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Q&A: Ruby Tuesday woos young moms via mobile and social

Casual dining chain Ruby Tuesday is on a mission to win back young mothers and families after an earlier repositioning to take the chain upscale drove them away, with mobile playing a significant role in the new strategy.  

Like many other restaurant chains, Ruby Tuesday is adjusting to the important role that mobile is playing in consumers? lives. So far, the mobile push has mostly been confined to advertising, but a variety of commerce and in-venue tactics are being reviewed. 

Prior to the fall of 2015, Ruby Tuesday had not made much of an effort to embrace mobile marketing. However, recognizing that young mothers are deeply engaged with their devices to help them manage their hectic lives and stay in touch, all of the chain?s ad creative is now executed with a mobile-first approach. 

To help get the new marketing strategy off the ground, Ruby Tuesday hired Dave Skena eight months ago to be its chief marketing officer. Mr. Skena comes from a consumer packaged goods background, where mobile has already been a focus for several years. 

In interview with Mobile Marketer, Mr. Skena discusses the differences between mobile marketing in the restaurant and CPG sectors and why social is the dominant part of its spend. 

Which mobile tactics are resonating best with Ruby Tuesday?s customers? 
We do a lot of geo-targeting, such as with Facebook?s dynamic Local Awareness ads. We think we are quite effective at telling people, you are only 1 mile away from happy hour at Ruby Tuesday or from a Colossal Burger. 

We try to make the most of the devices in their pockets. What is key is for us to be consistently learning as there are so many ways to execute on mobile right now.

Dynamic Local Awareness ads work well. We tend to see more engagement with those ads. To the extent we can, we think we see a little bit more traffic to our restaurants, but this is still tough to do. 

Timely prompts also work well. For happy hour, we are hitting people on their devices at that time. Or, on Tuesdays, when kids eat free. Serving up these messages at specific times of day that are relevant has been helpful. 

What is not working on mobile? 
Serving up ads based on age and gender did not worked. We really didn?t get any differential performance. Part of it is our industry. For us, we have a broad menu and trying to skim it that thin didn?t work as well. We didn?t see the kind of lift that would justify the cost. 

What is the biggest difference between advertising on mobile for CPG brands versus a restaurant? 
The weather. In CPG, the buying cycle tends to pretty well defined. People are going to go the grocery story some time that week. If there is a blizzard, they may miss a few days. What is a challenge in the restaurant industry is, if you have a targeted media buy, and you push it out at a time when it is horrible weather, there is no immediate response and the opportunity is probably lost. 

There is a sense of immediacy in mobile for restaurants. It can drive a trip very quickly, something that doesn?t happen in CPG. If you have a snowstorm, it is not like with toothpaste and someone will pick it up on Monday. That night is just gone. 

Mobile is most useful in the restaurant space in driving near-term action. 

How is Ruby Tuesday allocating its digital marketing budget? 
Social is the dominant part of our spend right now, and it is served up on mobile most of the time. We also do search engine optimization. Paid search is significant but nearly as big a part of what we are after as on social.

We are making everything we do much more mobile friendly from emails to how we do couponing. We are making sure that those are done in a way that works well on mobile, which is really important for our guests. For women 25 to 40 years old and families, that?s how they are interacting with the world. 

What is the biggest challenge on mobile? 
Once you recognize that the world has shifted and you are making sure you are in a mobile friendly company ? that has happened at Ruby Tuesday ? there is a technology aspect. This requires an investment beyond just people caring about it. It takes time, effort and money. When you rack and stack those investments versus other investments, that is where the real hard decision-making happens. It is about betting on a long-term payback from mobile versus a short-term lift. We have a lot more to do on mobile and have to make it a priority.  

Is Ruby Tuesday exploring mobile for commerce and in-venue opportunities?
We are looking at all those things and trying to determine which make the most sense for us. There is nothing that we haven?t been thinking hard about, but we don?t have initiatives launched yet. 

We had some work to do with mobile ordering on the go, to get that in place on our Web site. It wasn?t 6 months ago. Now it is. There is a still a lot of work to do to get it as simple as possible, so the last five orders come up, you tap on what you want and check out. 

In terms of interfacing with our customers when they are in a restaurant, we have to make sure the technical infrastructure is up to speed, that Wi-Fi is in place so they can use devices in our restaurants. 

How has Ruby Tuesday?s brand positioning evolved? 
There was a repositioning in 2008 to take the company more upscale. Over time, there were a lower proportion of families who felt like it was a place for them. Beginning in 2013, there was the realization that young families are not visiting as frequently as the company wanted. Some things were changed back and new mobile strategies were explored. 

How do we make this a brand that is about simple, clean, fresh American dining that is casual and approachable? And one where women want to be. We already have one of the best salad bars anywhere and we are testing a new salad bar with over 70 items. The product we have to sell is pretty strong. We just need to get the word out and get her back in the restaurant a couple of times.