Digging into the data: putting social clustering at the heart of casual dining

2018 has proved to be a tough year for many industries, with tales of store closures, layoffs and once titanic enterprises entering administration. This is true not least for the casual dining industry, which only several years ago was thriving in a period of boom.

However, the appearance of a whole host of new competitors in an already highly saturated market, combined with higher rents for restaurants and the tightening of belts on the part of the consumer, has meant that recently, many of the well-known brands are struggling, forced to close outlets and reduce staff. With so many fierce competitors, what are the solutions to staying ahead and differentiating yourself in such a competitive market?

Fixing the problem

A recent Marketing Week article delved into the plight of the casual dining industry, examining the fundamental reasons why so many are struggling and, with insight from those in the industry, identified a variety of solutions. Summarised, these solutions can be laid out in 4 major points:

  1. Know and understand your customer, as well as your brand, and use both to make sure you have a clearly defined proposition, which can deliver a clear message about who you are.
  2. Focus on the quality of the experience that the customer will get, not just on the meal.
  3. Personalise the experience and the ways in which you communicate with individual customers.
  4. Innovation is key.

This is where social data comes in, or, to be more precise, Starcount’s unique method of ‘social clustering’ – analysing the passions and likes of social media users and clustering them together into different segments based on similar passions, using our pioneering platform, The Observatory (this method is different to, and much more effective than ‘social listening – if you would like to understand more about the differences and why social clustering works better, read our guide here).

Solution One – Knowing the customer and defining the proposition

Unlike other data sets, social data (when used in social clustering) can provide a much clearer image of who a particular customer is, what they are passionate about and what motivates them in life. It allows you to understand who your consumer is and, more importantly, what they will be looking for in your brand. The resulting insight helps you to tailor your brand identity and message to one that will resonate best with your most loyal customers. Solution one done.

As a practical example, we used The Observatory to analyse the audiences of several Italian-style casual dining chains, with the aim of using an example from each to demonstrate how to propel each of these solutions forward.

To implement solution one, we’ll look at the audience of Zizzi. The data shows that while this audience is passionate about Food, they are also passionate about saving money and Fast Food & Treats. For Zizzi, this should signify that as much as their customers are there to enjoy the food, they are also attracted by the lower prices and the speed at which they can have a meal, insight that should be reflected in Zizzi’s core proposition.

Solution Two – The quality of the experience

By understanding who your customer is and what they are passionate about, you can tailor the experience that they will have in your restaurant to suit them, and this applies to more than the food. It allows your brand identity to flourish in physical form, with everything from the staff to the wall paint, in a way that will, again, resonate with your customers.

For this example, we can look at the audience of Jamie’s Italian. Here, we can see that their top passions, interests and media titles all reflect cooking. This could mean introducing a more interactive experience into dining at Jamie’s, offering more insight into the kitchen, more interaction with the chefs, cooking classes before a meal or even a different layout to the restaurant, all of which could reflect this major interest.

Solution three – Personalising the communications

In very much the same way as with solution two, this social insight can be used to personalise the way you talk with different customers, making sure all communications and offers are relevant to them. By segmenting people based on their passions, you can make sure that everything from the tone you set, to the channel you use is tailored in a way that works best for a specific group of people.

If we look at the audience for Carluccio’s, we can see that there are people who go to this restaurant for different reasons. As with Jamie’s there are some who are passionate about Cooking, whilst others are more passionate about Holidays and Travel. Using these segments, you could tailor any communications with individuals from each segment with a theme that reflects this passion. Going one step further, this could be extended to partnering with top brands from each passion and offering loyalty rewards or coupons to use with those brands, based on how often you are eating at Carluccio’s.

Solution Four – Innovation is key

Innovation is crucial, because without it, you will allow yourself to become obsolete. Data can play a role here too. It is these passions that can allow you to invent and style different and new foods, to revitalise a menu or a specific method of doing something in the restaurant, always letting the social data channel the innovation so that you are guaranteed for it to resonate with your customers, because it is based explicitly on them.

For this example, we can examine the audience of Prezzo. The top passion here is Fast Food and Treats and the top brands for this audience within that passion are Hotel Chocolat and Krispy Kreme. One idea for Prezzo, could be finding a way to incorporate similar styles of food to these brands into the menu.

Of course, these four solutions are broad and there may be other factors at play as well, but they help to illustrate what some of the major issues are, not just in casual dining, but in industries across the board. The practical examples help to underline how social data, and more importantly, social clustering, is revolutionising the way we go about resolving these issues, allowing us the opportunity to really put the customer at the heart of a business.

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