Photo credit: John Kelly

Marketing is one of the toughest hurdles for a restaurant owner. Too often seen as a necessary evil, tactics to ‘get the word out’ are employed in a spray-and-pray fashion, where owners spend big money on ads sent into the ether and simply hope that something sticks. Outlets like Google, Facebook and Instagram have upped the game substantially, tailoring ads to specific target audience demographics. But attribution—or how you can track who gets credit for bringing customers in through your doors—remains a mystery, and is largely one of the most unattainable goals in the marketing world.

But what if you could see whether your ads were actually bringing people in through your doors? Technology may have finally gotten to this point that marketers have dreamed of for decades, and a platform called Zenreach is leading the charge with what it dubs ‘the walk-through rate.’

“The ability for Zenreach to put a marketing message in front of a consumer, know when that consumer has seen the message and then when that person walks into the location … it’s pretty incredible,” said John Kelly, CEO of Zenreach. The former eBay exec took the helm two
years ago.

“We have a software layer that sits on top of the local wifi within a restaurant. It becomes a sensor. We can tell when a device walks into and leaves a room, but we anonymize the device so nobody’s identity or contact information is revealed without permission. Your device is looking for a wifi signal every 30 seconds, so we get a pretty accurate read of how long people are spending in a particular place.” 

If you’ve ever checked the ‘I agree to the terms and conditions’ box to get free wifi in a restaurant, chances are you’ve given permission to share your information with Zenreach. If you then walk into another restaurant that works with Zenreach, they’ll know when you enter and exit based on your phone’s location. Zenreach tracks this movement over time to create an extremely detailed profile for every person in its database, essentially understanding how millions of people dine on an individual basis. Don’t worry though, Zenreach keeps your information private and only reveals data in aggregate unless you give explicit permission at each restaurant you visit (by logging into their wifi networks). 

To further explain how Zenreach works, let’s use the hypothetical of a Las Vegas steakhouse, which is inevitably struggling with its traffic and wants to make its marketing dollars count more than ever. If the steakhouse wanted to advertise on Facebook and Instagram, it would create the ads in standard fashion, but Zenreach would show them who actually entered the steakhouse after seeing those ads, rather than who simply clicked on those ads. The number of people who physically enter the restaurant is the ‘walk-through rate,’ and tells that steakhouse how many customers it got from its ads.

“Online engagement isn’t necessarily indicative of in-store traffic. We did a case study with one of our restaurant clients who invested in Facebook and Instagram ads. The Facebook ads generated five times the number of clicks, but the Instagram ads actually produced a greater walk-through rate. If you don’t have that walk-through signal, you’d keep investing in the Facebook ads and spending that money inappropriately,” Kelly said. 

The targeting goes several steps further than standard digital marketing as well. Before, you might be able to program an ad for people whose browsing history say they like steakhouses. Now, you can program those ads to reach people who actually dined at steakhouses in the last three months. 

“We have a very substantial network of consumers because we work with thousands of clients across the country,” Kelly said. By knowing where people have been before, Zenreach can target them on an individual basis with ads to get them back to those types of places. “With thousands of merchants and millions of consumers, the likelihood of one of our customers walking into a new merchant is pretty high.”

Now eight years old, Zenreach has picked up tremendous steam and is working with big names like Peet’s Coffee, Buffalo Wild Wings and Dog Haus, among many others. For Kelly, the sky is the limit, and he’s intent on making business better for as many owners as possible.

“We’re generating anywhere from $5-12 for every $1 spent on Zenreach,” Kelly said. “We’ve seen some great success with a number of our clients. We’re here to help others.”

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