Webinar On-Demand: Influencer Marketing for Restaurants

Transcript and video recording from webinar about influencer marketing for restaurants with Belle Communication and Sam Oches, editor-in-chief at Nation’s Restaurant News.

Influencer Marketing for Restaurants: Ask Me Anything Webinar

Influencer Marketing for Restaurants: Ask Me Anything Webinar

In tandem with the release of NRN’s 2024 Power List, Belle hosted a virtual conversation with the publication’s editor-in-chief, Sam Oches. We discussed how 2024 is the year of marketing in food service and how social media influencers play a vital role in encouraging increased sales and foot traffic. Attendees submitted questions in advance (listed below) and we dove into sharing best practices, tips and tools to consider.

Poll responses from event participants:

Q: What’s going on right now in the restaurant industry? And why are influencers important?

Sam: Nation’s Restaurant News wanted to know the hot topic of the year, and it was very obvious to us that 2024 was the year of marketing. Of course, I’m sure everybody who’s listening to this knows why. Traffic is stagnant. 

Restaurant brands have to do anything they can to get their traffic turned around, and marketing, of course, is one of the strongest tools in your toolbox to do that. When we then dug a little deeper, influencer marketing was a big part of that strategy for most restaurant companies. 

When we started to peel this back a little bit and partnered with Kate and the team at Belle to look at some of these influencers, it really did blow me away. How truly powerful influencers are in the restaurant space today because of their ability to drive customers into restaurants to purchase the things that they’re learning about from their favorite influencers. 

So, the Power List came out a couple of weeks ago. We have 25 marketers and 25 influencers on this list. You’ll find all of the folks there and dig into what makes them, in our eyes, some of the most powerful marketers and influencers that are out there today.

Kate: Before we get into questions, let’s just talk about the lay of the land. What are we dealing with here? In regard to influencer spend, 67% of global marketers plan to increase their influencer marketing budgets. More than half of those are spending a significant portion of their marketing budgets, 25% on average, on influencers. 

And I found it quite striking when you look at the breakdown of how they’re spending this money by size. 33% are spending up to $250,000 a year, and then there’s this segment, about 20%, that are spending $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 on influencers.

I think this conversation is going to help you sell back to your team, your C-Suite, and those who you report to – the benefits and the opportunity that exists within influencer relations. 

And, Sam, I know you talked a little bit about this already, but the margins are tight in the food and restaurant space. We have inflation happening. We saw a lot of disruption in the stock market this week. Is there anything else you would add that you’re seeing in the industry that you would want to share with the group, as far as the conversations you’re having as editor-in-chief?

Sam: Yeah, absolutely. I mean – competition. There’s so much competition in the market today. Of course, in a post-pandemic climate, the market got a little screwy for a while there. We’re normalizing now, but one of the ways in which the market kinda got scrambled was an over-focus on off-premise channels. A lot of opportunities with delivery and carry out and a lot of new technologies. One of the byproducts of this was that many folks rushed into the space. Virtual brands were suddenly everywhere. Ghost kitchens have kind of faded out now, but they really increased competition. 

The other thing, too, when you talk about competition, is that supermarkets are competing with restaurants today because of how much prices have gone up at restaurants. Of course, prices are up across the board, but a lot of folks who are more budget-conscious are turning to supermarkets for their meals. And a lot of supermarkets have fresh food service today. So there’s just an increased competitive landscape out there.

Finally, technology is now mainstream. Digital ordering, third-party marketplaces – all of these tools have made it so that I, the customer, have a thousand options on my phone more-so than 5 years ago. 

So, it really comes down to capturing the attention of the customer. Communicating a value proposition, right? Because everybody’s raised prices, so how do you communicate value to your guests above all these other competitors? This leads us all to where we stand today – this rising above all the noise, capturing their attention, demonstrating value and how you do all of this through your marketing.

Q: How can we leverage influencers to drive tangible business outcomes like increased foot traffic or online orders?

Kate: The good news on the influencer relations front is that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from individuals, even if they don’t know those individuals personally, over brands (Nielsen’s Consumer Trust Index). So this should be a big alarm for you of where to focus.

I like to say it’s about perception, and perception is reality. So even if I don’t know this influencer I’m following, if I view them to be like myself, or aspirationally, who I want to be, I will buy whatever it is they are sharing. 

And so, as a result, influencer relations is very measurable. When it comes to ROI it’s about strategy – which I’ll talk about in a second. But we see that for every dollar invested in influencer relations, you get close to $6 back

When we think about “how can we leverage influencers to drive tangible business outcomes and foot traffic?” Remember influencers can meet other business goals, too. 

