Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to Win at Restaurant Marketing

Marketing is hard.

Restaurant owners don’t go into business because they want to be restaurant owners -- not accountants, not marketers. They want to be in the business of food.

At Virtual Compass, we get that.  We have even gone through our own struggle with getting our name out because we’re so new. What we do is rely on our “why” to help us through. Our why is that we really believe we have a solution that is both affordable and effective.  We have put in the time to build up a marketing team that will create these (awesome) blog posts, post to twitter, allowing developers to do what they do best.  We think that having the right team with the right strategy makes every obstacle surmountable.

Our marketing team spends time analyzing what our clients care about, and they care about THEIR clients.  Well, in the restaurant business, those clients better be repeat customers. You want the same people coming through the front doors as often as possible.  Not only does a loyal following mean you’re doing well for one patron, but it likely means they’re telling their friends about your place as well.  And if you haven’t heard already, word of mouth marketing is the way to go.

Each recommendation you are getting from one person to another is marketing that will carry more weight that any TV advert would.

The two audiences you need to focus on the most are your repeat customers -- those who are already loyal to you, and your new ones.  This post is going to break down the differences between the needs of the two groups and tell you how to market your restaurant.

Work for the newbies
You want more people in the door, but you don’t know what steps to take to get them there. This is going to be the biggest obstacle you face, as reaching these people who have not heard from a personal connection that your place is THE place is tough.

Fear not, social media is here.

Social media offers a way to produce content that is both text and visual in nature.  If you need a reminder as to why visual components are so important in marketing, I’ll direct you to our “Going Virtual Means Going Visual blog post.
The main sites you will be using are: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Pinterest is also a current favorite.  Just because Facebook is the largest site out of the above does not mean it has to be your primary channel. Each restaurant has to find their footing by focusing on their audience.  For example, if you have a restaurant space that is full of cute corners, seasonal decorations, and wall memorabilia, consider Instagram yours.  Since Instagram is so dependent on visuals, you should be posting pictures that anyone would find nice, even if they aren’t familiar with your websites. This picture below is doing it right. The lighting is bright enough that it does not appear greasy or distorted, yet not so bright that it washes the colors away.  Food photography is tricky.

Next step is the caption. Use hashtags! Describe your place, the food, any specials going on, you name it. For example: #Flan special tonight only! #BOGO One for you, one for that special someone. Don’t miss out -- head to #downtownCLE tonight!

These hashtags will allow any Instagram user from across the globe to find your content when searching that particular term. The same hashtag concept can be applied to Twitter.

Although Twitter centers around text “tweets” with a 140 character limit, most Twitter engagements (i.e. clicks, retweets) come from tweets with visual content. So the same post you use for Instagram can be sent out on Twitter, meaning you can reach more people with the same media effort.

All these accounts have ways you can pay to promote your account using Geo-tagging, which means centering on only the regional area you care about.

In addition to these classic social media streams, don’t forget about paying attention to travel lists. Position yourself with a unique food and atmosphere offering that will get you on TripAdvisor lists and things of the like.

Work for the repeats

If you handle your first time customer’s experiences well, the hard part is over but there is still work to be done.

How you make people feel in your restaurant will be a main factor of their return. Staff should be courteous and kind.  People are more likely to recall a bad interaction than a good one, and you definitely don’t want your word of mouth marketing to be working against you.
Don’t forget to pay attention to the details.  Is the decor of your restaurant current...or does it need a refreshing? Paying attention to the design of your restaurant will pay dividends. If you could list 5 most important aspects of a restaurant, they would be:
  1. The food
  2. The atmosphere
  3. The atmosphere
  4. The atmosphere
  5. Available parking

People who who are more relaxed in your space are more likely to enjoy themselves, their company, and your food.  And if you put in that work, growth will come naturally (thus why you need ample parking!)

Concentrate on those 5 needs and you’ll be sure to be on a first-name basis with patrons soon.

Guard your triangle

Create your content, add a visual aspect, make it interactive in order to engage, and convert first timers into repeaters!

