JUST THINK about the last big purchase you made and why you chose it - invariably it will lead back to something you’ve read, seen or heard.
The same, often subconscious, thinking affects our eating habits and tapping into this psychology opens up huge potential for caterers. Marketing has real power, when done effectively, particularly when conveying a really positive message such as sustainability on campus – a subject students, and staff, are keen to engage with.
A real point of difference between university caterers and High Street outlets is that caterers are appealing to a smaller subset of customers and so can tailor their offering to suit this consumer base, at a pace larger, national commercial operations can’t match. It’s a unique position to be in, and allows caterers the ability to respond to current popular opinion and take up the sustainability causes their customer base care about; making the most of this competitive advantage is key to driving footfall and boosting the bottom line.
But students and staff can only find out that their green needs are being met by on-campus services if they are told; university caterers have plenty of news to shout about and really hammer home that message – every accolade or accreditation is another example of the priority placed on sourcing better B or reducing waste, or one of the many other areas which Higher Education caterers are leading on.
But how to best demonstrate that? On-campus outlets are a great place to start - proudly advertise your Gold Standard Catering Mark from the Soil Association, or that you only use MSC certified fish, visibly signposting your efforts to drive awareness.
But that’s not enough if customers aren’t coming through the door in the first place, and it’s here caterers need to get more creative. A fast and easy way to disseminate information is social media – a well thought-out tweet can spread the word quickly. The trick is to make it snappy and fun – you only get 140 characters so you’ll need to use them wisely.
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and food is a great subject for any photography. Try driving interest with some delectable pictures which make customers want to come to you! Instagram and Facebook are great places to share pictures but remember it’s a two-way conversation. You’ll need to follow and like people, get involved in bigger conversations and reply to queries.
TUCO’s recent research into the eating habits of young people shows that experiences were a top priority for Millennials when it comes to dining, so really consider how you can use that knowledge to drive footfall? It could be as simple as a film night during the week, to help boost dinner numbers perhaps using a pedal bike projector to drive the sustainability message and add an element of interactivity. Combine it with a meal deal – another great marketing tool – to create a package; after all students are also driven by value and are always happy to save a pound or two.
The range of methods are vast, and you’ll have a lot of messages you want to get across. It’s important not to flood people with too much all at once though. Instead use different devices and methods to drip feed important points rather than all at once. For example, university websites have high volumes of traffic and catering managers should use facilities pages to showcase their sustainability credentials to prospective students – it may just help sway their decision.
The main thing to remember is that consumers want to hear about sustainability when it comes to their food so if you have a message they will listen! Just make sure whatever the achievement is, it is communicated in a way that’s easy to digest. Keep it simple, consistent and concise and utilise the resources you already have available to make the message travel further – you’ll be surprised at just how much of an impact you can make.
How to...make the most of marketing:
From experiential to social media and even old-fashioned post, there are many great tools to quickly get your marketing messages across to the masses. When used in the right way, marketing can be extremely effective in raising awareness of your offering, while demonstrating those all-important sustainability achievements.
5 key points to bear in mind:
• Choose the right platform for your marketing activity: Social media is great to carry a message swiftly and to make real use of images but it won’t work for every promotion or product. You need to think about the ways in which you can effectively convey your message, and what is appropriate.
• Plan: Make sure you are aware of any upcoming university events or special food weeks – such as British Food Fortnight - so you can plan posts in advance and capitalise on the buzz of the moment.
• Keep it consistent: Putting out a consistent message is key to driving home your values and re-enforcing how those align with your customer’s own feelings on the issues of sustainability.
• Make it interesting: From quick cooking tips to updates on menu changes, think about fun ways to get your news across – perhaps with a funny picture.
• Engage with your audience: Between experiential marketing, social media and forums there are a dozen ways to drive two-way engagement with your customer base nowadays. Just remember that once you make the commitment to a two-way conversation you’ll have to stick at it!
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