F&B marketing to Millennials – the power of word-of-mouth

Heleri Rande By Heleri Rande
Uploaded 18 May 2015

Heleri Rande of the Puccini Group says social media is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to marketing your F&B offering.

I recently returned from a business trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, where Puccini Group is creating a destination dining restaurant at Sheraton Metekhi Palace, a historically significant building currently undergoing refurbishment. While doing research on the ground about local habits regarding F&B, we found that the predominant method for marketing is still good old word of mouth. And that got me thinking: is it actually that much different in the West? Are we giving social media platforms too much credit when it comes to reaching the target audience?

I am part of the Millennial generation, the focus group of every possible consumer and trend survey these days. Yet, I have been on Instagram and Twitter for less than six months. I have lived in seven countries. I have travelled and dined out extensively. Yet, I have never used TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Yelp or any other "popular" restaurant research or review site. So naturally I am curious whether the focus of F&B marketers is somewhat distorted. I could be the outlier, of course, so in order to tackle this matter, I conducted an informal survey among some of my friends.

Statisticians would argue that a sample size of 15 would be quite insignificant, but let us give the data the benefit of the doubt. The group represented 10 different nationalities, aged 28 to 35, currently living in nine different countries, in cities ranging from San Francisco to Singapore. All participants are active in the work force, they make more than $100,000 and none is employed in the hospitality industry. On average, the subjects dine out 2.8 times a week. All of them have Facebook accounts, which they mainly use to stay in touch with friends, 53 per cent have an Instagram account and not a single person has a Twitter account. The primary reason for Instagram usage is sharing photos, including food photos, but only 13 per cent (one person) follow food bloggers or industry influencers. The main channel for searching for restaurants is recommendations from friends and colleagues, followed by doing online research, e.g. finding articles and blogs. The only trusted source named was Time Out and the main reason for avoiding any platforms such as TripAdvisor or Foursquare was avoiding "touristy places" or "tourist traps".

I believe there are a couple of patterns worth discovering here. Having been part of the same demographic up until a year and a half ago, I understand the thought process and this experiment proved that I am not an outlier. Or if I am, then there are a lot of us, and that is in and of itself something to focus on. If restaurants are looking to attract Millennials with spending power, well this is the set. These people's occupations span from a partner at law firm to a lead scientist at an international research centre. These individuals are all willing to pay for a good time and expect the experience to live up to it. They don't have time to scroll through endless websites (well, here I am an outlier) and look through hundreds of food photos on Instagram. They also want to avoid the touristy places so they don't trust review sites. But instead they ask their friends and colleagues. They revert back to certain trusted online sources.

But who are the bloggers/food writers they look out for? Who are the people whose recommendations they trust? How do these 2nd degree contacts source their information? These are all questions for the continuation of this research. But for the time being I can conclude that with regards to travelling Millennials in the tech-savvy world, word-of-mouth holds as important of a place in attracting the target customer as it does in less digitally advanced regions.

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