June 20th, 2017 | By Jason Page
All of us in the on-premise business can rattle off the steps for developing and implementing a successful beverage promotion, can’t we? Situation analysis, audience definition, objectives, strategies, budget, timing, tactics, materials development, promotion, training, rollout and measuring results.
But knowledge isn’t always power. We may know how to do something — lose weight, say, or train for a marathon — but it’s a fact that knowing how to do something and doing it are decidedly two different things. Think about your New Year’s resolution to drop 10 pounds, or that first morning you chose to sleep in rather than go for a run.
It’s the same for beverage promotions. We’ve gone through the process so many times, we certainly know how to run them. But being an expert can be a slippery slope, where “been there, done that” gets in the way of doing things well. The result is often promotions that are mediocre rather than stellar. The solution: Don’t gloss over the steps! Disciplining yourself to invest sufficient time and effort at each point in the process almost always guarantees success. That said, there are some critical pressure points along the way where bringing fresh perspective can pay particularly big dividends, for any promotion.
Recently I compared notes with two of IMI Agency’s account management leaders to create a list of things operators and suppliers can do to up the ante for their limited-time-offer promotions and programs. Sherri Nadeau, Senior Account Manager, Business Development; Account Manager, Mark Greenhalgh; and I have seen our share of promotions that fell flat or were just okay, as well as those that blew the doors off. Here are some sure-fire ways to ensure your efforts always fall into the latter category:
1. Have a good reason for doing the promotion. This goes to strategy. “Sometimes operators implement a promotion just for the sake of doing a promotion,” Mark observes. “They might decide to work with a supplier partner because sales are down on a particular product, and they put together a limited time offer without thinking through whether it’s a good fit for the brand and the guest.” Does your restaurant/bar/hotel have a beverage strategy to guide your planning and decision-making? If not, now’s the time to develop one!
2. Give your audience what they’re looking for. You can’t do this if you don’t know who they are. “Customers vary by market. One size does not fit all, even within restaurant and hotel chains,” Sherri says. “This is especially important for suppliers. Take the time to do your research — get into the local market and experience the hotels and restaurants you’re calling on as a consumer. Make sure the brands you’re offering fit with their brand.”
On the buyer side, don’t forget to take into consideration the discretionary spending habits of your establishment’s guests, and how that varies by day part and occasion. Focus on the cocktail/beer/wine experience the guest is looking for, rather than just promoting the particular brands you are partnering with.
3. Remember timing is everything. The element of time for your promotion has three parts: lead-time, duration and “during the promotion.” Make sure you start enough ahead to allow ample time for thinking and planning, producing materials without incurring rush charges and preparing your team (see #7). Two or three weeks out just doesn’t work. And, don’t let budget dictate duration. “You must run any promotion for a reasonable length of time in order for it to get traction, so that you get genuine payback on the cost to develop it,” Mark explains. “Be sure to factor that into the budget.”
On the flip side, every promotion has an effective life span, Sherri notes. “You can’t let a promotion that’s run its course with guests continue for months just to try to recoup your investment.” And the “during the promotion” part? That’s where you structure in constant reminders about the promotion to keep it top-of-mind with your servers and bartenders.
4. Be realistic in estimating costs. People tend to underestimate what it takes to field a promotion or neglect to factor in the cost of all the elements. Mark points out, “Don’t forget to include incentive items, putting together and shipping implementation kits and training in the budget, in order to get an accurate read on the promotion’s return on investment (ROI).”
5. Embrace social media as your friend — because it’s here to stay. Snapchat, Spotify, Instagram, even good old Facebook and Twitter are the preferred means of communication for Millennials, the largest generational group within the U.S. population. While keeping up may seem challenging, we’re learning more every day about using the power of social media to differentiate and boost promotions. The keys to putting it to work for you are, according to Mark, “Be sure the social media element is true to the concept of the offer; it should fit naturally within the promotion framework. It’s also important to actively manage your social media effort through relevant and frequent posts and monitoring responses. If you aren’t skilled in this area or don’t have the time, be sure there’s someone on your team who can be dedicated to this, or be ready to hire an expert.”
6. Insist that your promotion be clever and innovative; don’t be content just to stay in the pack. Keep pushing yourself and your team to create something unique and memorable. Take a few risks and experiment with how best to reach the guest. “Many of the promotions out there are fairly cookie-cutter,” Sherri says. “The goal is to create something that’s fresh and smart and gets people talking. I’ve had a package of Taco Bell hot sauce on my desk for months because it has one of those funny sayings on it along with the hashtag #TeamHot. That marketing campaign has generated some pretty powerful brand reinforcement, which leads to increased sales. You may not be able to come up with a smash hit like that with every promotion, but it’s worth it to try.”
7. Live by the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) rule. Yes, this decades-old saw is as important as ever. In fact, it’s the counterweight to #6. “Being innovative is important, but if your concept is too complicated for servers to explain and consumers to understand, you’ve wasted everyone’s time and money,” Mark notes. Be sure to take a simplicity temperature check when you’re in the development phase: Can you explain how the promotion works in one or two sentences, such that key team members are nodding their heads that they get it?
8. Connect all the dots. And we mean all of them. It almost goes without saying that the messaging, look and feel of the promotional materials should be consistent. But a truly integrated promotion extends way beyond that. Break outside the frame and think all the way through. If you’ve decided to use digital boards for your promotion, is your unit’s engineering team/resource in the loop? Is it possible to feature the promotion at the time reservations are made? Need photography for social media? Are there special event, media or other PR opportunities? When all the moving parts are working together in harmony and everyone has a clear line of sight to the goal, the chances of success improve exponentially.
9. Engage the staff. This is where many a promotion goes awry, and the three of us agree we can’t say enough about this one. It’s important to note that engaging your team is not the same thing as informing them about the promotion and training them on how to implement it. Engaging means inspiring your team to buy in to what you’re all out to accomplish together and to get them excited about doing that. Having support from the senior F&B leader at the unit level is critical to accomplishing this.
Engaging your team also means making sure bartenders, servers and managers under-stand what they are being asked to sell and why it matters. Be sure those implementation materials you received aren’t still sitting unopened on your desk! Done right, training not only shows your team what to do and how to do it, but it also instills confidence. And that sells beverages.
And finally — incentives work and should be part of your promotion whenever possible and wherever legal. An educational trip for the winning manager is great, for example, but incorporating prizes for the line-level staff and/or for the unit (like a piece of equipment, premium glassware or a high-end bar tool set) will make your promotion seem more like a game everyone is invited to play.
10. Make sure you know what success looks like. This is actually where you need to start. How will you know the promotion accomplished its mission? What’s the best way to measure results? The easy answer is, “Did sales increase?” But it’s important to define precisely what you mean: Is it sales of the featured cocktails, or cases/bottles moved, or overall beverage revenue for the promotion period? And then ensure you have an effective, accurate way to track those sales.
Defining ROI for a promotion can seem challenging, but that’s where having a beverage strategy in place is key. It’s there to remind you what you’re out to accomplish in your unit’s/brand’s long game, not only for this promotion. You’re not just selling beer, you’re selling a hotel, restaurant or bar. This may prompt you to look beyond sales for other ways to measure success. Achieving a higher average check or delivering a superior guest experience may be just as important as cases sold.
Incorporate these “extras” into the planning and execution of your next beverage promotion and get ready for results that blow those doors off!