41101877Rocketdollar_2There is a way you can use your computer and the web to find and attract new customers, and as Rob Johnson explains, it won’t cost you a cent.

In the restaurant business, it’s much easier to keep an existing client than it is to seduce a new one. Just make sure every experience they have with your restaurant is awesome. New customers are a different, and mysterious, story. They may come in on the recommendation of a friend, or because they saw an ad, or because they were just passing by. But now there is a way you can use technology to find and attract new customers, and it won’t cost you a cent.

The secret is called Google Trends, and you can find it at google.com/trends. What this page does is tell you at a glance what people are searching for in Google. You can look at all trending topics—so last month, as this magazine was being put together, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were trending search terms. You can also look at trends by category, such as news, entertainment or health care. Or you can narrow the search by date—what is trending in the last 24 hours, for example, or the last week or month.

The analysis goes back to 2004. So, what these charts can give you is a week-by-week record of customer interest in a particular type of cuisine in a particular place, and an idea of how much those same customers are searching for that information on Google.

It’s possible that some restaurateurs and caterers may be reading this and saying, “What has this got to do with marketing my restaurant?” The answer is, quite a lot. For starters, your customers are spending more and more of their time online, and will be more aware than ever of food trends and fads. And even though you would like to think your  website is the centre of your customers’ universe, it isn’t. Google is where they go to find out things.

A few months ago, Don Cameron of Launceston’s eatery Mudbar & Restaurant told us, “In the major cities, the general trends can be driven by fads. But if you do it right, if you get the right product in the right location for the right demographic and at the right price, then you will conquer any fad.” The trick is knowing what the right product, right location and right demographic is. The best source of information to tap is the place where customers themselves are asking questions: Google.

So, just say you were thinking of starting a particular type of restaurant—a Mexican one, for instance, because that was trendy a few years ago. Type ‘Mexican restaurant’ into the Google Trends search box, and the peaks and valleys in the resulting graph will show you when people are searching for that term. Unsurprisingly, searches peak in January and dip in March. But more interestingly, you can see the overall volume of searches hasn’t increased over time. Compare that to searches for ‘Thai restaurant’ over the same period: while you would think the market is saturated, it’s clear an ever-increasing number of people are looking for Thai restaurants online.

Joe Pulizzi, bestselling author and content marketing strategist, regularly describes Google Trends as “the most important and most underutilised tool” available to marketers today. That’s especially true for the emerging expertise of content marketing (which you can read about here). Nonetheless, there are a few caveats on the information. The first is that the graphs represent relative searches over time—a percentage increase or decrease—rather than absolute numbers. So seeing a spike in search volume does not mean hundreds of millions of people are looking for this information. It only means that relatively more people are searching at the time the spike happens.

Having said that, it’s still valuable. And the graphs aren’t the only useful thing. You can narrow your trends search to cities and states because there’s no point in knowing about the worldwide trend for Mexican food if your target market is in Sydney alone. Also, if you scroll down the page, Google will show a list of related searches. These related searches, and the “breakout” terms that are also listed, give you an idea of the words and phrases people are searching.

The data you can get from this lets you find appropriate information that can help you tailor your marketing messages, or even the style of your restaurant itself, to appeal to a wider online audience and grow the potential market for your restaurant beyond its natural geographic appeal. A pizza restaurant in Sydney’s beachside suburb of Manly, for example, will always have an audience in the area. But a unique gourmet pizza bar with online buzz will draw patrons from all over town. If you’re good enough, you may even be drawing patrons from even further afield [which is the promise behind the current Restaurant Australia campaign]. There’s a whole blog dedicated to helping you work out what to write about on your blog over at this site.

Finally, using the data from Google Trends may help you stay true to your vision during the first 100 days of your restaurant, which online bookings engine Dimmi has identified as the most crucial time in a new restaurant’s life. Surviving the 100-day rule, Dimmi says, is the key goal for new restaurants.

“Stay true to your core promise but improvise, refresh and adjust around that promise,” Dimmi chief executive officer Stevan Premutico told us recently. “Don’t wait until the end of the 100 days to evolve because by then it’s too late. You must react immediately. If you truly nail the product and wow the customers then people will be less likely to move on to the next big thing.”

If you’re not ready to start there, try increasing your social media presence using this guide.


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