Grow Your Foodservice Business with Content Marketing
Now more than ever a strong digital presence is vital to the growth and success of restaurants and food-focused operations.
By Luke LaBree 🔎
CMO, Dennis Paper & Food Service
The most valuable weapon you have in the battle for eyes, ears and engagement online is content. This content is primarily comprised of your photos, videos and copy (text) – but even ornaments like hashtags and emoji can play a role. Your digital presence is a combination of the platforms you utilize and the content you share on them.
Content is as important to your digital presence and marketing efforts as the food you serve is to your dining room. It shows who you are, what you do and what you’re capable of – but most importantly – it can impact a visitor’s decision to return. Like a great meal, great content helps customers establish an affinity for your business and brand.
Your mission as a foodservice business is to increase traffic, to ensure guests enjoy their experience and to grow the number of repeat visits to your establishment. It’s the same for your digital presence. The challenge is that competition for the “attention” of potential customers is exponentially greater online than in the real world. You might be the only doughnut shop on the street, but Google and Yelp are showing your potential customers a dozen doughnut shops nearby that they could visit. How do you stand out – how do you compete?
This article explores (what is in my opinion) the best way to be found, to be followed and to grow your foodservice business using the internet. I won’t be going into specifics on how to establish properties like your website, Facebook page and Instagram account. This information is for foodservice owners and operators who already have digital properties and want to get better at using them to increase traffic.
My hope is to encourage and inspire you with valuable best practices and an approach to online marketing that opens the door to better SEO, customer engagement and real, meaningful growth.
This isn’t for marketing professionals, it’s for independent business owners…
- Creating content requires some of your time and energy, but it can also be very fun and rewarding.
- There’s no one path for content marketing success. Every business has its own unique journey.
- The type of content I’m referring to is not your logo or your menu, or your contact information. It’s the content that shows the experience you offer, the quality of your food, the personality of your staff and all the little aspects that make up your unique business.
- A foundation of content works while you sleep
- People Engagement Optimization
- Foodservice is no place for content calendars
- The unspoken expectations of content on social media platforms
- Quality vs Context
- There’s only so much time in the day
- A summary of the Secret Social Sauce
- The reason you can only compete with content specific to your business
A foundation of content works while you sleep. Because content creation is exercise, while by comparison, paid marketing is diet pills.
The more we exercise the more lean muscle mass we build, and that muscle mass actively burns calories day and night. It takes time and hard work but within weeks you notice the difference in your fitness. Diet pills tweak your body chemistry and might help you drop a few pounds – but you don’t gain any lean muscle – so if you stop taking those pills the pounds will come right pack.
When you build out your website with meaningful content, unique and relevant to your business, Google crawls through it all and starts ranking your relevance for search results. Your content then drives people to your website when they search for something that google says you have. The more content you create – again, specific to your business – the greater likelihood of being returned as a search result. Your search ranking is never cemented in place, but it does have greater longevity when supported through content.
If you exercise your ability to create content you will see traffic gains that last.
If you try to take the easy road and skip to paid first… you’ll have to keep paying to get results. When you stop paying you’ll be back to where you started. There is a time and place for paid, in search engines and social media, but it comes along after your digital presence has been thoroughly established.
To reiterate my point of this article not being about your core business information. The results we’re looking for from your content are not to capture the person searching for “your restaurant name in Whereverville,” it’s to capture people searching for cheeseburgers, or steak, or seafood in Whereeverville.
The goal is to establish a foundation of this sweat-equity content in order to drive traffic from search results. Once that is in place, you can start selectively going after paid opportunities that bring specific targeted conversions. But, at the end of the day, there’s so much that can be done for free you should barely have enough time to pay for anything.
Your content creation considerations aren’t just for SEO, there’s PEO as well.
People Engagement Optimization
Many of the same rules apply. The right context, the right formatting, timing and execution (all things you can learn as you go) except instead of trying to please bots crawling your site you’re trying to please people crawling the content of your digital presence. What will they see on your website and what feeling will it give them? What will people on Facebook engage with? What will earn you Twitter followers. How will you get those Instagram likes? Are the photos on Yelp effectively showcasing your business to those who find you?
On Facebook for example…
- I know that if I share content that tries to raise awareness of a product we sell – that content had better offer something other than “buy this for these reasons” – something fun, something informative, or something visually stimulating. If it doesn’t, it won’t perform well.
- I know that if I make a post 3 or 4 times in a row of the same type of content – not the same exact content – but similar messaging and format… I’ll likely lose followers. But if I strategically alternate certain types of content, I’ll gain followers.
It’s not trial and error, it’s trial and improvement. Over and over and over again.
