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Online Reservation Systems: Are They Worth It?

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Mobile technology has dramatically rewritten the rules for the service industry, and the restaurant world is no exception to the rule. According to a report from the National Restaurant Association, a whopping 88% of consumers use technology to interact with a restaurant in some way. From reading reviews to scheduling reservations through online reservation systems, technology simplifies the buying process and helps find restaurants to visit. Of course, providing services like digital reservations comes at a cost—is the investment worth it?

Examining the Digital Reservation Model

OpenTable is easily the biggest player in the digital reservations world. Participating restaurants pay a monthly fee and $1 per person for the service. Along with the reservations themselves, the restaurant receives a touchscreen reservation system and can offer reservations directly from their own website. A restaurant could theoretically create a similar system in a proprietary model, although the development and implementation of such a system would likely prove prohibitively expensive.

As the NY Times points out, a number of competitors have also sprung up in recent years. Some of the competitors in this space include review company, Yelp (SeatMe). A few other minor players also operate in the industry.

Calculating the Cost

It’s difficult to substantiate the value of a digital reservation, as it’s nearly impossible to say whether or not a diner would have still visited a restaurant without a digital option. And yet, many restaurant owners feel the cost is well worth the service it delivers. A piece published in FSR included feedback from restaurant owners who credit online reservations with pulling diners during quiet periods and building the company’s reputation with positive feedback.

Maximizing the Value of a Digital Reservation

In addition to the reservation itself, services like OpenTable provide in-depth analytic information that allows restaurants to track buyer patterns and note specific information about the diners. Dietary habits, birthdays and anniversaries, and other personal information can all be tracked for the diner. This can help the eaterie to provide superior service for repeat visitors.

Many restaurants also feel a digital system helps create greater efficiency for the front of the house. Reservations can easily be tracked and the status changed as diners check-in for their meal. Managers can also take a look at reservations before the shift begins to better determine availability for walk-ins and schedule staff breaks.

Taking the gamble on an online reservation system can feel like a daunting undertaking, but the benefits these systems provide make them an appealing option for restaurants of all shapes and sizes. OpenTable alone services 32,000 restaurants, with approximately 16 million visits reserved each month. As consumers increasingly turn to their smartphone as a means of finding local businesses to visit, implementing a digital reservation system simply makes sense for restaurants eager to grow their earning potential.

Social Strategy: Developing a Plan to Maximize Your Social Media Efforts

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Many small businesses flock to social media in the hopes of supercharging their digital marketing efforts, but few companies manage to make a lasting impact online. Harnessing the potential of social platforms requires a carefully structured strategy, much like a traditional marketing plan. If you’re ready to boost your business’ prowess on the social web, use the following keys to begin building your social media strategy.

Defining Your Goals

Don’t simply create a social media profile and hope for the best. Instead, set specific goals you’d like to achieve, and then work out how you plan to reach those milestones. It’s better to set measurable goals and link them to a specific timeline, which will help you stay on the right track.

As with any marketing initiative, develop a clear target audience for your social accounts. If you know which audience you’re trying to reach, you’ll better direct your energy on the web. For example, Facebook may be the best platform for reaching a wide, general audience, but LinkedIn is better suited for B2B marketers. Use statistics and consumer research to determine which platforms you should explore. From Instagram to Pinterest, the options are nearly unlimited.

Creating Content for the Web

Once you’ve established where you’re headed, begin crafting content that will help you meet your goals. Brainstorm ideas for blog posts, videos, and images you can share to generate interest. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts—you never know what could turn viral.

Whether you want to post once a week or twice a month, consistency is important. Your followers will come to expect the same regular interactions, so don’t leave them in the dark while you go on vacation or get busy with other things. If you struggle with this idea, consider creating an editorial calendar to track your progress.

Building Your Presence

Don’t be that sad business with 15 followers and 6 lonely tweets. Once you commit to launching your social media efforts, attack in full force. Be proactive about responding to comments, actively seek out new followers, and monitor activity on a daily basis.

If you aren’t able to commit to updating your accounts on a regular basis, consider partnering with an agency that can manage your profiles for you. As your popularity online grows, your accounts may need several hours worth of your attention each week. If you don’t have the time to personally commit to growing your network, an agency can help you ensure your goals don’t fall to the wayside.

Regardless of which approach you take, don’t be tempted to forego social media altogether. According to statistics from the Social Media Examiner, 95% of businesses active on social platforms in 2014 saw increased exposure for their brand—the numbers don’t lie. Make your social accounts a priority and watch your brand build momentum that could last a lifetime

Identifying Buyer Personas: What Customers Are You Targeting?

