A recurring series recapping important events, conferences, and shows for our readers. To stay updated on our event schedule please follow us on Twitter.

Presented by Restaurant Business, the Restaurant Leadership Conference is held every April in Scottsdale, AZ. The RLC is home to the restaurant industry’s premier, invitation-only event where the most progressive and influential professionals gather each year. For the full conference agenda click here.

This year was my first trip to the Restaurant Leadership Conference (“RLC”), the restaurant industry’s preeminent annual gathering of industry leaders. My expectations were high since several clients and partners had raved about the show’s content and it’s attendees.

The first thing that struck me about the RLC was the quality and diversity of attendees. It’s rare to find a show, particularly of such significant size, that has a perfect blend of restaurant leaders, vendors, thought leaders, and sponsors that project a relaxed environment. Learning and sharing ideas was the focus, not hawking products or pushing certain agendas. Attendees included CEOs from Firehouse Subs, A&W, Habit Burger, Corner Bakery, CMOs and marketing leaders from Pei Wei, Kahala, Jimmy Johns, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Arby’s, Blaze Pizza, and more.

Discussion topics varied, including a number unrelated to digital marketing that were quite interesting: real-estate values, minimum wage requirements, improving customer wait times, and solving other operational challenges. The one common thread that stuck out as a unifying issue – and potential solution – was data. Yes, I said it: data!

The restaurant space is still figuring out how to leverage the data that is being collected from Marketing, Operations and POS/transactions; this much data can be difficult to harness and deploy in an effective way. But the potential upside is tremendous: data can not only directly affect sales, but also inventory waste, employee tracking/productivity, and back-of-house operations to improve business habits, profit margins, all while creating a more engaging and personal experience for the customer.

Session Summary: Disrupting Marketing with Big Data

The most impactful break-out session was “Disrupting Marketing with Big Data” hosted by Helen Baptist, SVP of Strategic Partnerships from Fishbowl. It featured a strong group of panelists: Kate Jung, former VP of Marketing at Tim Horton’s, Gerald Mann, former CMO at On the Border, and Rob Crews, former CMO of Ovation Brands.

The panel addressed how “Big Data” was changing the way restaurant companies do business. The panel agreed up front that the term “Big Data” was overused and probably on the way out. Rob Crews stated, “Where’s the line between big data and just data?” All the panelists thought that the restaurant industry had been a bit slow to adopt a more quantitative approach to business and the mentality was still “we don’t need research; we just need to do it this way.” Access to data and the evolution of leveraging analytics across the entire business has reduced this tendency, though many are still slow to adapt.

The group also addressed the hurdles they face in trying to utilize “Big Data” in their organizations. The general consensus was that a lack of understanding about what analytics actually matter can create an incredible number or wasted business cycles. (The old saying “not everything that can be measured matters, and all that matters can’t be measured” comes to mind.) “Don’t get hung up on one data point. You have to look at the whole picture.” Jung added that data and the rise of digital has reduced brand’s reliance on TV. A screen is a screen and social video makes the same impression as a TV spot.

The final question posed to the panel was: “If you wanted to start building big data expertise in a company, where would you start?” Crews answered “Start establishing a customer database and connect all of the various touchpoints (e.g. email, SMS, social, etc.) and data sources (e.g. reviews, POS data, social sentiment, etc.) to flesh out a complete customer profile. Then start asking questions of the data and iterate and learn over time where and how you can most effectively engage.”

All-in-all, I thought the session was moderated well and I enjoyed the dialogue between the industry veterans. Extracting the right data and putting the right tools and processes in place is not an easy task. The data challenge is ever-present, and the session was a microcosm of the challenges facing digital and mobile marketers on a daily basis: trying to find the right set of customer information to making marketing more personal, relevant and impactful. Sometimes, it’s good to know that you’re not alone in the battle.

At Waterfall we have learned to respect the power and value of data and how to build tactical plans to implement such programs to create long lasting relationships with your customer. Don’t hesitate to let us know how we can help.

Upcoming Events in 2016

If you’re interested in connecting with Waterfall at similar events in the future, here’s what we have planned for the remainder of 2016!

  • Connect Mobile Innovation Summit (Chicago, Aug 15-17) | More info
  • NRA Restaurant Innovation (Austin, Sep 13-15) | More info
  • Fast Casual Executive Summit (Orange County, Oct 9-11) | More info
  • Restaurant Finance & Development (Las Vegas Nov 14-16) | More info

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