We call this the marketing triangle.  Your base of content needs to be secure. What do you want people to think of when they think of you? Take time getting to know the personality of your restaurant.

Then, you can move on to the middle area of the triangle -- adding visuals. The more pictures you post, the more people are to pay attention. But how do you get them to come in?

You add on the hat to the triangle -- interaction.  Reach out directly on Twitter to food bloggers in the area and offer them samples, post virtual tours of your space so people can both see the atmosphere and see what kind of area you offer for parties and celebrations, host happy hours promoted on Instagram. No matter what path you take, commit to it and engage!

I promise it’ll get the people talkin’.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Going Virtual Means Going Visual

When your mind thinks, it does so in pictures.

The right side of your brain is often referred to as the “visual hemisphere” because it is in charge of processing visual stimuli.

We as a species that generally responds best to visuals. The more we can visualize things, the more we can identify with them.  Pictures emphasize points that text and aural advertising make.  A pair that is at least one part visual-based is guaranteed to capture your audience more than marketing that is strictly text or strictly aural.

In the age of Facebook, we have seen visual content become the marketing monster. Social media sites and applications revolve around visuals: Facebook has moved to be more photo friendly, Instagram and Tumblr have not slowed growing -- images are everywhere.  Even tweets with images are more popular than their text-only counterpart. In the chart below provided by Buffer, we see that tweets with images received much higher levels of engagement than those without.  

Images make it easy to engage: it is much quicker to read a statistic with an image background than it is to read a business’ whitepaper.  The potency behind images is no secret: the colors and designs are attractive which gain customer’s attention, and the text is kept to a minimum, so no matter how quick of a glance they give the image or ad, the point will get across to them.

As images have become increasingly more important, some companies have capitalized on producing media that is not only attractive, but also engaging. This gives potential customers the chance to engage with the media, increasing the opportunity to convert them to buyers.

We at Virtual Compass work with companies interested in providing more engaging media by creating virtual tours. A virtual tour can mean multiple things: it can be a panorama, an online “walking tour”, or 3D simulations.

Having worked in multiple industries, we now have a bit of insight into how these tours and other sorts of interactive media are contributing to increased sales, bookings, and most importantly, customer satisfaction.

The real estate industry was one of the first adopters of interactive media, using interactive floorplans and slideshows of a house.  However, agents were quick to realize that asking viewers to “imagine a room adorned in so and so fabric” just wasn’t making the cut.  As nice as photos are, they leave many questions to be answered. Pictures of interior spaces leave out the essence of the house, how it flows from room to room. For real estate agents who do not have a budget to outsource picture services at all, consider having more photos. Not just one or two, either -- I’m talking a lot here. Point2 Technologies recently had a survey proving that more pictures led to an increased effectiveness of the online presence of your listing. Matterport goes a step farther and provides 3D renderings of your listing, really bringing the home to the interested parties. We at Virtual Compass believe in simplicity and so have created tours that are easy to make and easy to share. Having panoramas and the ability to add in certain “stops” to be highlighted makes it so that you can have a customized tour in minutes for your listing. 
Do your listings a favor and find a way to give them the attention they deserve.  

Putting a little more effort into creating an experience rather than posting a photo is going to pay off in dividends.  Why not at least try it out?

Monday, November 9, 2015

What a Bride Wants

The bride’s eye is ever-changing.  Pressure easily builds when deciding on wedding details; and rightfully so. From the large details to the small, we want to make sure your wedding is picture perfect.  Here is your easy to follow guide to making your wedding dreams a reality.

We’ve found the wedding hacks that will save your wallet.  Our first recommendation is to find a space that you love.  We are strong believers that a strong foundation is the most necessary component, and we’ll teach you how to have a critical eye when picking out the right space for your wedding.  This space will be the framework that supports all the glitter we are going to add. And yes, I really mean glitter. A lot of it.

A recent trend we are seeing is brides wanting to sparkle, and in this guide we will outline the basics on how to create a tasteful reception that will leave your guests breathless.

Today’s brides are in search of a Gatsby celebration

Step back into the 1920’s with us.

