Meet Angela Diffly, co-founder of the Restaurant Technology Network (RTN), the leading industry think-tank and peer share organization that’s pushing the industry forward—while bringing us all together—with technology standards and virtual workgroups. In this episode, Angela and Jen dish about the explosion of RTN membership, the fusion of marketing and technology, the fate of the industry and what hope she sees in the future.
She cites many recent examples from brands that are leading the way in tech + marketing—who all pivoted quickly—and encourages marketers to embrace new technologies that spark creativity. Look at these campaigns and get inspiration for your own: Burger King TikTok Dance competition; It’s Just Wings virtual concept by Brinker, Chipotelanes; Dominos drone testing; Torchy’s Tacos Cinco De Mayo campaign, Taco Bell’s trucker drive-thrus, The McMuffin RIP headstone and many others.
“It’s important for technologists to work with marketers and vice versa, especially with new generations (which she calls “genzenialls”), because what used to work doesn’t work anymore. You have to find more creative, out-of-the-box ways to capture your audience and bring them in,” she says—and show off your personality in more inventive ways.
Name: Angela Diffly
What she does: The co-founder of the Restaurant Technology Network, a member-based organization that connects restaurant operators with technology solution providers. Angela pushes marketers to embrace tech in reinventing their brands.
Noteworthy: Angela has a non-traditional marketing background that began with corporate comms and PR. Prior to co-founding RTN with Abby Lorden, she spent 13 years at Epson and started her own e-magazine. She discovered a passion for technology while working at eBay, where she got her first taste of innovative trends like artificial intelligence, voice systems and machine learning. “It embedded me in the tech space and solidified my love for tech,” she says.
🌶️ It’s all about branding.
Restaurants that carve out a distinct identity are the most memorable. Being unapologetically who they are— even in the midst of a pandemic — is the key to success.
🌶️ In these difficult and confusing times, Angela says it’s important to infuse laughter into brand communication.
She advises brands to recognize where people are right now and empathize with them. After all, that’s what hospitality is all about — making people feel good. “If we can’t open our doors, then we could certainly still open our hearts and make you laugh a little along the way.” A great example of levity: The social distancing Whopper by BK
🌶️ Embracing and sharing bold concepts through marketing is crucial now … and in the future.
Imagining how marketing can create new and innovative concepts includes finding better ways to tell stories of success — for example, sharing how restaurants are developing native delivery and finding new revenue streams. “Innovation and outward thinking are really reaching a crescendo,” she says.
Thinking beyond off-premise, to the next new thing
“Restaurants are trying to reinvent themselves. That’s a necessity, right? And it’s really cool that they’re thinking outside the box, like the physical store box. When you think of in-store closing down and everything converting to off-premises, you may be thinking that off-prem is the way to go, that’s our revenue stream, but really, you’ve got to think even outside of that box.”
Win big by being bold
“Taking risks. The biggest winners will be those that are doing really outside the box concepts, like those virtual brand concepts, anything that doesn’t have a physical space.”
Innovation is a necessity now more than ever
“People like McDonald’s are investing in technology heavily. I think not investing in [tech] is the biggest risk … because you have to innovate right now.”
Smaller brands: embrace quick reaction times
“Sometimes when you’re smaller, you can be more nimble, and you can move faster than the larger brands. I’m sure they might not have the financial backing to do it, but they might be more nimble and have a scrappier team that can do things quicker. We have seen that. If you have the strong marketing to back you, then you can make a big splash.”
Find who’s successful and emulate them
“One thing we committed to, pre-COVID 2020, was that this was no longer the year of our own point of view or feelings about the growth trajectory of Dog Haus. We decided we need to focus on the data. What is the data telling us? But, you’ll find data in that corner, underneath the couch, over there in your car, maybe at your favorite vacation spot. It is so hard to aggregate all the data, DSP data, restaurant data, POS data, credit card data, app data, open rates in your email partner, SMS conversions. What it means to get all that information and decipher it, and to be able to use it is great. It helps us make decisions and move forward.”
Forward-looking, Forward-thinking Approach
“Another thing I would point to for the mid-market brands and other brands is to read the trade magazines. See who’s doing what successfully, who’s saying that they’re getting through it and how are they doing it. Those are the kinds of models to follow. And joining the Restaurant Technology Network is a great thing because you can connect with the brands and learn from your peers and also tap the supplier community technology talent that’s out there.”
Connecting like-minds during the pandemic
“We very quickly stood up two distinctive workgroups around the coronavirus pandemic — one with restaurants to restaurants, so that they could have a true peer-share environment where they could brainstorm ideas every week about what was going on and who was doing what.”