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One of the biggest challenges I faced as a restaurant marketer during my time at a family dining chain centered around three very simple, but very important letters.
While planning the brand's digital marketing campaign that would launch the company's first go at a regular Family Night promotion, we quickly realized that coming up with accurate reporting that would tie social media marketing activities to increases in the average guest check as well as bottom line dinner sales was going to be well ... next to impossible.
Legacies that restaurants should soon forget
Like a lot of chain Fast Casual and Family Dining restaurants, our Point-of-Sale system at Bob Evans was what is known as a "legacy system"-- one that had been home-grown over the course of a few decades by an entire department of IT professionals who worked 'round the clock to support,maintain and ensure that everything worked properly across more than 500 restaurants.
From a technology and marketing perspective, legacy POS systems can create significant roadblocks for digital marketers working to promote the brand online and track the results:
Marketing initiatives and campaigns are not typically high on IT's priority list. And for good reason too. Internal IT folks are tasked with making sure that a POS system works properly across all locations so that money comes in the door with no issues. If one location's point of sale goes down, it can me tens of thousands of dollars of business lost.
Corporate IT staff is usually limited. Most IT departments are understaffed. A director or VP must prioritize the support workload across the department making choices as to what issues get attention first. With bullet No. 1 in mind, marketing initiatives usually fall to the bottom of the list, meaning that it could be weeks or months before your request ticket is even tasked to a developer for attention. You and I both know that digital marketing opportunities often move at a much faster pace
For the most part, legacy POS systems don't easily integrate with social API's.Most social media and social media tools today function on what it called an API or Application Programming Interface. That simply means that you can see their code, and make your code with their system. That is, unless your code is not open source friendly.
Is socializing the Point of Sale merely an Urban Legend?
One of the things that stood out to me when I visited Food Service Social Media Universe in 2012 was that none of the amazing restaurant marketing software vendors who exhibited their products had developed any integrations between their systems, and their client's Point of Sale.
Sure. There were 8 killer applications for restaurants that had all the bells and whistles of leading social media management systems, and they had even been outfitted with special customizations designed to meet the unique needs of the food service business.
But pulling POS data into the social media marketing equation? Well ... it was kind of like the popular urban legend of Big Foot -- lots of people talked about it, but no one had really ever seen one face to face and lived to tell the story.
Roughly six months later, I finally encountered Big Foot, but I learned that his friends called him eThor.
How eThor integrates social media at the Point of Sale
Founded by CEO Gary Ziegler and backed by everyone's favorite rich guy Mark Cuban, eThor started out as online learning, consulting business.
Around 2010, Gary embarked on his own quest for Sasquatch. Recognizing the disconnect between the social media marketing efforts and lifts in same store sales tied to those promotions, he and his team shifted their focus to developing a company and product that would break down the silos of data between Point-of- Sale systems, online ordering, social media marketing, email and SMS campaigns.
In 2012, once the initial dashboard had been developed, Gary and his team approached SpeedLine Solutions, a POS system serving the Pizza segment --to see if the company would recognize the same opportunity he and his team had in sight, and be brave enough to give the integration a try.
SpeedLine rolled the dice and became eThor's first POS integration partner. Smart move, too. As of late last year, the POS company is now rolling out the eThor MaPP (Marketing and Promotions Platform) to all of their existing customers.
This video will give you some basic details on what their integration means for restaurants:
From the Social Media Management perspective, eThor seems to be moving in a good direction, especially for a company and product that is nearing its 3rd birthday.
Social Media Features. Today, the suite works with Facebook and Twitter only, and there are plans to begin integrations with popular restaurant review sites like UrbanSpoon and Yelp, as well as with additional social networks like Pinterest and Foursquare.
eThor does contain the normal social media marketing features including a content scheduler, a content library, user permissions and even Wordpress integration. That said, I anticipate that most restaurant brands who are blogging will already have tools in place to manage their program.Menus and specials for specific markets can be set up to managed from one centralized dashboard.
What's most exciting on the social media front is eThor's ability to allow brands to publish live menus and take online orders directly from these external social applications, in turn creating a more seamless user experience for guests who may discover an offer from a tweet or Facebook status update.
Email Marketing. eThor also includes a basic-level ESP (Email Service Provider) that could be compared to popular applications like Mail Chip or Constant Contact. If your brand is used to the bells and whistles of Exact Target or What Counts, using eThor's ESP may not be appealing. But, if you subscribe to either of the former systems, making the shift to eThor's email platform might make sense and work to trim a line item out of your marketing budget.
The system includes a form generator for embedding email squeeze forms on websites, blogs and social media pages and also includes the ability to set up basic-level automated campaigns.
Menus and Test Markets. Decentralized menus and specials can be set up and managed from one centralized dashboard, but one of the biggest wins for eThor comes in the form of making it easy on your brands online ordering customers.
User Experience and Social Sign On. With eThor, each customer has the ability to create an account on using Facebook connect. That alone eliminates the need to fill out daunting and lengthy forms required to capture customer data for order and delivery information. In my opinion, this time-saving feature for customers has some great potential to remove a large amount friction that can prevent online transactions from closing.
eThor wins my stamp of approval
I can honestly say that I think that Gary and friends are moving aggressively in a very good direction -- and one that the Food Service industry so desperately needs.
While I think there are some tweaks that can be made to enhance the social media management and email marketing features, I also know that those releases and updates are in process and will come in time.
Make no mistake either -- eThor is a funded start-up. While I'm not privy to the exact numbers, it seems that Gary and team have caught the attention of some very high-powered investors (cough, Mark) with amazing connections and deep pockets.
My advice? Now that you've spotted Big Foot, don't let him out of your sight...
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