For example, the McDonalds of New England engaged influencers to promote their workplace. They had a day where influencers dressed in McDonald’s uniforms, and they were employees for the day. It was a really creative campaign, but they were able to drive tangible business outcomes, like 20,000 people visiting their hiring page.

When we talk about measurement, you have to start with the end in mind. You need strategy before the excitement of the tactics. Why are we doing this? And what’s key here is getting alignment with your C-suite and your key stakeholders. You need to understand how they view influencers because, more often than not, there’s education that has to happen to ensure that you are able to connect the dots in your strategy between what they want and view as the business goal to be achieved and what you can do with influencers. 

The good news is you can do just about anything you need to tie back to business goals with influencers. It’s about what your goals are. That’s where I encourage people to start – looking at outcomes. If you’re trying to create a campaign that’s around foot traffic, for example, that’s going to look very different than that talent recruitment campaign.

So just some ideas to get you thinking here. You could use influencers to…

  • Give an inside look at your brand values or culture and what makes you unique and special.
  • Offer discount codes and meal bundles.
  • Create custom collaborations and partnerships.
  • Shine light on ease, convenience or quality.
  • Host special events beyond just a grand opening. How about a tasting or a demo? 

The content they create with you, it can live on. Remember to leverage whatever influencer content you create throughout the entirety of your marketing channels. Don’t just do a campaign – you need to allowlist it. It needs to go through your paid, shared and owned channels. Get that full lifecycle from the influencer content.

Sam: This is a really good point to highlight – it doesn’t have to be sales. It doesn’t have to be traffic. It doesn’t have to be some of these very measurable goals. Of course, you should have a way to measure the return on your investment, but I love this. And, Kate, you were the first one to say this to me, that it could be your culture and your values. And of course there’s a lot of things today that restaurants are trying to solve for. Traffic’s a big one, sales likewise. But hiring, of course. Why not dive into the influencer space to improve your hiring and your retention?

One of the anecdotes I would give is from an interview with the chief marketing officer at Jack in the Box, Ryan Ostrom. He was on the Power List, and we had this great conversation about how they have tapped into influencers for their own marketing.

It’s so interesting because Jack in the Box is really kind of an extreme example here, but what they have to do constantly is make sure Jack in the Box is relevant. Relevancy is really core to their brand because, very similar to Taco Bell, they are very irreverent and quirky. They have that personality that they’re trying to maintain. And so influencers have helped them to really invest in who they are as a brand. And you know, talking about the authenticity of Jack in the Box, the influencers are helping them to communicate that. 

Their late-night business is great. They partner with celebrities like Snoop Dogg for a munchies, kind of ulterior vibe, and they have to invest in that and influencers help them do that. It’s harder to measure because the brand is so big. But I loved the example that he gave. They find those niche influencers who are, you know, maybe not the celebrity influencers, but they have audiences within certain communities. They’ve found a lot of success on Twitch with video gamers, too. They’re looking for partners who speak to those communities of folks who are really into the vibe of Jack in the Box, I guess you could say, and that’s very authentic to them.

Kate: I love that. I like the mention of Twitch, too. Again, it’s about “why are we doing this? Who are we speaking to?” So, just because influencer relations is a new tactic or newer tactic doesn’t mean we forgo how we do marketing. We want to remember the strategy and why. What are the objectives, and what do we hope to achieve?

Q: How do you measure the success of an influencer program that starts digitally (i.e. influencer’s social platforms) and ends with an in-person call to action (i.e. visiting a local store location)?

(Adjusted for brevity)

Kate: When evaluating the success of an influencer program, we need to consider ROI, which involves a blend of online and offline strategies. It’s essential to use tools that provide insights beyond simple metrics like purchases or foot traffic. Many times, the impact of influencer campaigns has a longer life cycle, so we must focus on aspects like brand consideration, interest and engagement metrics such as saves and shares. Utilizing promotion codes and tracking redemptions can also help measure effectiveness over time.

The case of Solo Stove and Snoop Dogg serves as a lesson in the importance of strategic alignment and buy-in from all stakeholders, including the C-suite. Integration with the sales team and the use of social listening tools to monitor brand sentiment and mentions are crucial aspects of measuring success.

At Belle, we have a comprehensive set of 50 measurement points that assess sentiment and share of voice across various marketing channels, including influencer campaigns. It’s crucial to weave these metrics into overall marketing strategies.

Abby: Influencer marketing is a versatile tactic that can impact every stage of the marketing funnel. As shown in the visual of the full funnel impact and reporting, influencers can help move consumers from awareness to conversion. Recognizing the need for multiple touchpoints in driving action is essential for effective influencer campaigns.

Kate: Understanding our target markets’ behaviors, preferences, and interests, as well as staying informed about trends, allows for synergy in influencer relations. By aligning influencer strategies with audience insights and market trends, we can maximize the impact of influencer campaigns.

