So long 2015, the year of crazy menu mash-ups like Pizza Hut’s hot dog stuffed pizza crust, Dunkin Donut’s Croissant Donut, and Olive Garden’s Breadstick Meatball Sandwich.

It was also the year we saw McDonald’s make a comeback by serving breakfast all day (I’m lovin’ it), while fast-casual king Chipotle got fire-grilled by the media for E. coli and norovirus outbreaks (definitely not lovin’ it).

We also saw the kale and the bacon obsession start to fade (finally). And the country’s first USDA certified organic fast food restaurant pop up.

And yes, we saw Domino’s continue to reach consumers in innovative new ways, so they could return the favor and reach Domino’s in innovative new ways.

So what do we expect to see this year?

And more importantly, what can you do to prepare for it? Simple. Address the four T’s below: Tech, Taste, Target, and Tactics. Like … TODAY!

TECH

Location-based! Location-based! Location-based! We believe location isn’t everything; location-based marketing is. According to eMarketer, only 27 percent of restaurants in the U.S. use location-based marketing, but 71 percent of consumers say they’d be receptive to location-based marketing. (NOTE: this makes 100 percent of digital agencies scratch their heads.)

Get smart about digital (like smart-phone smart). Sixty-eight percent of U.S. adults own smartphones today compared to only 35 percent in 2011. This might sound like digital marketing 101, but if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, or if it has a menu that takes forever to load, or is difficult to read with amateur-hour food photography, you could be losing customers fast (like “freaky fast”).

JimmyJohns

To-Go isn’t to-going away. Speaking of fast, expect to see more online ordering services like GrubHub, UberEATS, Amazon Prime Now, Postmates, etc. popping up all over town and country. Partnering with them could help raise awareness, putting your brand in front of new customers in a convenient, more home-y dining experience.

Time to feed the foodie bloggers? According to a recent infographic, offers shared by trusted influencers convert at rates 3-10 times higher than offers sent by brands themselves. So maybe it’s time to shift the conversation away from Brand-to-Consumer to Peer-to-Peer, and develop a content marketing influencer strategy. If nothing else, engage the foodie influencers currently following your social platforms. Trust us, they are following you. #NomNom

Tacobell

Get social. Get visual. Restaurants of all sizes leverage social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to use mouth-watering visuals that instantly engage. But maybe it’s time to branch out to something new, like videos, animated GIFs or even Snapchat—which we believe isn’t the next Twitter or Instagram, but the new TV. It’s a great, untapped way to raise awareness and form an emotional connection with your audience to surprise, delight, and tell a quick visual brand story.

Video killed the print media star. Last year we saw Twitter launch video autoplay, Facebook give marketers the option to buy video ads, and the rise of live streaming video via Meerkat and Periscope. According to business leader Andrew Angus, the play button is becoming “the most compelling call-to-action on the web.” No wonder more and more restaurant advertisers are ditching their Sunday paper FSIs for online MOVs and GIFs.

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TASTE

Don’t fear the rooster. The past couple of years we’ve seen the rise of rooster sauce on menus (aka Sriracha). Expect to see the rise of more ethnic condiments and menu items and hot, flavorful seasonings, dressings, and sauces. Maybe it’s time to spice things up a bit in 2016. After all, it is the year of the … Red Fire Monkey?! (Woah, that might be a little too spicy.)

crooked-river

“Local,” “fresh,” and “natural” still matter. Yes, these magic buzzwords aren’t going away either. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, 69 percent of consumers said they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally-sourced items and 76 percent said they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthful options. Truth is, more and more consumers demand food that is “fresh,” “local,” and free of artificial ingredients, additives, and, of course … food-borne illnesses. (Sorry, Chipotle.)

But taste matters more, Mom! While millennials still search for more premium, organic and healthier menu options, Generation Z (consumers 21 and younger) crave taste and convenience over quality. According to a recent study by Technomic, 33 percent of consumers 21 and younger care more about taste than fresh, locally-produced, natural, non-processed foods. (Good news, Cheetos.)

TARGET

If targeting millennials, give them authentic stories; not cheap discounts. According to a recent Ad Age article, “What separates millennials from other generations is that they care more about the value, the quality of the products and the story behind it than just the cost.” The best way to engage them is to be authentic, real, and unique in your storytelling. Which is no easy task, especially considering the #1 challenge top marketers have identified going into 2016 is “Telling our story and standing out against competitors.”

challenges

Don’t let BOGOs bury your brand. Long-term brand building and short-term sales promotions can coexist. In fact, the Harvard Business Review article “Don’t let Big Data Bury Your Brand” makes the case that your restaurant marketing efforts need to simultaneously accomplish brand building & short term ROI. Subway is a good example of a restaurant that has done both very well for a very long time—that is, until their pitchman PR nightmare unfolded. Apparently, post-Jared days will be ditching the discounts, celebrities, and $5 footlong jingle.

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Your target craves great content. You can’t buy your consumer’s attention; you have to earn it. And the only way to connect to today’s audiences is to create content that is informing, entertaining, and engaging. We know it takes courage to pursue bold ideas. But then again, these are exactly the kind of ideas needed to stand out in today’s world. Like the brilliant idea of staying #HomeOnNYE with Domino’s and making the “underrated choice on the most overrated night of the year.”

TACTICS

Don’t underestimate the power of old-school tactics. Yes, you need a rock-solid geo-targeted digital media plan, content marketing strategy and great content to engage your audiences and drive traffic. But don’t overlook your local marketing efforts (a.k.a. the original social media). Nothing beats the personal touch of getting out in the community, shaking hands, handing out flyers, giving away a smart car, supporting local schools and charities, dressing up in that giant tomato mascot costume and literally driving traffic to your store. It may be old school. But it works. And it just might be the easiest, most cost-effective way to raise awareness, especially as every major social platform becomes more pay-to-play, and ad-blocking software continues to rise.

Don’t blame tactics, tech platforms, or the media. Why do we get a nervous twitch anytime we hear CEOs and CMOs say things like, “Radio doesn’t work for us, neither does Twitter or email marketing”?

Why? Because it puts all the blame on the media, rather than the message, or the quality of the content you’re pumping out there. Or … a few other variables that may impact guest counts and comp sales. Like operations, distribution, reviews, PR, perceived value, photography, retouching, pitchman, product features, word-of-mouth, third-party endorsements, trial/experience, values/lifestyle match, ease of use, brand inertia, weather, gas prices, time of day, time of month, consumer moodiness and fan depression due to another losing season, etc.

Obviously, you can’t simply tie sales results to your media mix. Instead, analyze all factors surrounding your communication—starting with two questions every marketer needs to ask himself or herself before launching a new campaign or posting content:

1. Why would anyone care about this?

2. Why would anyone share this?

Simple, right? Keep it that way this year. And keep evolving. Stay agile. Scrappy. Stick to the four T’s. And make this one T-riffic year!

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