Navigating third-party food delivery apps offers numerous local venues, familiar chains, and generically named companies that offer food wings, hamburgers, pizza, and more. Many of these recent offerings are virtual brands and some are run by the same brick and mortar restaurants that were called foul for their fees on platforms like Uber Eats and DoorDash not too long ago, but are now working hard to reach out to home restaurants. in the midst of a decline in demand for food.
As some small restaurants turn into virtual kitchens as they turn to address the continuing impacts of the pandemic on restaurant food, a few of the big players in the casual dining space are coming. Applebee followed the 2020 launch of the Neighborhood Wings concept last month with a Cheetos-inspired menu under the name Cosmic Wings. Bloomin ‘Brands acquired the Tender Shake brand nationally and announced plans for Denny’s, The Burger Den and The Melt Down brands. Perhaps most importantly, Chili’s main partner, Brinker International, estimates that the company’s It’s Just Wings brand will generate $ 150 million in annual sales.
Marketing of these brands operating outside of real-place restaurants or through ghost kitchens poses a unique challenge as third-party platforms – and restaurants above them – compete for diners while consumer behavior around off-site dining continues.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Virtual Kitchens
The daily food chain Smokey Bones has focused on the menu categories for its virtual brands The Wing Experience and The Burger Experience in which it has a cooking qualification such as wings and burgers to avoid operational disruptions. At the same time, Smokey Bones tried to differentiate enough to keep income incremental.
Marketing two different brand names provides more opportunities for the company to raise awareness both on its own and in the third-party space.
“The third party market is like a digital food court where guests can have many different restaurant options to choose from on their mobile devices,” said James O’Reilly, CEO of Smokey Bones. “In terms of marketing, virtual brands provide more awareness of our kitchen options under different brand names in the third-party market with extremely high access levels.”
Smokey Bones partnered with and invested in key providers in the third-party market in 2019, cross-promoting with them and often promoting them in an “aggressive” way. Smokey Bones examines analytics and insights to understand how to better perform and stand out on platforms that don’t contribute to the traditional first-party marketing that the brand normally develops.
While campaigns on third-party platforms are limited to food photography, menu descriptions, pricing, and deal information, these apps offer marketers access to consumer data they otherwise don’t have and is an increasing priority as the data privacy environment gets tighter.
To take advantage of this data, marketers need to use other marketing tactics to increase delivery sales of virtual brands on these crowded platforms. This can even take the form of a traditional tactic such as direct mail. Walker provided an example of a postcard posted within a delivery radius with a QR code that takes customers directly to the brand’s page on a platform.
Advancing as the Pandemic Fades
Third-party platforms have provided virtual brands with easy access to the delivery area. But as these virtual brands create equity and consumer behavior calcifies around outside dining, there may be an opportunity for marketers to do this alone. In January, Brinker announced plans to make It’s Just Wings menu items ready for packaging at Chili’s, bypassing third-party commission fees for delivery.
“We are determined to grow the brand over the long term and we see many advantages and potential. Chili’s had a strong go-to, curb and delivery base before the pandemic and remained strong, so we are excited to explore and show all the ways we can grow our business further through virtual brands , “said.
Smokey Bones has partnered with an e-commerce provider to create its own platform for online ordering, delivery and delivery service options for The Wing Experience, and does the same for The Burger Experience.
“Any brand that has the resources and resources to go one-on-one with customers or can transition to this skill needs this,” said Nathan’s Walker. “The ability to have as many customer relationships as possible is important not only in terms of the cost of marketing campaigns, but also in learning how to best market to them.”
Whether continuing on third-party platforms or migrating to owned platforms, virtual brands seem ready to survive even as the vaccine implementation continues and there is light at the end of the tunnel for in-house dining. However, not all virtual brands will be suitable for the future.
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