Q: How do you determine and/or find the right influencer?

(Adjusted for brevity)

Abby: To start, it’s crucial to collaborate with creators who share your brand values and resonate with your target audience. This means taking a step back to define your brand’s voice, personality, and values.

Jack in the Box serves as a great example—they had a clear understanding of their identity and target market, which allowed them to find suitable partners. Understanding your target audience and what matters to them is key. It’s not always about partnering with the most popular influencer; it’s about finding someone who genuinely supports your brand.

We recommend creating a brand-specific criteria list, including factors like the influencer’s niche, demographics and location, as well as information about their followers. When vetting potential partners, ask for audience breakdowns to ensure alignment.

It’s also important to identify which performance metrics are most relevant to your campaign goals. For awareness-focused campaigns, factors like follower count and reach may be important, while lower funnel goals may require high engagement rates and genuine audience interaction.

Utilize tools like Rival IQ’s social media benchmark reports to set benchmarks for influencer engagement rates. Don’t limit yourself to traditional foodie influencers; consider partnerships with individuals outside your industry who can still reach your target audience effectively. Explore platforms beyond Instagram and TikTok, such as Yelp or local celebrity endorsements.

Kate: It’s essential to look beyond the food service industry for inspiration. For example, consider athlete partnerships with car sales or collaborations with influential figures in other industries, including B2B.

Sam: Additionally, many influencers may already be fans of your brand. Restaurants are so mainstream. This was something that Ryan of Jack in the Box pointed out. Jack in the Box, of course, has the luxury of being a big brand, but he said they only partner with authentic fans. I bet if you looked you would find influencers out there who are already posting about your restaurant. In that case, half the battle of ensuring content is creative and unique while remaining on-brand is done because they’re going to very authentically share about your concept.

Abby: Social listening and engaging with brand fans can lay the groundwork for future influencer campaigns. Even if you’re not ready to launch a campaign immediately, building goodwill online through social engagement is valuable.

Lastly, when selecting influencer partners, consider Belle’s “4 Rs” framework:

Using this checklist ensures that influencer partnerships are authentic and aligned with your brand values.

Q: How do you determine the right mix of the size of influencers, particularly when on a tight budget?

(Adjusted for brevity)

Abby: Budgets are tight this year, especially within the food service industry, so this question is incredibly relevant. The ideal mix and size of influencers depend on your specific goals.

Nano and micro-influencers, with up to 100,000 followers, often have highly engaged niche audiences and can be cost-effective for driving lower funnel goals like local foot traffic or limited-time offer (LTO) sales. Smaller influencers are deeply connected to their communities, passionate about their content and followers and produce valuable and resonant content. They understand their audience’s preferences and can drive action effectively.

Macro influencers, with over 100,000 followers, can help expand brand awareness and reach, but they may be more suitable for national initiatives with larger budgets. Due to their cost-effectiveness, nano and micro-influencers are excellent options for regional restaurants and franchises. However, it’s advisable to work with multiple partners to maximize impact when collaborating with smaller influencers.

The exact number of partners varies depending on the campaign’s scale and objectives. While there’s no magic answer, industry benchmarks suggest that around 60% of brands work with at least 10 influencers for their campaigns. For those new to influencer marketing, starting small and gradually expanding based on data insights is recommended.

Kate: It’s beneficial to involve an agency to develop a strategy and framework for influencer marketing. Vetting influencers, negotiating contracts, managing content, and providing edits can be time-consuming. Having expertise in the influencer space can streamline the process and ensure effective campaign execution.

Our experts also dug into the following questions:

  1. What are the best practices for working with smaller influencers who have your target demo, but are not quite professional yet?
  2. How do you handle scripting? It feels like a fine line between getting info out and allowing for creativity. 
  3. What are the best tools available for finding, vetting, running engagement rates, and what other tools can be helpful for contracting and negotiating with influencers?
  4. How do you evolve or grow an influencer program beyond time-sensitive menu rollouts to include ongoing brand ambassadors?
  5. How do you determine what is fair regarding trade/payment to both the influencer and the brand?
  6. What types of influencer partnerships work best for restaurants?
  7. How does a brand navigate utilizing fun and viral trends to capture Gen Z’s attention while still remaining professional and consistent with branding?

Get the answers to these by checking out our full recording.

Belle Communication

Belle Communication is a woman-owned and led, nationally awarded and top-ranked digital PR agency that helps brands think bigger for now + next. The firm serves the CPG, retail, restaurant, tourism and B2B industries, and has partnered with more than 100 brands including Dearfoams, Nestlé, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Nationwide Insurance.