There’s a hard truth that no small business owner wants to hear: The march of progress isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, the pace of innovation is such that many new technologies are deemed “obsolete” before entrepreneurs get the chance to fully understand them, let alone implement them in their business. One result is lots of small business owners feel left behind the curve.
This is especially true in the restaurant industry. So much energy is spent just trying to stay afloat that the average local restaurant simply hasn’t done a very good job staying on top of tech trends or embracing digital opportunities, even in the face of very evident consumer demand.
On the other hand, obsolete is not an absolute condition when it comes to marketing techniques. Tactics become obsolete when and if they are replaced by a more efficient and effective pathway or when they no longer provide a competitive advantage. What’s considered obsolete or outdated in the fast-moving tech industry may still be current in the slower-moving restaurant sector. Where marketing tactics and technologies are underutilized, potential for competitive gains still exists.
Email marketing is one such example. Only 18 percent of restaurant owners self-report using any email marketing at all. Those who do probably underutilize it as a marketing technique since the majority of restaurant owners only send one email per month, and a huge 71 percent of restaurants that do engage in email marketing have fewer than 500 people on their mailing lists.
In many industries, email marketing is pervasive, meaning it doesn’t provide any real competitive advantage and may look “obsolete” from the perspective of a struggling small business owner. But a restaurant owner looking at the data should draw a very different conclusion. With a smaller percentage of competitors currently engaging in email marketing campaigns, restaurant owners have the potential to derive an advantage over local competitors by using the technique.
Email marketing is only one example. Most digital marketing techniques are massively underutilized in the restaurant industry. Many local restaurants lack not only a mobile-optimized website but also any website altogether. With 70 percent of smartphone users now viewing restaurant menus on their phones at least a few times per year, according to National Restaurant Association research, even having a simple business card-style website could confer huge benefits to a local eatery. For many consumers, not being able to find a business online is akin to the business not existing.
The playing field will be different in any given geographic market and industry sector, so business owners need to weigh the costs and benefits of investing in a particular marketing technique. But with digital technologies as basic as owning a website so underutilized, restaurant owners, for example, can often gain a competitive advantage over their peers with minimal investment.
The larger point is that the way we define obsolete when it comes to marketing technologies isn’t always useful in industries where many if not most local small business owners are “behind the times.” When your competition hasn’t embraced older technology or marketing techniques, you don’t have to be on the cutting edge to benefit. You just need to be doing more with the tools at hand than the next business down the road. So don’t rush to grab the latest shiny object when last year’s (or an even older) model will do.
Rafi Cohen is the co-founder of Orders2me, an online ordering system for restaurants to take orders via their existing website, payment system, and Facebook page. He has a passion for all things tech, entrepreneurship, and food.