The audience of the internet wants to be constantly wowed. Which is something that is increasingly harder to do. They want to be informed and entertained at the same time, and they’re insatiable. Luckily you have some pretty impressive content at your fingertips – literally. It’s impressive because it’s authentic, and it’s authentic because it’s your real business and people, you created it and you shared it. It’s simply a matter of finding out what your audiences like the most.
Foodservice is no place for content calendars.
Yes, there’s a food day for everyday of the year… but is that really what you want to talk about? Does it represent your business? Don’t get me wrong, national food days are a great filler, I’ve used them. And by all means, if you sell hotdogs then celebrate national hotdog day.
Unless you run a business in which you can map out every minute of the day and then stick to that schedule. There’s no sense in trying to stick to a content calendar. Yes, absolutely plan campaigns, strategize elaborate content and schedule ads… but don’t lock yourself into the rigidity of a calendar. Be flexible and spontaneous.
I’m not suggesting you fly by the seat of your pants. Throwing out the calendar doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a sense of strategy. I firmly believe that the best results come when a piece of content or a post just feels right. More often than not the passion, enthusiasm and qualities of a post that occur in the heat of the moment are going to be better received than the one waiting its turn on the calendar.
The unspoken expectations of content on social media platforms.
We, internet-browsing human beings, are fickle creatures. Even though many of us bounce in and out of multiple social media platforms – we get offended if the content on each of these individual platforms does not meet our expectations…
Offenses to these expectations include things like:
- Linking to a YouTube video instead of uploading the video directly to Facebook.
- Including 20 hashtags in a Facebook post.
- Not using any hashtags on Instagram (this one is more of a strategic oversight.)
- Re-posting all of you Facebook content verbatim to Twitter.
This is why I also generally discourage the use of cross-posting platforms and social media management tools like Hootsuite. They make it too easy and too tempting to remove individuality from your posts. Which then starts to erode the value for people to follow you on multiple platforms. Plus, when you are working directly within the platform, you are more aware of the subtle distinctions that make a difference in engagement and the overall quality of your content for that specific audience.
You’ll learn more about what your various audiences want to see from you as you start posting. Pay attention to how different pieces of content perform. Use insights and analytics to evaluate the content that costs you followers and the content that earns you followers. Are there similarities in the better performing posts that can be replicated and improved upon for future efforts?
For most businesses I don’t recommend outsourcing social media work. First, you are better off saving the expense of having someone post content for you and putting it towards boosted posts, or ads when you’re ready. More importantly though, an outsider cannot bring the same level of passion, personal interest and investment to your content as someone who’s invested in the business each day.
Yes, you can outsource your content. And yes, you can use Hootsuite… but only after you have a firm understanding of your content strategy, your approach to each platform has been established and you have an understanding of what each audience wants from you. Also, if you decide to outsource your website and social media management it’s
extremely helpful essential to have a foundation of media to work with, as well as a plan for generating future content and approving copy. You might decide you don’t have the time to manage your digital presence, but your business still needs to look and sound like your business.
Quality vs. Context
Let’s say it’s time to make the doughnuts… Sure, a creative marketing agency could make an epic piece of content with slow motion sprinkles being dropped onto a freshly glazed doughnut. But, a selfie video of a business owner turning on the lights at 4am and firing up the doughnut making machine (while talking to the camera) is going to outperform that slow motion sprinkle drop footage nearly every time.
That slo-mo sprinkle footage can outperform the selfie-video when it clearly shows context of place; the real interior of the business and its people. Professional content creators exist for a reason. We are drawn to the visually compelling media they create like moths to a flame. They’re in the business of capturing attention to grow sales, just like you. Except that most of the “glamour shot” content that permeates our feeds can be contributed to an agency, an influencer or a business working on a national or global scale. And it’s usually for projects that are accompanied by financial compensation, or specialized equipment or both. [For example…]
You can certainly take inspiration from the novelty and innovation of professional content, but you don’t need to compete with the quality and finish. There’s still something that attracts us to those unscripted moments, the raw real side of a business we see when the curtain gets pulled back. Your unique message will resonate with your audience more so than something that can’t be attributed to you, irregardless of the final product. That is not to say “anything goes.” You still need to make an attempt at being interesting. You just don’t need to be perfect.
Your content might not be great at first, but you will start getting better at it. Every post of original content you make is a step towards improvement. Never wait for perfection, it will slow you down and hold you back. Blaze forward.
Day 1 – You’re just trying not to sound like an idiot on camera.
Day 101 – You’re on YouTube learning how to use a green screen to make doughnuts fly.
Today’s devices offer so much creative capability it’s crazy to not at least try being your own content creator. I would highly recommend investing in the latest high-end smartphone before paying someone else to create your content.
