If you’re in charge of marketing a quick serve or fast casual restaurant – either because you’re on the in-house brand team or are on that restaurant’s account at your ad agency, you probably already know that experiential marketing for QSRs and fast casuals is important. You know that hyper-local targeting is vital and that making brand-to-consumer connections that are both rational and emotional will drive sales. But maybe you’re struggling with the when. Here are 7 recommendations of the best times to activate an experiential ad campaign for your QSR or fast casual.

1. Grand Openings

Let’s say you’re opening 50 new stores this year in multiple markets. What’s the best way to engage with the neighborhood’s residents? You must get local, hyper-local. TV and radio broadcast 100 miles away; no one is driving that far for a $10 lunch. Online ads can get local, but they don’t create a sense of excitement. Experiential lends itself so well to this hyper-local targeting, because you can identify the exact neighborhood you want to infiltrate – then make a memorable impression that gets people in the doors. Try pairing a few mobile billboards with a brand ambassador team that can really get the word out about your newest location to the people who matter most. Plus, because the street team adds that human-to-human (H2H) element with a personable approach, your store now becomes more real to the consumer.

jet pack teamFor example, Corner Bakery Cafe recently opened a new store in Maryland and coinciding with that grand opening, they activated a team of brand ambassadors to stir up enthusiasm within the community. One of the fast casual’s goals was to promote its catering services to local businesses, so the team suited up with jet packs filled with free coffee and armed themselves with catering menus. Going from business to business promoting Corner Bakery Cafe catering options, they made a personable first impression on many decision-makers who plan events, meetings and conferences. On the way, the brand ambassadors also interacted with community members, sharing a warm cup of joe from the new local business; not a shabby way to say “hello” to residents of the new market.

2. Relaunches

A QSR or fast casual reboots for two main reasons: one, the store is under-performing and needs to re-attract its key audience or two, the company is doing fantastically well and can afford remodeling and up-scaling its stores. Either way, your job is to get people into the store to enjoy its facelift. You can corral the guests with some guerrilla marketing techniques, as described above, or you could plan a splash event or add an element of retailtainment at your newest location to help drive excitement – and foot traffic.

3. New Menu Items

A mouth-watering new burger topped with a kick of jalapeno and ooey-gooey melted jack cheeses that you know will be a fan favorite has just been announced. And you need everyone within a 5-mile radius to fall in love with it. So you develop a great sampling program that puts the deliciousness right into their mouths, wherever they are, whether that’s near a crowded subway station, at a popular community event or in high pedestrian-traffic areas downtown. They tweet about the experience and, of course, can’t get enough of that yummy taste, so they come into the store a few days later with their four best friends, who spread pictures of their new favorite burger via Instagram. And now everyone is talking. And coming in to give it a try. It’s word-of-mouth marketing that started with a very simple – but winning – experience. The campaign can also integrate other social media elements to further amplify your efforts.

4. Special Offers

Coupons have evolved a lot over the years, but a discount or special offer can still motivate people to buy. Today, advertisers can use geofencing and beacon technology to deliver a deal right to someone’s smartphone via a mobile app – yours or a third party’s app to attract both current customers and passersby. McDonald’s recently tested beacon advertising during a trial campaign in Columbus, Georgia, and according to an article at imore.com, the fast food chain reported offer redemption at over 18,000, with a spike of over 7.5 percent of the products advertised. Consumers who received the push notification could save the coupon directly into their Passbook app, making it an easy consumer experience.

5. Community Partnerships

Whether you are supplying the after-game snacks for your town’s Little League team or sponsoring a NASCAR driver, an experiential marketing campaign can help garner you positive press and leave a memorable impression on participants. After all, logo placement ain’t cheap, so you might as well maximize your exposure. With the right sponsorship activation, your brand can stand out. It can be “the one brand” that people remember. Even if there’s no event per se, your new partnership deserves some recognition, and an experiential campaign will get you the attention you deserve.

6. Advertising Campaign

Experiential can stand on its own – or it works great to amplify the messaging being heard in more traditional channels. If you’re working hard to launch a new TV spot, release a series of web videos or create a new digital campaign, experiential can help bring your campaign elements to life in the physical world. For example, the TV spot might run with a certain hashtag, but an experiential campaign in a key market can provide additional, unique, personal content that will really make the TV ad and its online components more real to a consumer. It adds meaning to the message. It’s about bringing that experience full circle.

7. Local News

Because we’ve already established how experiential is great at hyper-local targeting, it can be deployed when you have local news or updates within a particular market to celebrate. Plus, you can offer unique experiences based on the audience in that particular market, so you’re staying relevant and relate-able to your customers. Tailoring the experience, the timing and the message to your market’s audience will be the most beneficial to you in terms of connecting with your consumers and recruiting brand advocates.

If it’s a good time for your QSR or fast casual restaurant to dive into experiential marketing, please call our firm to schedule a getting-to-know-each-other phone call.