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Internet Marketing Techniques for Cafes – A Strategic Overview


20th July 2009


Do you talk and listen to your customers effectively? The answer, an obvious yes. The internet enables you to do both of these – and more – 24 hours a day, whilst running your business. It has changed the platform from which businesses can operate, but why have cafes have been slower engaging online than their counterparts?

Traditional forms of marketing and communications with customers have been based on a one-way dialogue. Placing an advert in a paper, producing promotional posters or distributing flyers are good examples. Whilst still playing a vital role, offline activities should be combined with what is now considered the most powerful channel, the Internet. Online marketing techniques are different, they encourage communication between businesses and their customers, allowing companies to gain important feedback on ideas and current practices. This is a two way dialogue. Furthermore, activity online is often more measurable than offline; it is possible to calculate exact return on investment leading to informed decisions that improve your marketing efforts.

So why have cafes been slow on the uptake? A successful cafe is based on loyalty, service and a good quality product. Customers’ visit cafes because of the close proximity to home or work, because of the quality of a particular product or due to convenience. This is often seen as hard to translate online, but for this to be your final thought on the matter is a mistake. The online world provides multiple opportunities for cafes to improve loyalty, gain valuable information, increase your customer base and ultimately increase profits.

Online Marketing Tools and Techniques For Cafes

There are a wide variety of techniques available to achieve a cafes objectives online. To get started, you should consider one or a few of the following techniques.

Cafe Website Design Marketing Tips

Too often websites are treated as a ‘must have’ with little or no thought given to why they’re essential. When developing a website, it’s essential to ask the question, ‘what do I want to achieve?’ Paul West, Managing Director of Ignite Hospitality Consultants, agrees: “Websites must satisfy business objectives, they are an investment that must deliver a return.” A website is there to further drive your business and it must be constructed to meet this requirement.

A website must be treated as a virtual shop front which is open 24 hours a day. At the very least a cafe should have a simple one-page website that communicates its brand values, menu and most importantly contact details. Some benefits include:

  • Ability for customers to find you when they search
  • Current customers can contact you
  • Visitors to the website will view promotional offers that they might not otherwise have been aware of
  • Encourage member sign ups
  • A website is dynamic, it can be changed, updated and maintained at a relatively low cost

Consumers in the UK are increasingly turning to the internet to locate cafes within their area. A recent survey found 25.1% of all users searched ‘near my home or work’* an interesting insight when considering customers tend to visit cafes that are in close proximity to home or work and is often based on convenience.

Email Marketing For Cafes

Arguably one of the most powerful and cost effective tools at a cafe’s disposal, email marketing is a must for businesses of all sizes. The only requirement is a database of regular customers, which can be built up over time or encouraged through competitions. Email marketing allows a cafe to have communication directly with the people that matter at a relatively low cost. The results are regularly impressive, with the ability to track who viewed the newsletter, what they clicked and amongst other insights, who they forwarded it to. The power of this type of communication and the lessons learnt from tracking customer response cannot be underestimated. Kieran George from Cafe Giardino, a chain of 52 units, agrees, “Direct and clear communication of offers through regular emails is what drives our marketing effort. Through challenging times it’s undoubtedly the most cost-effective option.”

When developing an email newsletter it’s important to consider it as a personal connection with the user. The tone of voice, design, layout and brand communications should focus on creating a personal dialogue to nurture a feeling of attachment. In addition, recipients must receive added value for being a member, the unsubscribe button is only a mouse click away and members will only remain members if they are getting something in return. There will always be some ‘unsubscribes’ and for this reason, it is essential to continue to drive member sign ups in-house and online through the website. A recent email marketing campaign, driven by Ignite Hospitality, focused on a limited period discount for a local restaurant. The response saw a 35% open rate, industry standard is between 15 and 20%. Over 1000 emails were ‘forwarded’ to friends, 25% of recipients clicked the discount voucher, 3% booked a table and 5.5% booked a ticket for an event. The Return on Investment, tracking only bookings made online, was 850%.

