Even Wendy's says 'content is king' for digital signage

July 17, 2015 | by Cherryh Cansler

Digital signage screens are exciting to have in a restaurant, but if they lack content that is fresh and relevant, even the largest digital signs and menu boards will fail to attract and engage customers, Nick DeCarlo, director of restaurant solutions for The Wendy's Company, said during a panel at this year's Interactive Customer Experience Summit in Chicago.

"Marketing can drive [customers] into the store, but to market to them within the four walls of this restaurant is the key," he said when describing why the chain underwent a remodel in 2010, which included adding digital signage, music, DIRECTV, Wi-Fi, a mobile app and customer self-ordering solutions.

"If you can market them toward premium items — LTOs — if we can get them to buy those items with attractive signage and we can keep them in the restaurant to drive up transactions counts by keeping them there to watch TV, to listen to music, to use our Wi-Fi, to engage them in other technologies as we are doing now — increase our dwell time —  we are really now adding value to the brand," DeCarlo said.

When Wendy's started its customer engagement mission in 2010, it was conducting 70 percent of its business via drive-thru but had a goal of increasing dine-in traffic. The chain's first step was to roll out digital signage. DeCarlo knew proving ROI would be difficult at first, so he and his team focused on what they knew would work. Wendy's used the technology to:

  • Make changes to the menu;
  • Feature LTOs;
  • Enhance premium menu options;
  • Steer people away from value menus to increase average check;
  • Reduce customer perception of wait time; and
  • Sisplay required nutritional content.

"In the end, there is a perception when you are in line, but when there is a queue building up inside, it's a cleaner look, and people like watching those videos and they have a decreased perception of their wait times," DeCarlo said.

The other main value the brand found from using the technology was how fast and easy it was to push out new content to customers.

"All of this and more can be changed at a moment's notice to maintain interest, and can also help speed decision making and keep lines moving along quickly," DeCarlo said.

Tying it all together to make goal

Even the most exciting technology will fail to reach customers, DeCarlo said, if the content that it delivers is boring or isn't relevant to customers. Wendy's created its own content around LTOs, pushed out offers, and some screens even featured a live Twitter stream, so customers could see their own Tweets as well as those from others.

"We drove internal dining up to 40 to 45 percent in some areas," he said. "We got people to come inside. And the content isn't just digital signage for us; it's Wi-Fi; we have a splash page on our site, we do it with music, and we offer the same family friendly TV channels across all those restaurants. The mobile app allows customers to pay and order."

Wendy's clearly sees the value of these combined technologies as it now has more than 10,000 devices on its network, DeCarlo.

The future

Wendy's next step is to use the same types of content to provide a mobile experience, which DeCarlo believes is the future. Its mobile app, for example, will influence everything in the restaurant. DeCarlo said, "It will be integrated with your mobile profile to say 'Your last five orders were a single with cheese, why don't you try this new offer we have?'"

Customers will also be able to influence the music playing in the stores by voting via phone and will receive loyalty to offers while they are eating in stores in hopes of driving them back up to the counter to order more.

Also, the mobile experience is hands free, which DeCarlo believes will eventually turn the drive-thru into a continuous circle.

"You pull up to our order confirmation display and it automatically alerts the register that you have a mobile order," he said. The customer is alerted via phone that the order is ready, they pull forward and a crew member hands them their food.

"It's really tying [the customer experience] all together with that app, but it's the content on the app," DeCarlo. "We are going to use the same content we already use built by our in-house team."

(Image courtesy of Matthew Valokuvaus.)


Topics: Customer Experience, Menu Boards, Restaurants


Cherryh Cansler / Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.
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