
“I think we’re going to see some permanent changes in consumer behavior, including traffic patterns,” he says. And, as many companies continue their shift from office work to working from home, this is likely one of those long-term changes. For example, a business located near office buildings will have to adjust, find new customers, or possibly relocate or close.
Reduced commuting has also affected his business, but the changes are not all dire. “There will be new traffic patterns, so the way you advertise will be different, he says. “I think all of us are waiting to see what permanent changes come out of Covid and deploy our marketing dollars accordingly.”
Big picture? “We’ve been very fortunate,” says Bares. “We were hit very hard early. The drive-thrus saved us.”
“Google is my boss”
When it comes to using social media as an effective, low-cost way to drive traffic, Sarah Toney, a multi-unit franchisee of Any Lab Test Now in Austin, Texas, has a lot to say. She and her husband have been multi-unit franchisees of the brand since 2008.
Toney says combining email marketing with becoming more expert at using Google My Business (GMB) has kept their business going during the pandemic—along with a built-in advantage unique to her brand: the ability to add Covid testing as a service as the pandemic continued to spread.
“My first rule of business is to retain customers and build a loyal relationship with them. They say it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one,” says Toney. “We maintain a positive sending reputation by rewarding our loyal customers through email marketing campaigns. We’re very straightforward about our exclusive offers and promotions and offer deep discounts so we can stay in good standing with our customers.”
Toney has found automated email marketing campaigns an easy and inexpensive way to engage and retain customers and drive sales. “One of the nice things about using a company like Mailchimp is you can measure and track performance in live-time and segment your audience. We continue to see a 25–30% open rate, and our customers continue to interact with our emails. I believe this is an easy way to boost client loyalty.” She says her average spend is around $180 per month for 10,000 customers.
In addition, there are the metrics. “We have the ability to measure specific data points, like online sales and coupon redemptions, so we know it works. We see the ROI in live-time and it’s very cost-effective. It’s a win-win for our client base and our business.”
Says Toney, “I believe email marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to retain customers and keep them coming back.”
Google My Business
But when it comes to marketing more with less, it’s Google My Business that has her most excited. “I’m a fanatic, I love this stuff,” says Toney. “It’s like Google is my boss,” and she has become adept at optimizing her presence there.
“As a multi-unit operator I have multiple listings on GMB, which is an amazing free tool for lead generation,” she says. On average, she publishes special product and service updates about her business three times a week. “There are some great features with GMB that can be highly influential when a customer is choosing your business over a competitor’s.”
GMB is a free tool that allows businesses to manage how they appear on Google Search and Maps. It allows businesses to add their name, location, and hours; monitor and reply to customer reviews; add photos; learn how and where potential customers are searching for your business; and more.
“Every business owner should be using the GMB features to optimize their profile,” says Toney. “We have built a strong reputation and relationship with Google by posting weekly updates in the offer and updates section, and by posting regular store pictures, as well as asking customers to share positive feedback.”
She recently turned on the text message feature in the GMB app. “This is a really nice way to help customers get the information they need faster and increase engagement. All of our business locations are placed in the Google 3-pack, which is great exposure in local searches,” she says.
“This is the most inexpensive way to market your business! There is no cost associated with Google My Business and it has been the most powerful marketing tool for my business, especially during Covid. The Covid-19 update feature has allowed our business to promote the Covid testing we offer and the safety measures we have in place for customers—at absolutely no cost,” she says.
“In the beginning, we were not doing Covid testing. Pre-Covid, we were like every other business, scared of closing down.” However, Any Lab Test Now was declared an essential business. Fast forward 6 months and she’s offering antibody testing for past infections and molecular (PCR) testing for active infections (the nasal swab). The antibody test is $99, and the PCR test is $199.
Toney says many business owners don’t appreciate the power of Google My Business to bring in customers. “Through the years, as a business owner, I learned how important it is. The more content I put into google and the more I update photos and news, the better the results.”
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