Bride’s are looking for a celebration fit for Mr. Gatsby himself.  Metallics have taken receptions by storm, and the reason is quite simple.  The flair added is complementary to a wedding or a wedding reception at any time of day.  Glitter, even the quality of which you purchase at discount party store, is designed to catch light, and we opt to capitalize on that.  Morning weddings with a splash of glitter will see muted reflections in every corner, and evening weddings will have soft ceiling lights bouncing off the glitter, creating a circular glow that will set an ideal stage for any party.

It’s easy for the skeptic to jump in and say that metallic and especially glitter, will appear blatantly inauthentic but they haven’t seen the Pinterest boards that I have.

Make it a metallic wedding

There is a way to make every detail of your wedding sparkly without gaudy, and I have proof.  

The key is to be consistent.  If you are choosing to go this glittery route, commit fully. Often, couples looking to add a bit of sparkle will only choose a few select aspects of the wedding to glitterize, such as the roses, invitations, and table placement cards.  What this does is create an inconsistent environment.  Instead of getting the glitter bug out on a few objects, look for small ways to spread it out.

Pick your metal

Gold and silver are the most popular choices, but don’t forget about rose-golds.  Some people will be bold and go for a metallic blue, which I would suggest only if there is significant meaning to you.  Sometimes these nontraditional metallics -- like blue and mauve -- will overpower more than you anticipate, but there are still ways to incorporate these hues.

If you were to choose a blue metallic color scheme, an event space can easily seem smaller and exude an almost cramped feeling, which we definitely do not want while guests. Metallics should expand the space, and lighter toned metallics, like silver, will do this.  This does not, however, mean that your color palette is limited.

Decide where the glitter goes

I found this Pinterest board I am in love with. Her name is Anne Whitson, and I have to restrain myself from repinning every single thing of hers.  What I like about her is that she is right on top of the trends with the metallic themes.  

As mentioned previously, metallics and glitter should be spread throughout the event space, so that candles and fabric undertones are connected.  The gold details below are subdued by the white which serves a double purpose: not only is it calming the effect of the metallic, it is adding to the elegance.  And I’m sorry, how do you look at that and not want to be the bride with that backdrop??? Anyone would look like an angel.

United with Love, a DC based wedding company, has great inspiration for cross metallic designs I think you’ll love.  That giant gem in the middle of a gift bow? Simple elegance. When I saw the table setting below, I fell in love all over again with the idea of a metallic wedding. The blue accents are so small and complement the table perfectly.

You’ll find that going a route like this will simplify the need for much else, the decorations will tie the room together effortlessly.

Create your space

An opulent and open environment is easily created when we mix in dark drapery to our lace or lightly-colored walls.  

Fall colors, like aubergine, form a perfect backdrop when draped along a wall.  They serve a dual purpose of decorating the room while hiding any undesirable wallpaper or light from windows.  Drapes will give you more control of the room’s lighting, but it will also add a unique degree of customization people won’t be expecting.  Here’s my pick, these blackout drapes are sure to give you the control you need, especially for a warm fall wedding.  Against a small wall, attach the curtains with these crystal lights in the middle, and you’ve quickly created a unique attraction that will tie the calm notes of the room with the shimmering. (Extra tip: if you don’t like the spacing, you just get a second strand and stagger the two!)

This brings me to my first wallet hack: shop around! Don’t think you have to buy all your decorations from a certified wedding store when online stores can provide quality products, too. (Bonus: the financial nerd in me cannot pass up a chance to remind you to use a CREDIT card for these purchases.  Sign up for a miles card that will give you a load of miles if you spend a certain amount of money within the first few months. I can guarantee that you’ll be racking up some serious air miles.  Perhaps even enough to cover the honeymoon flights!)

Pick one wall to be the centerpiece.  This will be the wall with the most attention; this wall itself will become the centerpiece of the room so that the rest of the walls can breathe easy. In the example below, this technique let the wedding party be the center of attention, while having a glamorous feel.

Drapery and crystal strands complement the above room, but they are extremely versatile.  I can almost guarantee that no matter the season or setting, this simple trick will simplify your decorating.