Social Networking – Facebook For Cafes

Social networking has boomed in recent years and is increasingly becoming the medium through which people keep in touch and find out what is going on in their area. Blogging and sites such as Digg, Facebook and Twitter have dominated the news for good reason. So, how can social networking be of use to cafes?

To begin with, if you haven’t done so already, search your cafes name in Google. You might not yet have engaged an online strategy, but it doesn’t mean you’re not being talked about. Analyse sites such as ‘Trusted Places’ and ‘welovelocal,’ it’s likely you’ll get some interesting insights. If there are negative comments, it’s not as terrible as it may first seem. Victoria Searl, ex-operations Manager of Jom Makan received negative feedback on an open blog and responded by offering a meal to the user. The end result was more positive than if no comment had been made in the first place. The unhappy customers apologised for leaving the feedback and more importantly, other users commented on the site and emailed the restaurant to state how impressed they were with the level of attention and care demonstrated. Examples such as this are common and demonstrate the power of a two way dialogue with users online.

The major benefit of engaging in social networking is the ability to gather information and feedback on what you are currently practising and what you are planning for your business in the future. It is particularly important to provide information that people will find interesting. There is little point in using social networking to simply drive sales, as users will stop reading what you have to say.

If you own an independent cafe, for example, and have a particular passion for coffee, start a blog and use Twitter to communicate your knowledge on global trends in coffee production. It’s an addiction and coffee lovers will find your knowledge interesting and therefore the cafe you own. Any activity on social networking sites should be promoted in-house, driving more people online. Once established, these accounts become powerful tools to promote your brand and drive sales. Start by offering a complimentary coffee to all your followers on Twitter, watch the response and it’s likely they’ll come back or at least buy a sandwich to go with the coffee.

If you’re considering launching a cafe, start a blog tracking your progress and ask for advice from users on the planned menu, interiors or even the name. This worked to great effect for Master Chef Matt Follas, who recently launched The Wild Garlic based on users feedback. His blog eventually appeared on the Guardian website, fantastic for publicity. For advice on how to set up and use a Twitter account, visit

A good example of how to engage customers is currently being implemented by Starbucks in America. They’ve created a platform,, for customers to post their ideas for the direction the company should take. Thousands of users have posted ideas, complaints and advice on an open forum. Impressively, the ‘Ideas in Action’ pages communicates when these ideas are implemented. The positive impact this has on the brand, the information and the ideas they will acquire and the loyalty it will result in is something which all cafes should endeavour to achieve.

Loyalty Cards For Cafes

The internet can be used to harness, drive and increase loyalty, a requirement for all successful cafes. Larger chains such as Pret a Manger are leading in this area to great effect. Using a pre-paid loyalty scheme card, provided by leading customer loyalty & retention company Givex, customers are able to log in to the site, purchase loyalty cards and manage their account online. Not only does this increase loyalty to the chain, but it increases the speed and ease of purchase, essential to both the customer and Pret a Manger. Importantly, it provides a reason for customers to visit the website regularly, where further promotions and information can be communicated. Whilst a scheme such as this is relatively expensive to set up, smaller groups of cafes should definitely investigate its implementation. It will not only increase customer visits, but drive awareness of the other units.

In the case of independent cafes, simply providing the option to download a loyalty stamp card or the ability send one to a friend will drive awareness of the scheme. An insight Pret a Manger gained through online feedback, was the need for Personal Assistants at local offices to Pret a Manger units, to pre-order sandwiches online. If there are offices local to your cafe, this would be a good service to offer – and it only requires an email address. Engaging in online marketing techniques allows cafes to talk and listen to their customers in a two way dialogue. This open and democratic platform allows businesses to better shape their offering to the market, essential in an industry based around service. To truly maximise your potential online it is essential to view it not as an afterthought but as a tool that must be fully integrated with all offline activity.

Article originally written for Cafe Culture Magazine, published July 09.


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