My CMO consulting practice often involves partnering with emerging / “up ‘n coming” restaurant brands.  Recently I was asked to provide my perspective from working on 25+ brands on a panel at the 2019 FSTEC event in Dallas, entitled Understanding Your Customer – The Missing Link.   Smaller-sized concepts have the same need to know their guest; however, they have a lot fewer resources, including budgets. 

When starting any assignment, my first two questions are always the same: 1) Who are our guests? 2) What do they think of us? 

Today, because of the rise in technology, there are many more sources of guest data, including:

‣ Social Media
‣ Online Reviews
‣ Guest Experience Surveys
‣ Online Ordering or Reservations
‣ Real Estate

‣ Eclub / SMS
‣  Loyalty
‣  POS / Credit Card
‣  Delivery
‣  WiFi / Mobile App / Other

Let me just say that I personally like data — much of it has at least some relevance.  But, today many brands are literally drowning in data. Others are on a quest to obtain as much data as they can. This often leads to confusion and misuse of data – unfortunately, leading to bad decisions.

So, if you are an emerging, “up ‘n coming” brand– what do you do?


Answer: Understand the different data sources and what they are good (and not good) for!

I spoke with marketers from eight different brands of 100 units or less and every brand has its own unique method for understanding their customer.  Here are 3 overall takeaways I feel you can use:

    1.  Your online reviews and social media followers are highly important to every brand. Managing your brand’s online reputation is critical, and targeting your social media efforts to the right audience enables your marketing to gain a big bang for the buck.  However, these guest audiences are skewed and overall not representative.
    2. While mobile apps are excellent for online ordering, today they are still far too small, along with most loyalty programs, to give you a clear idea of who your overall guest is. Plus, they have an inherent favorable bias.  Brands investing in a mobile app and loyalty need a strong commitment to dramatically grow adoption over time; in the near term, they are limited in terms of being truly representative
    3. To truly understand your guest, I recommend  the following data sources:
      a) POS/credit card files, which can be a major source of guest data,
      b) Guest experience measurement,
      c) Online ordering/delivery can help you profile these specific new channels,
      d) Custom guest and staff surveys – I have had major success here and have developed a fast, high quality/low cost method for doing this. Surveying takes experience and skill in order to ask the “right” questions and to interpret the results properly.   

Understanding your guest should still be a top priority for brands and marketers today.  The many sources of data that exist can lead to confusion and poor decisions.  Smaller brands have to be smarter to compete; recognize that you don’t need more data, but instead, you need more insight. Make sure you apply the right data to the problem you are attempting to solve. This is a broad topic, and so I am available anytime for your questions.   Best, Neil

For 15 years, Growth Partners, LLC has provided outsourced Chief Marketing Officer consulting to restaurant companies. I am a fresh set of eyes for current CEO’s/ CMOs, as well as a Part-Time or Interim CMO for concepts looking to grow their businesses and brands. Follow me at or on Facebook @growthpartnersllc.