This brings me to wallet hack #2: Go off-season with your wedding.  These crystals will look as amazing in spring as they will in winter.  Below, you can see that these crystals look heavenly even on a rainy spring day.  Notice something else: the green looks FANTASTIC with these.

Wallet hack #3: Load up on greens. The same is true in flowers as it is in salads. The greenery works nicely with metallic reflections.  Invest in small flower accents, but have the greenery cushion them.

Have your cake and eat it too

Don’t break budget on an oversized wedding cake.  Having a smaller wedding cake does not mean that it won’t draw attention. Metallic is the trend, so why not get some of that glitz on something edible? Honestly, whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too never went to a metallic wedding with a metallic cake.

Wallet hack #4: Use fresh flowers to decorate the cake instead of sugar frosted ones.

Wallet hack #5: Why does cake get two wallet hacks? Because people spend too much on it. Keep the smaller cake for you and the wedding party, and sheet cake distributed to your guests. Sheet does not mean lowered quality.  Plus, the sheet cake can be cut by any wedding staff, which will improve the flow of food throughout the night.  

Tying it in

As mentioned in the beginning, the event space you choose will be your foundation. We find that many brides waste endless hours touring places, only to find in the first few minutes that the event space will not work.

Choose an event space whose owners have invested in it.  This means more than upkeep of the space; check their social presence.  Find places that offer panoramic views of the spaces or virtual maps and tours on their website. These kind of features will let you see what the space really looks like, without wondering if the photographs were in someway manipulated to show off only the best parts.  

Have an idea of party size in mind and make sure with their virtual tour and maps that they have enough floor space and no awkward angles.

At the end of the day, two things matter when choosing an event space: finding a place that invests in their space, and finding a place that feels “right.” Call on that intuition.  

On behalf of the Virtual Compass team, we wish you and your partner the happiest of adventures.  

Please reach out at if you find a space you’re interested in that lacks a virtual tour.  We’ll get their tour done for you, so you can save your time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ursuline College - An an Unexpected Hub for Cleveland Startups

If you're only somewhat familiar with Virtual Compass- it's a forgivable misunderstanding- referring to the four of us as that John Carroll University startup. After all, 75% of us are JCU graduates who happened to meet during our time there.

But we've always made it a point to correct the misunderstanding - whether its in local press interviews or when we're being congratulated on our accomplishments. Five miles down the road from our Alma Mater, in Pepper Pike Ohio, is the school that provided us with our early traction. Without Ursuline College, there might not even be a virtual compass.

Pictured above: An illustration of Ursuline's campus

It's an unsuspecting startup hero - a small women's college that focuses around its nationally ranked liberal arts and nursing programs. Not entrepreneurship. But on a warm August afternoon in 2014, my co-founder and I found ourselves presenting in a Mullen Academic Center conference room to a healthy mixture of their marketing professionals and enrollment specialists.

Their introduction was simple but refreshingly sincere - "We're looking for a way to help future students see if Ursuline could going to be a good fit for the next four years"

The lights dimmed, and for the next seven minutes, I passed around some crude mock-ups and did my best to explain our vision as a startup.

As we conclude, I couldn't help but prepare myself for what at that point, seemed like inevitable indifference. After all, just 8 days earlier, our own Alma Mater had listened to the same presentation before making it abundantly clear that they were not willing to take a chance on us or this vision that we had.

But this time it was different. I noticed it first with the managing directors, and then with the recruitment counselors - a sense of genuine excitement at the prospect of a collaborative relationship with a local startup.

Just shy of  year later, we delivered Ursuline with our very first virtual tour- which is now integrated into their digital recruitment efforts with the intentions of providing an open and honest preview of their campus to potential students.

But our story is not an entirely unique occurrence - Ursuline's contribution to Cleveland's startup community is becoming a trend. Another local startup, Bold Guidance, is receiving Ursuline's professional insight for an app that helps potential students organize their college applications and deadlines.

As Cleveland's startup ecosystem continues to grow and welcome additional higher ed ventures, Ursuline's positive reputation as potential partner and advisory resource will continue.