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

It isn’t uncommon for small business owners to shy away from defining their target market, believing their product or service appeals to everyone. Unfortunately, a poorly defined target market often causes a myriad of headaches—from poorly optimized content to wasted marketing dollars, misunderstanding your core audience can make a dramatic impact on your business’ success. One simple solution is to build a detailed buyer persona, which you can use to direct your marketing efforts.

What Exactly is a Buyer Persona?

Buyer personas are fictionalized representations of your ideal customers. Who is most likely to patronize your restaurant, purchase your beverage, or repeatedly visit your website? Perhaps “Bob” is your buyer persona, a retiree with a taste for the finer things in life. Do you run a family-friendly diner with a wide array of dishes that appeal to kids and adults alike? You may be catering to “Megan,” a busy soccer mom looking for options when she’s too tired to cook.

Of course, it’s not enough to simply give your fictionalized buyer a name. You want to understand what makes him or her tick. What are the needs of your customer? What are his or her hobbies, passions, and habits? The more closely you can define your buyer persona, the more effective this tool ultimately proves.

How to Use Your Buyer Persona

After carefully constructing your personas, you can think more intentionally about the best way to market and advertise your business. What magazines does “Megan” read, and what sort of topics interest “Bob” online? You can use this information to better target potential customers.

Buyer personas also prove useful when segmenting your market into various buckets. Retiree “Bob” may want to visit your restaurant with his wife for a romantic evening out while successful businesswoman “Sarah” needs a place to hold meetings with her clients. By segmenting your market into multiple personas, you can tailor your communications to fit the mold of your buyers. The ads, digital content, and interactions you direct towards each persona will vary based on the profile of the customer.

Research Makes Perfect

You may be familiar with the expression, “practice makes perfect,” but in marketing, research is the path to perfection. Don’t simply guess what your ideal customers are looking for—instead, work to tweak your personas by continually investing in market research.

This process doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Instead, listen to customer feedback and take the time to ask specific questions. Start conversations with your customers and ask specific questions to get a better understanding for the needs and wants of your buyer.

Buyer personas hold plenty of potential for businesses struggling to gain marketing traction. By carefully researching your market, defining target segments, and working to shape your initiatives to fit the needs of your personas, you’ll maximize earning potential and protect your bottom line. It may sound simple at first, but you’ll find yourself surprised at just how effective this fundamental marketing technique can be.

Everyone’s a Critic: How to Successfully Use Review Sites for Your Business

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Many marketers think of word-of-mouth advertising as the holy grail, and for one simple reason: it’s incredibly effective. In our digitally connected modern world, the humble online review is often seen as the equivalent of word-to-mouth advertising. Many buyers use these reviews to find local businesses to patronize and learn more about which to avoid. Don’t leave the impact of your customer reviews up to chance—instead, use a few simple steps to maximize the positive benefits of online reviews for your business.

Get Proactive: Respond to Every Review

If a customer approaches you in your business with a compliment, you’ll thank them warmly for their business. With a complaint, you’ll work to resolve the problem in an amicable way. Apply these same simple techniques to your reviewers online and you’ll be in good shape.

Most review sites allow business owners to respond to their client feedback. When someone shares positive feedback, thank them and explain that you can’t wait to see them again soon. Negative and unpleasant reviewers should also get a response. Be thoughtful and kind in your comments and when possible, invite the client to stop in again for a better experience. Most importantly, don’t let frustration or anger get the better of you.

Responding to reviews shows other customers that you’re engaged and committed to providing great customer service. It can even result in an unhappy customer rethinking his opinion. Either way, you’ve demonstrated your business’ approach to providing great customer service, which will leave a positive impression for others.

Build a Complete Profile

Of course, the reviews themselves are the main dish of sites like Yelp, but business owners also have a role to play beyond simple responses. Use review sites to highlight the key selling points of your business. Complete your business profile in the greatest detail possible, and upload a full gallery of images. Remember, when catering to a customer who doesn’t know your company or your product, you want to help fill in as many gaps as possible.

Encourage More Reviews

Many review sites have clauses that explicitly forbid soliciting reviews from your customers, but don’t let that stop you from publicizing your business’ presence on these sites. Consider adding a small review logo to your website footer and business cards, which will remind customers to share their feedback. You might also want to think about advertising with a review site. Many of these destinations allow businesses to offer special deals to clients who learn about them through a review.

Engaging with customers in a way that reflects positively on your business is nothing new. As the old adage goes, the customer is king. By treating a review site as a public forum for maintaining positive relationships with existing clients and resolving disputes, you can harness the power of these destinations for your business. Ultimately, building a review response strategy alongside your social media campaigns and traditional advertising initiatives can help supercharge your company’s marketing prowess and earn you more business.

