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'Like' my page, but don't forget to love my food

Recently owners of a small time fast-food joint filed for bankruptcy. The fast food joint did not have a dedicated FB page. The petition was declined by the magistrate who commented, "One who never existed can never die!" As the word goes, either you exist on FB or you don't exist at all.

With the ever rising popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and My Space, the virtual taste of food is certainly on an upscale. I was reading an article on the invasion of social media in the fast food industry and was amazed to find that almost all known / little known restaurants and fast food chains in US today have a dedicated facebook page which is full of apps and trigger points for drawing customer attention.  An interesting example was of a restaurant called Lenny's sub shop which launched a campaign offering free half pound sub to every new and existing facebook fan for a week and tripled their fan base in 3 days. Meanwhile, it has to be seen if this fan base is converted in footfalls.

Social media sure facilitates a more advanced and far reaching awareness of the brand and is a cheaper and easier tool these days to gain publicity. Let's list down the various advantages of having presence in social media sites:

·         Increased brand awareness

·         Reviews and feedback on regular basis

·         Innovative ideas at times suggested by consumers themselves

·         Easy place holder for promotions and campaigns

As they say, "All that flutters are not eagle wings" we don't know if the presence on social networking sites is quite the winning stroke.

Imagine a scenario where a small fast food chain named "Beans n Dough" develops a dedicated page on FB. The average footfall on weekdays is 500 and on weekends is 1500. It designs a campaign to attract new customers, increase popularity and improve sales. The FB page has a food puzzle game, solving which the user is entitled to a complimentary coffee on a minimum bill of $10.  The puzzle game is a major hit and has everyone on FB going gaga about it. Suddenly it has a fan base of 15000 over a period of a week and has thousands of 'likes' and innumerable 'shares'. One of the user releases the crack of the puzzle and as a result everyone who visits cracks it. The following week there is a sudden surge of customers. The promo team has done its job. Now the store faces the tricky part. The weekday footfall has surged to 1500 and the weekend rush has reached a dizzying 5000. The store doesn't have the capacity to handle such numbers and the customer service starts to get affected. The workflow is not followed to satiate the numbers and the product quality deteriorates. To fulfill the rise in demand, the store has to order raw material at ad-hoc quantities and at non-economical prices. The whiplash effect of the sudden rise in demand sends shockwaves backwards and the buying department orders large stocks of raw material for the following weeks. At the store, customers aren't happy. The existing loyal customers switch on to other fast-food joints to stay away from queues and the new customers don't bother to visit twice owing to the sub-standard product and the service. What started as a superb marketing campaign proved to be a perfect recipe for disaster for the fast food joint.   

What could be the repercussion of such a situation on the fast food chain?  Negative publicity, customer's criticism, blasphemy. What initially sounded a cool marketing strategy, ended up creating a negative impact on sales and brand image.

Since the nature of food industry is such that there is a need of constant marketing / publicity of products to entice the customers with something new, social networking sites serves as the perfect platform for it. Put some cool aaps on your page, let the customer explore what you have to offer through games and contests, gain word of mouth by expanding your fan base and you sure can do a lot of marketing and that too at a price which you would be too foolish to ignore.

But is this publicity translating directly into increased sales or new customers? What the seller should not forget is that campaigning through social media can fetch one time sale or may be a few more times but an elevation in the number of loyal customers can only be achieved of the rest of the P's of marketing are not ignored.

Unless the promotions are supported by solid pillars of product, price and place - and this holds very true in case of fast food industry - the hype of social media will not last long.

Lets take the example of the big players like McDonalds, Sub way etc.

When they promote the product on a face book page, the user is also made sure of the fact that the product will be fresh and of good quality, it will be easily available and the price will be affordable. The item is absolutely fresh, the supply chain and logistics are completely supporting the warehouse - store business and pricing is sensitive to the average customer's pocket.

Any fast food player, when plans to venture into a new media platform, should make sure to get answers to the following questions:

·         Does increasing fan base translate to increase sales?

·         Do the fast food chains make permanent customers via this media?

·         How long lasting is the effect of every campaign launched?

·         Does liking the FB page actually yield in liking the food?

·         Is it just the freebies which attract customers?

Marketing through social media surely has a lot of advantages these days, given the kind of penetration it has amongst the consumers. But a player has to carefully play his cards to ensure that the visibility it attains through campaigning fetches more and permanent customers instead of shoving them away.

Going back to the stated illustration on "Beans n Dough", can we have ways to control how a viral promotion is limited like a nuclear reaction to harness its unlimited energy to good use? Your suggestions are welcome to be a part of the next blog in this series.

Co authors: Sneha Tarang ( &

                     Harshad Deshpande  (


Well written..
Thinking of another aspect here.. trending.. 10-15 years back, if you don't have a website, you don't exist, now it's facebook, couple of years down the lane, it'll be andriod apps.. if you don't have one for your store, you are non-existent..

Change is inevitable and so are changing trends..

'Beans n Dough' could have handled this better. It was obvious that they did not foresee how many people may win the puzzle (by cheating or by fair means)

They could have limited the offer to a few, say, the first 100 people who crack the puzzle. The puzzle in their FB page could have a live count on the number of people who solved the puzzle so far. The winners could then take a printout of the coupon and can avail the free coffee.

To keep the interest sustaining with their target audience, they can come up with a new puzzle everyweek.

