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Hotels bet on tech to shore up market reach

By Gloria Lihavi Aradi | July 25th 2017

The Internet has revolutionised operations and marketing of businesses. In Kenya, the food service industry is adapting to this new wave of interruption that is paying off handsomely for some players.

According to Communication Authority of Kenya’s Third Quarter Sector Statistics Report For Financial Year 2016/2017, Internet users rose to 40.5 million, up from 39.6 million for the previous period - a penetration level of 89.4 per cent.

These numbers present a large audience for businesses seeking to market their products online. Restaurants and fast food service providers have been at the forefront of utilising such online tools for marketing and boosting their market visibility.

Common online marketing tools include email campaigns, search engine optimisation, blogs and other space provided by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google among others.

They ensure content reaches the right target audience instead of random internet users who may not be interested in their food products. In Nairobi, food outlets have capitalised on the high online presence of international travellers, expatriates and the young middle class with rich and extravagant palates to grow their revenues.

However, with more industry players choosing digital space as the premier advertising avenue, competition among food service providers has increased.

Promotional messages

Facebook and Instagram in particular are awash with promotional messages from multiple establishments.

Anyone relying on social media to chose where to eat from now has options, carving out stiff competition. EatOut, Yum and HelloFood (now Jumia Food), were among the first to capitalise on the opportunities created by the Internet. They allow customers to order for food via their apps, websites or by placing phone calls.

Both are in partnership with restaurants and other food outlets, which involve payment of a fee to be listed on these platforms. Most outlets have been listed on such delivery platforms, providing their customers with different means of ordering food. Through websites and social media platforms, delivery firms market food outlets by informing potential customers about offering of the various food outlets and how they can place an order.

Yum’s Social Media Manager Charles Maina says most food delivery orders are placed via the website rather than by phone - a proof that more people prefer to order digitally.

The Director of Operations Charles Karanja cites high growth in business since Yum became operational in 2012. “Initially, when we started, Kenyans were not open to the idea that you can stay at home and get your food... because they did not know where to order it and the price charged,” he explained.

Mr Karanja said online platforms have been key channels through which the firm has addressed misconceptions about how the process of ordering food online works, prompting more people to make online orders. Restaurants share information such as their location, cuisines, special events, delivery arrangements, accepted payment modes, availability of parking slots and smoking areas among other information through their websites or platforms to remove any form of uncertainties.

Furnishing such details has not only helped improve customers’ dining experience but also instrumental in solidifying restaurant brands. As EatOut’s General Manager Michelle Slater points out, consumers spend more time online and you have to find ways to meet them without making them feel like you are advertising.

She remarked: “Consumers need to be incentivised to engage with food or drink brands and restaurants so we market offers, new menus, new food concepts and so on, to keep them excited and informed.” EatOut has 2,195 listed restaurants, across more than 20 towns. Users can narrow down to a particular restaurant based on cuisines on offer or proximity of the location. People looking for a rewarding dining experience now have many tools to help them decide where to eat.

They include reviews by users of platforms such as EatOut and TripAdvisor and  social media influencers. Owners of restaurants have a lot to gain by using the input of influencers. As part of its marketing strategy, Nyama Mama, one of the restaurants with a high online presence, has worked with a wide range of influencers, such as bloggers Lyra Aoko and Soni Adriance to lift the outlet profile.

This is one of the marketing initiatives undertaken by SHK Consulting, a company that manages a range of premium brands, including Nyama Mama. In distinguishing itself, Nyama Mama strives to maintain excitement about its brand.

SHKDirector Shreya Karia says creating the buzz behind Nyama Mama has been possible through understanding of Nyama Mama’s audiences.

“A key part of the marketing strategy has been getting to know what our customers want and creating that experience for them,” she emphasizes.

In marketing Nyama Mama, SHK Consulting curates content that is relevant to its target audience. Karia indicates that this is where surveys come in handy.

People’s opinion

This way, they have been able to foster customer loyalty and attract new audiences.

“What we like to do is go back and ask the people on the database if there is something they are interested in that we are not giving them or if they would like to contribute. We channel and try to include people, because if you ask someone what their opinion is, they feel included,” she continued. This has helped build a sense of community, where people feel engaged as part of the Nyama Mama brand.

Maina says Yum puts importance on communicating simply with a photo of the food and directions on how to order, rather than bombarding the consumer with unnecessary information. He says social media offers an important avenue to address customer complaints and establish a rapport - one of the reasons behind Yum’s high customer retention rate. “Our riders and call centre team know our customers personally,” Maina says, adding that customers love consistency.

“You have to try to post something at least once a day. It could be something motivational.”

EatOut also popularises its events such as Nairobi Restaurant Week, Pizza Week and Burger Festival mainly on social media. According to Slater, these festivals have grown to attract traffic of about 60,000 people during the week-long offers.

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