Website Design – You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Customers make split-second judgments about your business every single day. From your branding and logo to the product you sell, your clients will use the information available to them to make a snap decision. While some things simply cannot be helped, your business website isn’t one of them. Rather than slapping something together on the cheap and calling it a done deal, it’s essential to approach your site’s development from a marketing point of view.

Ready to get started? Use the following tips to make a great first impression on your site visitors.

Exploring the Importance of UX

User experience, often shortened UX, is a key component of a successful website. UX encompasses a number of different elements, including your branding, marketing, and overall usability of the site. In most cases, partnering with a trusted web development firm is the smartest option for creating an appealing site that makes the right impression on your customers.

Remember, a poor site won’t merely cause frustration for your customers, but it could send them in droves to your competitors. A poorly designed site shows a lack of appropriate customer care and could convince would-be clients that you’re irrelevant or out of touch. Don’t play around with bad design—get things in order from the moment you purchase your domain.

Connecting On Mobile Devices

The mobile web has witnessed an incredible period of growth over the last decade, as consumers flock to smartphones and tablets to access the internet. Responsive website design plays an important role in ensuring every visitor receives the same positive browsing experience. If your site is only optimized for desktop users, you could be missing out on a huge segment of your target audience. An estimated 79% of smartphone users search for local businesses via their mobile devices, which should be more than convincing if you’re still in two minds about investing in responsive design.

Creating Cohesive Branding

Cohesive, consistent branding falls under the umbrella of Marketing 101, but a surprising number of small business owners ignore this key principle. Simple discrepancies in your color scheme, logos, and marketing materials could confuse your clients and cause them to lose trust in your brand. Treat your website as an extension of your marketing materials, and apply the same branding across your physical products, ads, and site. This builds credibility for your business and keeps your message on point.

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t leave your business’ success up to chance, but instead invest in the right tools to build a strong foundation for your company. A well-designed, thoughtful website serves as the first point of contact for reaching many of your customers. By investing the time and resources to ensure the site effectively converts, you’ll avoid lost sales and keep your company on the path to a healthy future.

Future of Search is Mobile: Is Your Site Ready?

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

If you hadn’t already noticed, a skyrocketing number of consumers use their smartphones and tablets to connect to the web. According to the Pew Research Center, If your site isn’t ready for a mobile audience, you’re missing out on a substantial portion of your target audience. Stop throwing away sales and begin learning how to use mobile trends to your advantage.

Reviewing the Growth of Mobile

Once upon a time, mobile web usage represented a tiny portion of overall web traffic. The astonishing growth of smartphone platforms over the past decade is largely responsible for the mobile internet boom. Google confirmed for the first time earlier this year that mobile search queries now outnumber desktop searches. A further 59% of searchers report using Google on their cell phone to find local businesses.

For marketers, the message is clear: mobile is here to stay. As smartphone manufacturers work furiously to create faster, more affordable devices, the number of consumers turning to the mobile web will continue to increase. This makes it imperative to invest in mobile website tools to protect the long-term returns of your business.

Preparing Your Site for Mobile Users

From a user experience (UX) point of view, it makes perfect sense to ensure your mobile customers can easily peruse your business site on their smartphones and tablets. The ramifications of neglecting mobile buyers extend far beyond a lost sale here and there, however. Google announced its intention to penalize sites that don’t use responsive design earlier this year. Dubbed “mobilegeddon,” this event marked an important turning point for marketers across the globe.

Fortunately, implementing a responsive design isn’t very challenging, particularly if you’re working with the right web design partner. If you haven’t already made the switch over, be sure to prioritize this development, as failure to do so will hurt your ranking in search results.

Maximizing Mobile Conversion Rates

Any effective website needs to convert visitors into buyers, but the rules are different when catering to the mobile customer. First and foremost, keep page bloat in check by eliminating extra content. A mobile visitor wants simplicity and a streamlined experience.

You also need a visible call-to-action for mobile readers. Encourage them to make a reservation at your restaurant or connect with your team on social media—don’t simply leave engagement in the user’s hands and hope for the best. Continually test new conversion techniques to perfect your sales funnel and keep your site performing optimally.

Attracting potential customers online is a complex formula that hinges on a number of different factors. By ensuring your site is responsive and following the best conversion practices, you’ll maximize the value of your mobile marketing dollars. This will in turn generate additional sales for your business and help you make a real impact on mobile consumers.

