How Applejack Hospitality Turns Data Into Hyper-Targeted Marketing
As the Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Applejack Hospitality, Joanna Steuart’s days rarely look the same. With nine distinct venues across Sydney, from casual cafes to upscale dining, her days are a dynamic blend of events, social media, partnership meetings, influencer bookings and PR. But Joanna says her job boils down to one key concept: “Getting bums on seats every day in our restaurants.”
Applejack opens about one venue per year, each requiring its own logos, brands and marketing strategies. Successfully attracting diners requires a keen understanding of each venue’s target market and engaging with them in a way that feels authentic.
If anyone has found the secret sauce to leveraging restaurant target markets and data to build profitable brands, it’s Joanna Steuart.
We talked with Joanna to learn the secret behind the unique targeted marketing strategies Applejack Hospitality uses to define its audiences and thrive in a competitive market.
But First, Data
Before restaurants can dive into websites, menus, social media, events and reservations, they must know who is coming through their doors. Joanna’s team builds restaurant concepts based on diner personas they define using customer data collected through their customer relationship management system (CRM), competitor research and community trends.
Step one? Understand the community around you. It’s important to get specific here. Joanna says, “When we open a venue, we include a marketing strategy that outlines information about the area, both geographically and demographically. We even want to know things like what’s happening with the population and developments planned in the area.”
Next, they dive deeper to understand the clientele themselves. For example, Joanna’s team will identify the percentage of guests in each shift who were corporate versus social guests. Was it date night? Did the demographic lean older or younger, or was it more skewed for gender?
“We’ll take this data and analyse it for trends to direct our marketing team toward the offers and promotions to run, as well as the gaps we’ve yet to target.”
Like many restaurants, Applejack started with a basic tech system for gathering data points like these. The system provided some data, but not enough to drive informed decision-making and enhance the overall dining experience.
To gather more guest data, they onboarded with SevenRooms CRM and reservation platform to leverage more robust guest data capabilities and integrations. They now have access to detailed guest profiles and email marketing that play better with their existing tech stack. And the timing of Applejack’s investment couldn’t be better because today’s diners? Well, they’re picky.
Amidst cost-of-living pressures, diners are prioritising the quality, rather than the quantity, of their dining experiences. And customers spend just as much time studying us as we do them. A SevenRooms survey found that more than one in three Aussies categorise themselves as “special occasion” diners, meaning they spend ample time researching which venue — and menu — is the perfect fit.
Therefore, restaurants who take the time to really know their guests will see it pay off in the long run. Data helps attract more of your ideal customers and informs how to engage with them over time. The more personal your communications, the better.
Get Specific, and Then Get Personal
With guest data in hand, Applejack can create detailed customer personas. Comprehensive, well-researched personas help ensure each venue’s marketing and customer communications are authentic, effective and meaningful.
Joanna says, “You could target everybody in the world and try and do different offers for everybody, but focusing on your key demographics works for us — so, two or three demographics you can really tailor messaging to. You may exclude some people with this level of detail, but if you stay true to your audience and brand identity, you’re more likely to succeed than if you were to spread yourself thin across a whole range of target audiences.”
Here are a few strategies Applejack uses to create a tailored, researched-based marketing strategy for restaurants that drive better engagement:
1. Let Your Surroundings Identify Gaps (Read: Opportunities)
When planning events and experiences for brands, Applejack studies the area to learn what guests crave and how the restaurant could offer a solution. For example, the guest list at Bopp & Tone, located in Sydney’s CBD, had no problem attracting high-spend corporate clients on weekdays when they opened, but weekends were a different story.
“We realised the weekends in the CBD were quiet when people weren’t going into work. So, how are we going to draw people in? Do we even open on Saturdays and Sundays? Then, we thought, ‘Saturday is traditionally a celebration day of birthdays, anniversaries and bachelor/bachelorette parties, so let’s create an offering for that market.’ This is where our campaign called Soul Saturdays was born.”
To attract a weekend crowd, Applejack marketed Soul Saturdays as an experience — one where guests could enjoy two hours of bottomless drinks while listening to live soul music. They created a special menu for the event and switched up the entertainment to feature a new band each week.
“What we thought was a predominantly corporate Monday through Friday venue has now morphed into something bigger,” Jo says. “At the time when we opened, hardly anyone in the city was offering live music during the daytime on weekends. We started slow with one Soul Saturdays experience a month to test the waters, and the demand was there. Not long after, we increased SS to a weekly experience and it’s still thriving today.”
2. Be Intentional on Social Media
Of course, event success at any venue hinges on attendance. Applejack utilises social media as one of the key channels to promote events and experiences. They put all their venues on social media and then stand out from competitors by ensuring the outreach is intentional, relatable, on brand and the content is consistent.
