And what about social media?
Social media is another major digital tool in the battle to get consumers into the pub.
Amber Staynings, chief executive of the marketing company Bums on Seats, says it is a sad fact that hospitality is under more pressure now than ever. She argues that to succeed in the long term, hospitality businesses must invest in keeping their social media up to date and be responsive to enquiries or complaints.
“The more successful venues are the ones that know how to engage and keep their specific target customer, such as those now working from home, families going out for special occasions, or corporate businesses keen to provide their employees with benefits, such as membership of their local hotel or gastropub,” says Staynings.
“We often find that more productive use of social media is the key, especially now that over 60% of customers research and book online. This rate is much higher for Generation Z, and venues can make quick changes to provide this important group with their required ‘Instagram’ moment, as well as use the data they collect to stay in touch with their customers to offer incentives to return.”
Olivia FitzGerald, chief sales and marketing officer, Zonal agrees social media has become a key part of the customer journey.
Its own research shows 33% of consumers now use social media to book tables and 38% would consider doing so.
“Therefore, operators need to stop thinking about social media channels as just shop windows but the shop too – recognising it as a powerful tool that can be used to increase bookings and footfall,” she adds.
“Social media and digital tools have become an increasingly important part of the marketing and operational mix for the hospitality industry. As we head into what we all expect to be some challenging months ahead, we would urge operators to use technology to reduce stress on teams, encourage footfall and drive revenues.”
The cost-of-living crisis, energy costs, combined with current economic headwinds mean consumers and the pub trade are feeling the pinch.
According to data from the UKHospitality Tracker provided by CGA, turnover in the sector was up 1.3% in the year to September 2022, compared to the pre-Covid levels of 2019. While this seems positive, the trade association points out that the severe impact of inflation means that even a slight year-on-year increase in turnover is wiped out by rising energy, food and labour costs.
Anecdotal evidence shows trading has been relatively positive in January despite the challenging market but spending remains volatile and keeping a close relationship with the consumer is vital to drive engagement, visits and sales.
Taking a strategic approach to marketing by using digital tools and technology can be great way to engage that consumer.
Stephen Powell, CRM director of Acteol from technology provider Access Hospitality, says hospitality businesses are facing the challenge of attracting customers and increasing their average spend in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.
He points out the most effective way of driving growth and delivering profit is by developing ongoing relationships with existing or former customers.
“If they have enjoyed a great guest experience, not only are they likely to revisit your venue but can realistically be expected to tell their family and friends how much they enjoyed it,” Powell says.
He argues a good technology system should be integrated to manage all aspects of customer relations, feedback and loyalty so operators can better interact with them.
“Sending a universal email to everyone on your database offering a generic discount will yield much lower response rates than tailored communications offering specific promotions,” Powell argues.
“Collecting personal contact details as well as time, frequency and spend per visit, favourite dishes or drinks helps you approach customers with personalised and targeted campaigns that make them feel appreciated and welcomed by your business.”
Interestingly, he reveals the average person in Britain is exposed to 5,000 marketing messages and receives 126 emails a day – meaning the operator needs to make its messaging stand out.
“As 78% of consumers respond positively to a relevant email but 53% of brand unsubscribes are due to receiving too many irrelevant emails, the potential value of personalised communications is clear,” he says.
He advises licensees to use every opportunity to gather data whether with a simple sign-up form or opt-in check box at every customer touch point, including website reservation page, Wi-Fi login, QR codes on menus, at the point of using an order and pay app or making a click and collect order.
“In-house channels should also be supported by other platforms such as social media, search engine advertising and SMS to reach new customers and your CRM strategy should also include lapsed customers. Contact them with an incentive to return if they haven’t visited for a while or if their regular visiting pattern has decreased substantially,” he advises.
Olivia FitzGerald, chief sales and marketing officer at Zonal, agrees that an integrated system can be effective. By integrating EPoS to bookings to takeaway and delivery, operators can gather a wealth of data about their business, such as busiest and quietest times in venue and most popular menu items.
“With this data at their fingertips, operators can feed this into customer marketing, promotions and loyalty schemes, creating more targeted, engaging and ultimately more successful campaigns to keep customers engaged,” FitzGerald says.
She suggests businesses use a digital loyalty scheme to reward a venue’s most valuable customers that will operate automatically, with minimal input from teams, saving time and freeing them up for other tasks.
