As consumers become increasingly mobile-centric, more and more restaurants are enhancing their marketing strategy with a mobile app. In 2013, we saw this happen in a big way, with restaurants like Dunn Brothers Coffee and Jersey Mike’s launching branded mobile payment and loyalty apps, and Chipotle and P.F Chang’s launching branded online ordering apps. According to a Hospitality Technology study, nearly 30 percent of restaurants had a mobile app in 2013. Clearly, restaurants are seeing the value in using branded mobile apps to connect with consumers.
The technology behind these apps is not new. Third-party apps like LevelUp, Google Wallet, and OLO plus mobile CRM platforms that offer branded apps such as Punchh, have carried out mobile payments, loyalty, and online ordering for a few years now. What is new, though, is restaurants operators’ growing preference to launch branded apps with these technologies baked-in.
So, what happened? Why are so many restaurants building apps that mirror their brand?
As the director of marketing at MAD Greens, a salad chain that recently launched a branded app powered by LevelUp, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this trend. After considering MAD Green’s objectives for an app and speaking with other restaurant operators, I’ve uncovered what I think are the three main reasons why branded restaurant apps are becoming popular.
First, branded apps are an important way to stay top-of-mind with consumers. The restaurant space is becoming increasingly crowded, and a branded mobile app can be a perfect way to remind consumers on a daily basis why they love that brand. A recent study revealed consumers check their phones more than 150 times a day. Since consumers are constantly swiping through their phones and glancing at apps, an app icon with a restaurant logo will remind consumers to stop by next time they’re hungry, helping increase customer traffic.
Second, branded apps enhance customer relationships. With a branded app, customer engagement is no longer limited to inside the restaurant. Instead, consumers can immerse themselves in a restaurant's brand anytime, anywhere, simply by opening up the restaurant's app. MAD Greens has experienced first-hand how eager consumers are to engage with restaurants on mobile. Just two weeks after the MAD Greens app launch, the app had more than 2,000 registered users and ranked 4.5 stars in both the App Store and Google Play. App users now experience our unique brand personality (fun with a little bit of madness!) every time they open the app to find nearby locations, view the menu, or check their loyalty status. This constant brand exposure can help deepen consumers’ connection to MAD Greens.
Branded apps build love
Thirdly, consumers appreciate restaurants that cater to their mobile lifestyles. Also, positive experiences with a restaurant’s app will translate into positive feelings for the restaurant, so restaurant operators should build apps that benefit the consumer in some way. For example, the MAD Greens app includes a loyalty program, which saves consumers money, and a mobile payments feature, which saves consumers time.
In 2013, we saw more branded restaurant apps launch than ever before, and in 2014 this trend will only grow. Restaurants are quickly catching on: an app-- specifically one that provides utility and value -- can be a major asset. So, to remain relevant in today’s mobile world, 2014 just might be the year your restaurant should join the trend and launch an app, too.