Creating emotional connections with target audience is vital to success

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Since 1998, Patricia Dailey has served as editor in chief of Reed Business Information's Restaurants & Institutions, the industry's largest magazine. But she's not just another journalist who has learned about the restaurant and foodservice arena from the outside looking in. Dailey began her foodservice career at Don Roth's Blackhawk—a legendary Chicago-area eatery—as catering director and assistant manager. BtoB caught up with her to tap her special insights into the state of the restaurant industry.

BtoB: What new opportunities have opened up for savvy vendors wanting to target the restaurant market?

Dailey: There's no one-hit wonder that has come along to make it easy for marketers to gain instant access to any market, including the restaurant realm. In some ways, the restaurateur audience is perhaps more traditional than other audiences. They still read and rely on magazines, so print advertising and publication-related Web sites continue to be quite meaningful to their business needs. But they also are migrating to distinctly 21st century media. Many are leading-edge in their grasp of alternate media. Blogs, YouTube, social networking sites, interactive media and podcasts all have made deep inroads into certain restaurant industry segments. So have viral and word-of-mouth advertising. That's not to say, though, that such paths are completely paved with golden marketing possibilities, at least not yet anyway.

BtoB: What challenges have emerged?

Dailey: Like everyone else, marketers to the restaurant industry have to figure out ways to be heard over all the other noise out there. It's a heavily saturated field. Products and services have to be truly special, differentiated and positioned in ways that create emotional connections with their targets. That's not an easy thing to do but it is increasingly important. Restaurateurs want to feel part of the brands they use, bonded to them. Marketers also have not fully figured out how to best build integrated approaches that pull from various media and target specific audiences. Also, with all the different new-media vehicles, no one has figured out how to measure their success. So what happens if someone watches a product-oriented video on YouTube? Does it translate into a buying behavior or build affinity with a brand? No one knows—at least not yet.

BtoB: What are the best ways for marketers to reach and engage restaurant owners?

Dailey: Deliver something that's truly useful to their businesses and they will be quite receptive and open. It's easier said than done, though. It takes continual research, the ability for marketers to say at all times that they really know consumers, that they know their audiences. There's no shortage of data out there—operators are bombarded and a little overwhelmed by the sense that they have to wade through it all and come out with sound purchasing decisions. They talk to distributors, brokers. They go online, they check with colleagues. Then they often end up hungry amid all the riches because they can't really digest it all. I think that's one of the key reasons that they continue to place a high value on trade magazines. They have built relationships; there's a level of trust in the brands. Direct marketing is an old warhorse that has come back. Especially when it supports print marketing—or some other means that builds awareness—it can work very effectively. We've been seeing some open rates that are hugely impressive.

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