Digital menu board basics, Part 2

by Scott Sharon * • 31 Oct 2018

“Digital menu board basics” is a white paper in four parts. You should also read Part 1, Part 3 & Part 4.

Can you use digital boards to build or improve your brand? Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitor’s. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. Is your brand promise resonating with consumers? In other words, does the customer experience equal their expectation? If you are the innovative maverick in your industry your customers should see you that way. Keep in mind you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based on what your target customers want you to be. You should be who you want to be vs. who you are in the eyes of your customers and potential customers. A marketer’s job is to create and build a brand identity, not just to sell products. How well you do that will have a positive or negative effect on sales now and in the future. Your image should represent what the brand stands for and imply a promise to customers.

What is your plan to drive traffic and build your brand? First, do your research to identify what habits, perceptions or beliefs your customers have of the brand and develop a plan to build, change or reinforce them today. It usually takes one to three years to show significant results. Review the visual aspects of your brand first. Does the look and feel of your promotional materials accurately and effectively reflect your brand? It’s difficult to sell a high-quality product with homemade-looking marketing materials. In the mind of consumers, quality materials equal quality product. Digital menu boards will show your customers you are innovative and up to date with technology even if you want an “old fashion” look. They also make it easier to make the changes you learn from your research.

Here is an example: Several years ago one of the major restaurant brands asked me to review one of their prototype restaurants where they made some significant interior design changes. The first thing I noticed when I entered the restaurant was the increased amount of graphics and images inside. They even added some soffits to increase the space for graphics. Although everything was very nicely done it simply did not work. Too many graphics and too much information simply increase clutter, create confusion and cause your customers to tune it all out. It creates what I refer to as information overload.

Approximately five years later the same brand asked me to review a new prototype restaurant with all digital menu boards. The difference was so dramatic it shocked me. All the graphics clutter was removed and everything was placed on the digital boards. It made a significant improvement in the perception customers had when they entered the restaurant and made the graphics and information much more effective.

If you feel your design is ineffective or out-of-date, consider updating it by retaining key design elements that still work, while shedding those that don’t. The key is to make your brand look current without losing its original appeal, and thus customers. Ensure all pricing, ordering information, product lists and product specs are up-to-date. Delete anything no longer relevant or accurate. If you’re advertising on the internet, make sure there are no elapsed limited-time offers being advertised. This is especially important when using affiliate advertising. Often affiliates will use old ads and/or links to offers no longer valid. This not only confuses and aggravates consumers but also reflects negatively on your brand.

Digital menu board design criteria: To make effective use of the extra capabilities of digital menu boards you must first understand how your customers use menu boards. You should have a different strategy for your indoor boards than you do for your drive-thru boards. Although the same customers may alternately use indoor and drive-thru service they will have different needs for each. Design the menu boards to fit your customer’s needs. At the drive-thru speed of service and convenience is very important without making customers feel rushed. Service and communication are more important for indoor boards.

Perceived wait time is very important. If you can occupy your customers while they are in line the perceived wait time is much less and it improves your customer’s experience. Research shows most of your customers will know what they want before they see your menu board (that number may be slightly lower inside than in the drive-thru). Plus, the more information you have in the “order zone” the more confusion it causes and it decreases the likelihood any of it will be read and retained.

It’s very important for customers to read your menu boards. It’s your last opportunity to influence their purchasing decision before they make a purchase and increase the likelihood they will return. Most of your customers return or don’t return, because of past experience. Your goal should be to create an experience that brings them back.

When I first started in the digital menu board business my advice was to change only one or two panels of the current boards to digital. I designed an LCD panel that would replace one or more of the existing panels easily. Because of developments in the industry since then, I no longer advise that. Based on new cost, capabilities, and reliability, it would now be a better investment to replace the complete board with digital. However, the board should have a limited amount of animated or moving copy. Too much movement makes it too confusing for your customers and defeats the purpose of moving content. There should be a goal for each panel, such as help to make the ordering decision, trade up or increase ticket, introduce new items and build the brand. It should have a positive effect on the customer’s experience.

Small copy, information on toppers, adders and misc. signs are not easily read in the drive-thru. Digital menu boards will eliminate the need for these and make the ordering decision easier and faster. The feeling of being rushed is increased when a customer doesn’t know what they want and there is a car behind them. Those who feel rushed are less likely to be satisfied with the experience and brand. As with your current boards, there should be separate, clearly identified sections on the boards for different categories of products. Rather than just “present” information, the boards need to merchandise and promote your products. The products should look real and stimulate the appetite.

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