In talking with operators it has been my experience time and time again that some rather predatory social media “marketers” are more than happy to take your money, and then post a “Monday’s were made for donuts!” meme. Or, worse yet, they post a stock photo of a doughnut. A doughnut that sadly only resembles your doughnut in spherical shape.
Yes, there’s a time and place to bring in professionals, if you do – bring them in for a very specific reason. For example, if you want professionally lit photographs of your food or team. If you need a news release created. If you’d like a radio script written and recorded. Or, if you’d like to have a television commercial created. These one-off content projects are perfect for the professionals that specialize in them. The day to day – it really can be done by you. However, with a little extra effort, you could even do all those professional examples on your own – on your phone.
There’s only so much time in the day.
As long as you are contributing to your content pipeline you’ll be moving things forward, and that’s all any business owner who wants to increase traffic can do. The trouble is most foodservice operators don’t believe they can create their own content, and they can feel this way for any number of reasons…
- They think they’re too busy.
- They don’t think they have the right tools or skills.
- They don’t think their quality can compete.
- They don’t know where to start and what to say.
The average business owner can’t visualize content for their business because they’re in it. They know all the things and sharing those everyday details might not feel all that interesting to them – so why would anyone else be interested? But they are. That is the only thing your potential customers, website visitors and followers are interested in – the specific things you do every day – from the extremely unique to the subtle differences that set you apart.
That impressive, authentic content that’s at your finger tips… the way to access it isn’t technical, it’s not an app or a platform or a paid service… it’s a way of thinking. An approach to identifying the uniquely marketable attributes of your business. And, once you see them, really see them, you’ll realize there’s never nothing to talk about.
When I wrote the Secret Social Sauce, it was in an effort to unlock the ability for owners and managers to look at their business through a lens of content creation.
A summary of the Secret Social Sauce.
Always support your posts and website content with graphics, photos and video. You will get very little traction without an engaging visual. This is where that high-end smart phone pays off the most.
No stock doughnut pictures… Share the real everyday stuff, don’t try to embellish or disguise your business. Chances are you’re not an actor, photographer, copywriter or video editor – and that’s okay. Remember, you don’t need to be a professional in those regards, just be an expert at what you do.
Across the board be as consistent as possible with your usernames and handles, profile pictures, color use and the tone and tenor of your content. Also be consistent with your posting frequency. Don’t tweet every day for two weeks and then take 2 months of. You do not need to post every day, but you do need to post.
Be Uniquely Your Business
It’s all about what you do every day. Don’t give away the secret family recipe… separate yourself from the pack by peeling back the layers of your unique onion – show personality and personal touches, your thought process, approach and people.
The reason you can only compete with content specific to your business.
The total size of the internet is not easily calculated. However, it is estimated to contain nearly 6 billion individual webpages and is growing at a rate of 500,000 gigabytes a minute. That is around 8 million megabytes a second uploaded to the internet everyday. Your business is essentially a proverbial needle in a content haystack. If those numbers don’t underscore the importance of doubling down on your efforts consider this…
- 700 million tweets are made everyday.
- 4 million hours of content are uploaded to YouTube everyday.
- 70 million photos are uploaded to Instagram everyday.
- And 5 billion Facebook posts are made everyday.
For no other reason than the sheer volume of content contributed to the internet each day… You can only compete using content that directly reflects your unique business and culture.
That might seem a little daunting, but don’t worry, Google’s algorithms “want” to provide relevant search results. It knows where your business is, and it knows where the individuals doing the searching are. That alone narrows things down significantly. Search engine algorithms along with your unique content efforts help your business standout in the daily inundation of data to the internet.
In this unfathomably large world wide web of content there’s still only one you sharing your business, through your eyes and with your thoughts. Even when competing against similar companies and services your unique story and business attributes are your own. That’s the gold – hold onto it and leverage it.
The only thing you actually need to invest in content creation is your time… and the expense of whatever device can best execute your vision. After that the biggest hurdle to overcome is the limit of your own creativity.
Micro-investments of time everyday will pay off.
- Take 15 minutes every few days to walk around your business getting photos. Let them go to the cloud and review them later.
- Cut out 30 minutes of Netflix at night and watch a YouTube video to learn a new content marketing skill.
- Instead of thumbing through Facebook marketplace, scope out your competitors or hop on LinkedIn and see what professional marketers are talking about.
If there’s one thing that’s certain about content marketing on the internet it’s that nothing is certain. Nothing sits still. And neither can you … Content creation should be one of your top marketing priorities.
I’ll leave you with this… If you’ve never posted about a team member or employee, or it’s been awhile since you did, try it. I guarantee it will perform better than any of your recent posts. And remember, don’t forget a visual.