Marketing to Millennials : Understanding the Changing Rules

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

As the buying power of millennials grows, marketers have worked diligently to capture the attention of these consumers. The habits of these buyers differ to the patterns once observed in the generations before them, however, making it vitally important for small businesses to experiment with innovative advertising and marketing techniques. In the United States alone, millennials account for some 76.6 million individuals, making it imperative to focus on courting their pocketbooks.

The Power of Choice

Before the advent of the Internet, buyers were extremely limited in their options. Millennials have grown up surrounded by choices, however, with myriad brands and businesses competing for their attention. In the average millennial buyer, this has created an expectation of multiple price points and variations of the same products or services.

Shifting social pressures and unstable economic environments have further altered the traditional marketing model, as millennials pursue different paths in adulthood. Whereas baby boomers were marrying and having children in their early twenties, many millennials take things more slowly. Some of these buyers still live at home with their parents, while others are singletons pursuing high-level careers without the added responsibilities of domestic life. Catering to the various segments within the millennial population is a challenging equation.

Examining Wants & Desires

Marketers have always worked to address the wants and desires of buyers, often creating a perceived need even when one does not exist. In a report compiled by global insight firm CEB, businesses were found to be more successful with millennials when they embraced three key marketing strategies: understanding the audience’s values, realistically assessing the buyer’s spending power and lifestyle, and “involving” these consumers, as opposed to simply selling a product.

Real-world applications of these strategies are particularly evident in the hospitality industry, with restaurants working to cater to the millennial crowd. Millennials are more apt to spend time eating out with friends, as they’re not limited by spouses and young children. Furthermore, these buyers are on the hunt for a multitude of choices, as evidenced by the popularity of services like Yelp, which highlight a number of businesses operating in any given area. To answer this need, many chefs work on creating new menus at varying price points, which can help keep young buyers engaged with the brand.

Life will be changing rapidly for millennials in the years to come, as many of these young adults begin to settle down and establish families of their own. Marketing trends experts still believe millennials will be driven by a desire for plenty of options, however, and the core values of these buyers will likely remain constant. Because the nature of the millennial marketing game is evolving, it’s important for small businesses to carefully monitor the situation and not feel hesitant about trying various techniques to see what works best.

The Power of Testimonials: Harnessing the Opinions of the Crowd

September, 2015 · By Deborah Fiorentino

Establishing trust and credibility is no simple feat, but testimonials hold significant power over the modern consumer. Unlike marketing materials and advertising campaigns, testimonials reveal the opinions and experiences of real buyers. Numerous business sectors have recognized the undeniable sway of effective testimonials, including the hospitality industry and online retailers. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a multinational brand to maximize your selling potential online.

Rules of Useful Testimonials

For testimonials to have the desired effect on buyers, it’s important for businesses to respect the following simple rules:

● Honest Opinions: Testimonials shouldn’t be edited or filtered to avoid negative feedback. Consumers want to see the raw truth.
● Proof: Testimonials should be accompanied by a name and photo when possible. Even a simple username is better than a vague, “Satisfied Customer.”
● Real People: It goes without saying, but testimonials shouldn’t be fabricated. Not only is this unethical, but it’s also illegal in some instances.

Some of the world’s most powerful online marketplaces have truly mastered the art of testimonials, with notable examples including Amazon.com and the Priceline Group. For any product on these sites, you’ll see good reviews, bad reviews, and everything in-between.

How to Solicit Testimonials

The undeniable potential of a well-written testimonial makes them incredibly useful, but it can be hard to get customers to leave reviews and testimonials. Some businesses offer incentives to customers for sharing their opinions, with giveaways and promotional discounts. If you have a large email list or an active following on social media, this method may be your best bet.

If you’re an independent business owner with a relatively small customer base, consider direct contact with your clients. Reach out via phone or email and explain what you’re looking for. You may be surprised how many customers agree to participate. Depending on the product or service you sell, it may be useful to help guide your buyers with a questionnaire or survey.

Using Testimonials on Your Site

Once you’ve obtained testimonials, you should display them prominently throughout the pages of your website. Social proof is often one of the first things consumers look for when they visit an e-commerce or small business site, so don’t bury them on a “reviews” page. Instead, place small blurbs above the fold on your website. (Above the fold means visitors won’t need to scroll to see your testimonials) If you have a large number of testimonials, you can always link to a full reviews page under the blurbs.

Word-of-mouth advertising has long been a powerful tool for small businesses, and testimonials and reviews serve as a natural extension of this. By building testimonials into your site, you’ll help convince buyers to interact with your business. If possible, start gathering consumer opinions from the day you open your doors. This will help you build a large cache of reviews you can use to bolster the success of your business.