It would be interesting to know how can export companies (For eg: Garments, Fabrics etc) leverage social networking sites advantage. They do not have a concept like footfalls etc and hence work on a totally different business model.

My two pence on this issue –
1. The goal/outcome of any promotion is two-fold – to cause that one big spike in sales, and secondly, to hope that the additional footfalls on the promo day or the redemption period will lead to higher number of footfalls in the future. For example, when we opened a Reliance Fresh store in Bangalore at Bull Temple Road in Bangalore, it was close to two already-running stores, and on a main road with a lot of competition, too much traffic and limited parking. So, the challenge in the initial days was to get the customers to come to the store, in the first place, forget shopping or buying. So, we ran a tear-away coupon on one weekend, where we said that anyone walking in with the coupon would get a flat Rs 25/- off on their bill (minimum purchase of Rs 100/-). This was a cool 25% off for the customer, making it a very attractive promo (of course, it was a loss making proposition for the retailer). Now, that particular weekend, people flocked to the store with the tear-away coupon, and our average weekend footfalls doubled. We then continued this promo for 4 more weekends, and subsequently ran it for a few more months only on the first weekend of the month (targeting the monthly buying cycle), and we saw the footfalls go up steadily. Not only did the weekend footfalls increase substantially, but the subsequent weekday footfalls also increased. Why ? Simply because, we had unconsciously inculcated the habit of shopping at our store in our customers. So, while the weekend footfalls doubled, the residual effect was that out weekday footfall increased 10-15% every week. Some people came expecting a new promo on weekday, some came out of curiosity, some came because the liked the look-and-feel of our store, and some because they genuinely liked our prices. So, in short run, the promo lost money, but in the long run, it made the store profitable (and drove two competitors out of business)
2. Of course, I agree that a good promo should be followed up by equally good customer service at the front-end. But, a dip in service levels is still acceptable. Think about it – when we go to an end-of-season sale or even on Black Friday sales, or post-Christmas sales in the west, the service levels are not expected to be top-class. People flock and fight because the prices are so attractive and are willing to wait hours to be served. This does NOT make sense in a food service scenario, because when u are hungry, you won’t wait for more than 20-30 minutes for your food, however compelling the price proposition is.
3. I agree with Devashish on the ways of making the same facebook promo work - redemption during fixed times during the day (akin to happy hours in pubs), or doing date specific promo events. One more way of making the social media promo work is to limit it to first 100 customers, and publish the list of redemptions on the facebook site. IMHO, this will generate an urgency to redeem the coupon instead of waiting for a weekend or a time when you feel like eating that cuisine. Since this promo will be facebook driven, it will be easy to keep track of who redeemed it last time, and restrict them from redeeming it the next time you run the same promo. This way, more people get the benefit, service levels are under your control, and the analyzing the redemption data will give you some great insights on the kind of demographic that is using your promo. Over a period of time, the stickiness of some of the coupon-redeemers will increase, and so will sales.

So effectively what I am trying to say is that, in classic marketing sense, the promo cannot just be standalone and has to have a larger business goal – increase sales, increase awareness, increase loyalty of existing customers, etc. Just a simple “food puzzle game, with complimentary coffee” may get you eyeballs, but will remain a flash in the pan. In the "Beans n Dough” example, if the business purpose was to increase awareness of its brand, and its menu, then the food puzzle game achieved it successfully. But, with the fall in customer service, did it achieve customer stickiness ? Maybe not, but then maybe that was not the original purpose anyways.

Agree with Prashant on the example...classic case of how promos are the crux of marketing strategies especially in the competitive world of food. But yes, does this hold true in case of social marketing as well where you have to set an upper limit on your promotional offer is a question. In fast food world, where JIT is the mode of supply chain considerin the kind of products are there on the shelf, promotions sure have to be done with an upper cap and should aim more at gaining attention through ways which dont hit the player under the belt. Lets see in the next blog ways in which this could be possible.

Social networking sites are a part of a long tail of the business value chain where accessibility to the masses is critical. It is also a double edged sword as the same platform can be used to criticise the quality of the service/product. Companies can use it as a starting point to improve the 'foot falls' but the real parameter to be watched is the 'Repeat Business' which would come only when the delivery is at par with the promise.

Good post,Sneha and Harshad.

Well, the "Beans n Dough" case is a classic example of failing to plan ahead of time. Especially in the QSR-F&B Sector or Retail, which move very fast, one needs to be prepared for the results of a successful marketing campaign, whether Online or Offline.

Coming to the point of the growth of Social Media as a marketing medium. Well, its all looking up as of now. Businesses, especially in the B2C sector are lapping up social media platforms like never before. But I think, somewhere down the line,it still follows the basics of conventional marketing or advertising. Let me break down the question with respect to the F&B sector(basics same for all sectors): How do you find out the exact number of people who have come to your restaurant after being influenced by a Social Media Campaign on your Social Property like FB. You cannot, right. Because it might have started on FB but spread by Word-of-Mouth. So, Contrary to popular belief that since so many analytics are available for Social Platforms, measuring your campaign becomes easy. Well, to an extent, yes. But what we see on the ground is quite different from what the analytics tell you, especially in high customer-intensive industries. Hopefully we get to a point in analytics where the margin of difference of your on-ground situation vis-a-vis social analytics reduces. That's when you will be able to gather BI from Social Media.

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