“Having customer sales data available to inform the offers and promotions will keep them engaged and returning. This will put businesses on the right foot in the short term, as well as in the future where consumers are not just comfortable using digital solutions, but will expect to use them,” she says.
“With this wealth of information, businesses can tap into customer expectations, create promotions and deals that really cut through and put money in the till.”
Another area Zonal suggests licensees should consider is integrating customer feedback.
“We know operators understand the importance of listening to customers but with tech, this can be done more quickly and effectively and the feedback is much richer,” she says.
Zonal works with customer feedback and online reputation specialist Feed It Back to drive deeper insights and bring automated reviews to operators.
Feed it Back managing director Dan Hawkie says despite it being a challenging market with consumers concerned about their disposable income, many operators are excelling by delivering an outstanding customer experience and driving customer loyalty as a result.
“From all of the insights we have collated over this past year, it is clear to see that customers are wanting more than just food and drink, they want an experience (which is why the competitive socialising scene has also boomed this year),” says Hawkie.
“When consumers are hard up, they are more frugal with their disposable income and are only prepared to spend it when it seems like great value for money or creates a memorable experience and, of course, special occasions will still be celebrated.”
Feed It Back’s own Christmas insights report that was released in mid-January reveals those who “enjoyed a previous visit” was the number one factor in customers choosing where to spend their festive celebration, showing once again just how important it is to deliver 365 days of the year.
“Using a customer experience platform to measure customer satisfaction is always integral to every multi-site hospitality business but the necessity is only intensified when going through an economic crisis where you have to fight for every pound that a customer looks to spend,” he says.
“With so many different customer profiles we can no longer assume what a customer wants or assume how they enjoyed their experience we need data to back this up to ensure we are making the right strategic decisions moving forward.”
He says targeted and segmented data is needed to conduct an effective marketing campaign.
“If you have the data on what menus they have dined off in the past, which dishes they enjoyed or even when they last booked (and why), this can help you segment these customers and market to them more effectively, helping to increase open rates or click-through rates,” he says.
“When it comes to trying to acquire new customers, then social is a great way and in particular online reputation. If you’re not scoring above 4.5* on Google then you are not showing up in any ‘best’ searches and this is a big risk.”
Liberation Group, the UK and Channel Islands pub operator and brewer, that owns Butcombe Brewing Group, has focused its digital marketing on a loyalty scheme to reward and give something back to the customer.
“We know that a loyalty customer will spend a little bit more than a normal customer and they will come in a little bit more often than a normal customer,” says Bruce Rowland, marketing director, The Liberation Group.
Customers can sign up directly to be part of its loyalty scheme, which covers all its operations from pub visits, accommodation to its brewery shop.
The bespoke system is integrated into its own till system linking through to its order pay mobile ordering system, on its app and website portal.
It allows for loyalty customers to receive special promotions and offers as well as collecting points either by scanning a physical card or digital card. These points can be collected and swapped for a voucher to spend within the group.
“Part of the deal when you sign up is you give us your email address so we can communicate with you. On your birthday we give you and three other people a drink on us to celebrate your birthday, linked with ordering some food. It is aimed at ‘come to the pub and celebrate with some friends’,” he says.
“We have lots of different offers that run throughout the year. For example, for Sunday lunch, if you come into one of our pubs as a loyalty member, you get unlimited roast potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire puddings.”
Its legendary offer for loyalty customers includes the Butcombe Wednesday that gives 25% off food. Loyalty customers also get a discount of 20% off room rates, subject to availability.
Having the data and contacts allows the pub group to encourage people to leave the house and come to the pub. It can update loyalty members on new events at the pubs such as outside cinema events, comedy nights, wine tasting or a pub quiz to encourage them to visit.
The system also allows them to target lapsed customers and incentivise them to come back in.
“We know with our customers there is no point discounting because that is a vicious cycle,” Rowland says.
“People are still keen to come to the pub for good value but good value is a lot more than price. They are looking for great customer service, a lovely experience and a welcoming, comfortable and stylish environment.”
While the company operates an app, it has taken a decision to use a system that allows customers to link to a QR code and order from a web page.
“We found that there are so many apps out there that people get very frustrated with them so they tend to down load and then delete it,” he adds.