With social influencers stirring a number of industries, including the cutthroat restaurant space, Abuelo's Mexican Restaurant has tapped foodie bloggers to spread the word about fresh menu items and its expansion into new markets. The chain, which numbers 36 locations across the Southwest and Southeast, relies on these creators to introduce its made-from-scratch cuisine to younger consumers and cater to varying markets by highlighting unique local fare.
According to Abuelo's CMO Renae Scott, local foodies are doing their part to build strong brand awareness in saturated markets, along with driving more foot traffic to the restaurants. In particular, influencer marketing is key for helping the chain drive awareness among an increasingly important target audience: Generation Z. In just a few short years, those born between 1995 and 2010 will make up almost half of all consumers. This age demographic has never experienced life without technology, mobile phones and social media, which could be why they often look to social influencers when deciding what to buy or where to eat.
"Gen Z is highly motivated by the digital world," Scott told Mobile Marketer. "Anything from online reviews, to influencer posts and Snapchat promos. They want brands to provide them with a unique experience that they can then share with their peers. They care more about the authenticity and personalization of brands more than anything."
Mobile Marketer recently spoke with Scott to learn more about how Abuelo's has tapped into the social influencer movement, and why other restaurants could benefit by harnessing social media to gain Gen Z dollars.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
MOBILE MARKETER: How important is social media as a marketing channel for reaching your core customers?
RENAE SCOTT: When we're promoting limited-time-only menu items or food deals, social media channels help us reach our core customers. For example, we see a lot of success with special offers individuals can claim on Facebook, which not only engages our online community, but helps drive foot traffic into the stores. Our Facebook brand page has 62,194 followers. In the past two years we've grown our social presence significantly and have gained more than 5,000 new followers on Facebook in 2018 alone.
When did you start using social media influencers and what early challenges have you faced?
SCOTT: We started tapping into the influencer market about two years ago when we opened our Katy, Texas, location. A lot of the influencer marketing that we do is geared toward Instagram and Facebook users, more so because "foodie" influencers are able to share their experiences through visuals rather than a short tweet. It can take a lot of time to monitor individual pages and research the best influencers to target. However, the rewards fully outweigh the challenges. We've worked with some amazing people who have not only posted about their experiences at Abuelo's, but continue to be brand advocates to their followers. If they have a great experience and love the food, they continue to share their recommendations and also become a loyal customer.
What is the opportunity with influencer marketing when it comes to connecting with Gen Z?
SCOTT: When reaching Gen Z, which will soon become the largest consumer spending group, restaurants can get more creative when it comes to leveraging channels like Instagram. They should explore ways to partner with social media foodie influencers to more authentically increase brand awareness and resonate with Gen Z.
We have many social media influencers that dine with us and blog about their experience on Instagram. Gen Z will comment, tag and share these posts to spread the word to their peers on the platform. Social influencers, especially those that are part of Gen Z, are a great way to share brand awareness because this generation tends to trust their peer's opinions and advice about go-to food, products and everything in between.
What are the challenges when marketing to Gen Z?
SCOTT: Due to the tech-savviness of Gen Z, it can be difficult to keep up with the way they like to receive information. They're highly adaptable to new trends and technology, but those trends and tech are constantly evolving. It becomes more challenging for restaurants because most places try to cater to every age group — everyone likes food! But the way we market and advertise to baby boomers is significantly different than how we target Gen Z.
Who are some of the social influencers that Abuelo's has worked with on campaigns?
SCOTT: We work with a range of micro- and macro-influencers within various locations, inviting them to come in and taste test some of our favorite dishes. Some of our top posts have come from foodies in the Austin and Houston areas.
We've worked with one foodie for different promotions, including Valentine's Day and various limited-time-offer deals and meals. Our favorite post was from a fall limited-time menu tasting. The caption was sweet and to the point, and it brought awareness to his followers regarding special promos and fall menu items. He posted a variety of well-captured pictures that showcased our food perfectly. From his interaction with Abuelo's and the responses he received from his following, his posts were then picked up from Eater.
To sum up the point above, influencers want to be true to their followers, which includes being truthful about the food they're tasting. If you have great food and provide an excellent customer experience, influencers will almost always have great things to say about your brand.
How does Abuelo's measure success when it comes to influencers?
SCOTT: Success is measured more on qualitative factors than quantitative. We consider whether the influencer had a great experience at our restaurant, if they post on their social channels soon after visiting us and how much their followers engage with their posts. Often, we start seeing other influencers in the community comment and engage on posts, and then we can reach out to those creators and invite them to visit the restaurant as well. It begins to form a strong, local community awareness and loyalty in our key regions.
Does Abuelo's have a team of marketers dedicated to social media?
SCOTT: We have two members of our team that take on our social media platforms, but their roles both involve an array of other marketing responsibilities. They're both versed in a multitude of other capacities, which brings a unique skill set between the two to transfer to our social media presence. They monitor daily guest engagement on our platforms and respond in a timely manner, as well as create promotions and objectives for each month that will cater to our audience.
How can restaurant chains get started with influencer marketing?
SCOTT: First and foremost, know your business goals! Determine if it makes sense for your brand to use social media influencers, and whether that's where your target customers are. If you're a new or established brand looking to build awareness and increase foot traffic, it might be a good time to leverage local foodies within your area. To start, identify who your core customer is: Are they on social media? Do they have a stake in the local community? Are their followers receptive? Answering these questions is a great way to get started in the space.
What are your "no-no's" for marketing in the social media world?
SCOTT: Don't think you have to be on every social outlet. Not every platform is a great fit for every company. Find the best fit for yours and focus your time on creating great content that's relevant to your audience instead of posting content for the sake of posting content.
You're going to have different types of people in your audience with different opinions. It's important to have an open dialogue with the good and the bad. Acknowledge what you're doing right, but also pay attention to criticism, whether it's constructive or diffusing an unhappy customer.