08.05.21

4 Expert Tips to Revitalize Your Restaurant Brand for Post-COVID Economy

Tammy Allen, Director | Marketing & Programs, The NIIC

What is a brand story, and why does it matter? Bradley Houser, Founder & CEO of EatHere Indy — the largest digital food publisher in Indiana — offered his expertise through the Restaurant Revitalization Speakers Series, hosted by The NIIC. You can catch the replay here.

Bradley knows the value of communicating a brand story to reach customers when it matters the most. The results can be loyalty and weathering tough economic times. He’s not a restauranteur by trade yet is a foodie, which shaped his trajectory.

“In general, Indiana is a farmer’s state,” he said. “We’re farm-to-table. Food and dining are big here, but (the scene) was missing something here for the younger audience. This is the demographic who is on social media and on their phones.” EatHere fills that niche. Today, it’s a platform that offers online viewers a destination for informative, shareable, locally sourced content in emerging food cities across the country.

Before it was a sleek website with a devoted social media following, it was a mere concept in Bradley’s mind.  In his search to marry his passions for marketing/communications, technology and culture, Bradley met his business partner Austin Burris. In 2017, he and Austin recognized a social need. There was no central resource to document food establishments coming online or closing. So, they created what became EatHere Indy, initially as an Instagram page. The mission? To bring diverse communities together through shared food experiences.

Over time they grew their audience from a humble 30 followers to a community of 53,000. Today EatHere is the largest and only food publisher in Indiana devoted to covering local flavor and the personalities who make up the food scene. According to Bradley, the platform’s hallmark is that it gives consumers the ability to intimately connect with restaurants and restauranteurs.

That element of authenticity really is the secret sauce. “We’re communicating our story in really effective ways and making it fun,” he said. “We’re not a brand that’s really uptight or too stuffy. We want to make sure people are relating to what we’re talking about. Food is fun, and business can be too if you make it so.”

On that note, Bradley shared four tips to connect with your audience in 2021 and beyond.

Tip #1: Find your voice.  – Ask yourself why your audience connected with you in the first place. What kind of information are they seeking? How does your audience use your brand and expertise to solve their problems?

This takes time. In Bradley’s case, it has been a 5-year process of refining — and it’s ongoing.

Tip #2: Be human. Be authentic. – Being in a position of influence means people want to try to shape your opinions, for good or bad. There’s a lot of noise out there. So, how do you stay authentic to yourself? If you ask Bradley, being yourself goes a long way at the end of the day. For instance, offer a behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening to make your brand more personable. It also translates well to platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

Relatable content fosters engagement. When you’re sharing your story and communicating your brand’s ethos to your audiences, you make your community feel like there’s a human element at play. They feel seen and heard, and that can foster a deeper connection.

Tip # 3: Share your story with people who care. – Permanent closures of restaurants can be a sensitive topic. So, Bradley and his team keep that in mind when sharing information. They often ask themselves: “Why are they listening to what we have to say?” To that end, they try to give their audience opportunities to engage with them to offer value and improve their situation. In his words, “basically we’re crafting our voice and our messaging around that specific audience that cares about that specific thing that they’re coming to us for.”

Timeliness is also important. Bradley says they do their best to respond to messages promptly. When they do so, it’s with their brand voice in mind. Whether online or in person, they’re strategic in their approach. They plan to put that principle in action when they host a food festival in downtown Indianapolis. It will give people the chance to reconnect with the restaurant scene and its players in an authentic way. That’s because restauranteurs will be able to have richer interactions with their community in person.

Tip #4: Be consistent and know when to take breaks. – Burnout is real and affects professionals in any industry. That’s why Bradley says it’s key to understand how and when to cut thru the clutter.

“Everyone says you (should) post three to five times a week to stay consistent and relevant to your audience. We’re kind of looking at it in reverse,” he said.

Instead of quantity, it’s a matter of quality. It’s important to post content relevant to followers and will resonate with them instead of posting for the sake of posting. Sometimes you don’t have anything meaningful to add to the conversation — and that’s OK. These sabbaticals can allow you to think more creatively and focus on how you’re holding your audience’s attention.

Bradley offers this example. At one time, his team was focused on producing and promoting high-quality food photography. “Over time, we changed our brand because our customers started to care about different things,” he said. “They started to care about what’s happening in the restaurant and less about a particular menu item. So that was a big shift for us.”

Ultimately, brands in any vertical or niche can learn from EatHere’s approach. You might not get it right from the outset, but there’s something to be said for always being hungry and willing to learn. After all, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s about the importance of pivoting.

About Bradley Houser, EatHere Indy

Houser is an entrepreneur and economic driver with a passion for high-growth opportunities. He is a media and tech leader in Indiana’s fast-growing food/tech industry. EatHere Indy is headquartered in Indianapolis, with one mission: To bring diverse communities together through shared food experiences.

This blog is based on The NIIC Restaurant Revitalization Speaker Series, focused on five key areas: Mayhem, Miracles, Marketing, Menu, and Management. This blog focuses on Marketing. Click here for a replay of the event.

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