There’s no denying that loyalty programs drive regulars through your door. Customer engagement platform Thanx states, "If a consumer is loyal to your business, he or she will spend an average of 66% more than customers who aren’t loyal.” Additionally, “55% of loyal customers recommend your business to family and friends, and 12% will publicly defend your company on social media.” There’s clearly a lot to be gained from brand loyalty.
For years now, a major marketing method of driving brand loyalty has been through implementing loyalty programs—often referred to as “points cards” or “rewards.” Restaurant management platform Toast reports that in 2015, the average U.S. household had an average of 29 different loyalty memberships spread across all kinds of business sectors. And those numbers have only increased since then.
That same report, however, also explains that 59% of those same programs remain inactive.
This data suggests that when they work, they work well, but simply having a loyalty program in place isn’t always enough to incentivize its use. Brand loyalty is about much more than a points/reward system; today, it’s about offering your customers an experience that is memorable, exciting, and valuable. It starts with the guest experience, from the very first moment a person steps foot in your door and continues well after they’ve left, especially now that it’s easier than ever to stay in contact with them through email and social media.
Insights into your target demographic and the willingness to adjust to their desires will clear a path to creating regulars at your bar or restaurant. Personalization is a key step on that path, which creates a guest experience that doesn’t just meet their expectations, it exceeds them.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these different areas and explore ways to drive brand loyalty beyond a rewards program.
Brand Loyalty > Repeat Business
Firstly, when we talk about a loyal customer, we’re not just talking about repeat business. While a repeat customer may drop in from time to time and very much enjoy themselves, a loyal customer shares a connection with your business and is likely to become a brand advocate (if they’re not one already). Whitney Larson, President of the POS company Vemos, pointed this out in a conference at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show.
“A repeat customer is likely to stray from your business if something goes wrong,” Larson explains, “but loyalists stick with you through thick and thin.” She expanded on the following advantageous benefits of creating brand loyalists:
- Advocacy — the enthusiasm to share their experiences at your bar or restaurant with friends and family.
- Endurance — the willingness to endure price increases and changes in service and style.
- Excitement — the interest in and enthusiasm about trying new offerings and reporting back about their experience.
- Patience — the endurance and understanding when a mistake occurs in a service or product.
Larson identifies brand loyalty as “the result of positive customer experience and the value of the products and service.” Enhancing your guest experience directly relates to the value Larson mentions here. To do this, you’ll have to identify your core demographic, but more importantly, you’ll have to understand them.
Know Your Niche and Personalize the Experience
A jack of all trades is a master of none, as they say. Trying to please everybody, especially in the service industry, is incredibly difficult and often a task not worth undertaking. If the goal is to create loyal guests, then your guests need to feel catered to in specific ways that suit their preferences. They’re going to share your brand experience with other like-minded people if they find something unique about what you offer.
This uniqueness can be delivered at many different points of the experience. As restaurateurs, it’s all too easy to jump to the conclusion that the great food and specialty cocktails are what makes your place different. And while that’s definitely an important piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t end there. You could have the best burger in town, but if your dining room is dirty, the music volume in the restaurant is irritating, or the staff is unapproachable, it just won’t matter.
However, an ideal guest experience goes beyond a clean venue and friendly staff—those things are just expected these days. What you need to aim for is exceeding those expectations. The dining room isn’t just clean, it’s been meticulously crafted to create a unique ambiance. The staff isn’t just friendly, they go above and beyond, personalizing the guest experience each step of the way.
Personalization is a modern, detail-oriented approach to branding and enhancing your venue’s guest experience. Maybe you’ve decided to begin marketing to millennials—that’s a great start! Personalization, however, focuses much more into the individuals within your target market. It’s a highly intimate understanding of who’s coming through your doors.
Find out everything you can about your guests and use that information to make them feel more welcome. Learn and use their names, know what their “usual” drink is, and play the music they like. These are all good examples of personalization. For a more detailed look into this topic, read: “Personalizing the Guest Experience in Casual-Dining Restaurants.”
Nail Down the Vibe and Exceed Expectations
You should have a clear idea of what the guest experience feels like at your restaurant or bar. Again, your food and drinks are great, but how much attention have you placed on the other key factors of sensory marketing? How comfortable is the space? What do your guests hear as they’re walking in? What are they seeing on your TV screens? If questions like those aren’t answered—or not answered to your satisfaction—it’s time to focus on the details.
When someone goes out, they have subconscious expectations: The food will be good, the drinks will be plentiful, and they’ll be able to have conversations with others—that’s the good kind of regular expectations. They probably also expect some random music playing and TV screens showing a sports channel of some kind that they’ll passively glance at now and then—those are the more subconscious details that aren’t really on the top of their minds, but they exist nonetheless.
Break away from “everyday” expectations and differentiate the experience you offer. Even a seemingly small upgrade to the sights and sounds in your atmosphere can set you apart from the rest. That is what it means when we talk about exceeding guests’ expectations.
As far as your TVs are concerned, Control Play offers an easy and effective solution that goes beyond the norm—custom playlists and music videos. Our team of professional Music Mixologists work exclusively with bar and restaurant owners to provide playlists that suit specific atmospheres at specific times. And with the HD music videos to match the sound, people won’t come in seeing the same thing they see everywhere else.
I’ll move on from the shameless plug now. There’s one more important factor when it comes to developing brand loyalty in guests: the follow-up.
Brand Engagement and Extending the Experience
Guests become loyalists when they ruminate over your brand beyond their dining experience. With technology so abundant today, it’s easier than ever to engage with guests online. “Brand engagement” on this level is what 62% of millennials say make them more loyal to a particular business, according to findings in Whitney Larson’s presentation mentioned earlier.
You’ll want to spend some time developing a social media strategy that focuses on engagement, if you don’t already have one in place. People crave human interaction, not interactions with faceless brands, so be as genuine and human as possible online.
Social media is also a great place to humanize your brand in general. Show the faces that operate behind the scenes—your staff having fun and enjoying their work, for example—and showcase any charities or causes you believe in. These are humanizing methods of implementing an effective social media strategy focused on increasing brand loyalty.
On top of that, you may consider asking guests for their email so you can send them a quick follow-up after they’ve left. This is a great way to develop relationships with guests and fix anything that may have gone wrong during their visit.
If something did happen to go awry, people are a lot more understanding when the problem is acknowledged, and steps are taken to fix it. And simply thanking someone for taking the time to visit goes a long way in fostering brand/customer relationships.
Brand loyalty isn’t guaranteed with the implementation of a rewards program alone. It takes time and effort to drive guests towards that program, but it is well worth it.
By focusing on what your demographic is seeking out from your business, you’re more informed and flexible enough to personalize and differentiate the guest experience at your restaurant or bar. Offering something more than the everyday experiences of your competitors exceeds your guests’ expectations, and gives you the edge required for customers to develop a bond with your brand.
Extending that relationship beyond the dining experience and nurturing it on social media and through email humanizes your brand and cements it further in people’s minds.
Posted by Kevin Avram
Kevin Avram is a marketing communications specialist, creative writer, and is passionate about helping businesses grow to their fullest potential.