“We have a strong focus on community engagement on social. We find people who have attended our past events through handle tags or geotags, and engage with them from the venue account to provide that personalised experience – a direct ‘thank you’ from the restaurant. If customers have gone to the effort of tagging us, we want to recognise and thank them for sharing the experience to their audience, no matter how big or small.”
3. Send Personalised Emails
Applejack puts forth the same efforts to personalise eDMs as they do social DMs. Joanna and her team leverage guest tags on SevenRooms to tailor email marketing. At a minimum, Applejack addresses the majority of emails using the customer’s first name — personalised messaging does wonders for increasing response rates.
However, the amount of data available with SevenRooms allows them to tailor their messaging even further.
Joanna says, “The data we gain from the number of times and frequency of guest visits, and which venues they visited and when, allows us to be hyper-specific with messaging to ensure we provide each guest relevant information that interests them. More often than not, this leads to another booking because the information we provided was relevant and tailored to them.”
Anyone with basic knowledge of Instagram and Facebook can slap together a social advertisement and hope someone reads it. But ads, like most things in marketing, rarely benefit from a one-size-fits-all approach. They require customisation, tailoring and deep knowledge of your customer base if you have any hopes of driving business to your venue.
For example, Applejack knows some of their venues have a large corporate customer base, so they’ll create event-specific paid advertisements targeting audiences more likely to book parties, dinners and events for business people: executive assistants and administrative professionals.
“We do a lot of paid ads on Meta, and for each campaign, we create different ad sets for different target markets. If we’re promoting corporate events, we’ll change the copy or the image to suit the target audience. It’s important to craft a specific message to the target persona to ensure we’re relevant, useful and creating impact for them. For example, we’ll use a different tone of voice for an ad for our Darlinghurst pub Taphouse in comparison to our restaurant RAFI in North Sydney.”
It can be tempting to try and reach as many people as possible, but ads targeting smaller, more niche audiences often deliver better results because they align with customer interests.
“We invest a significant portion of our marketing budget in paid ads. Not every ad works. It’s a lot of trial and error, but our team monitors them daily to see how they’re performing, if people are clicking on them, and if not, how we adjust from there.”
Of course, what works for corporate campaigns won’t work when targeting more casual audiences, like guests searching for a place to visit with friends or celebrate a birthday. But Joanna says that investing in a segmented advertising approach is worth the time and effort. “There have been several campaigns where we see traffic driven to the site from the ad after just putting it online.”
Plus, the amount of data restaurant operators can glean from advertisements is invaluable. A few targeted ads based on personas can uncover more than just clicks; they can track the time spent on your pages, what channels drive the most website visits or bookings, the times of day your audience is more likely to be online and whether your audience prefers still imagery or video content.
Plus, combining the data you get from ads with insights gleaned from SevenRooms’ CRM data and integrations enables you to create even more accurate personas and get more impactful results.
5. Use Influencers Who Represent Your Concept Well
Whether you invite an influencer to enjoy a complimentary meal in exchange for social shares or partner to collaborate on a restaurant review, influencer marketing is a great way to gain exposure within your community. Joanna advises operators to think beyond what we might consider a traditional influencer, such as a content creator in the lifestyle and food spaces.
Actually, an influencer can also be any prominent business leader with an online profile. Choose to partner with a creator who represents your clientele best.
When choosing who to partner with, Joanna and her team consider each venue’s standout features. For example, international tourists and locals alike visit The Butler to enjoy one of the best views of the Sydney skyline (and its extensive wine list). The Potts Point community also happens to have a large LGBTIQA+ population.
“The head chef at The Butler and roughly 90% of its staff are female. Overall, it’s a beautiful venue, it’s female-led, and it’s got an underlying theme of women empowerment, so we like to partner with strong female business leaders as another way to engage with our community. Rather than a one-off dinner experience in exchange for some social tags, our process is more collaborative from a networking and an ongoing partnership standpoint.”
Understanding the clientele, Joanna allowed a female entrepreneur to host a pop-up networking event that showcased several brands and businesses. Then, she marketed the event online, knowing that the typical Butler customer — and other locals in Potts Point — would appreciate learning from a successful woman in the industry.
As for connecting with potential influencers and content creators? Once again, Applejack is not above sending a well-researched DM. “Going old school with a good hook” has been much more effective for connecting with influencers than using talent agencies and platforms, Joanna says.
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Your Customers
At a time when diners are craving unique dining experiences, it’s never been more important to understand your guests so you can create tailored experiences for them.
Engaging with your restaurant’s target market requires a lot of research, but you’ll learn more about your ideal customer if you use your CRM to collect guest data like location, behaviour, order preferences and more. It’s never an easy fix, according to Joanna. Target markets ebb and flow, and operators must be willing to continually analyse trends and put themselves out there to ensure they engage with the right people.
To learn how SevenRooms hospitality CRM can help you turn customer data points into loyal guests, book a demo today.