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Danielle Vona: Bloomin’ Customer Base with Engaging Programs

Danielle Vona: Bloomin’ Customer Base with Engaging Programs

Dining is a competitive industry, with a wealth of choices for potential diners to choose from in both the physical and digital worlds. As in-person dining once again finds its footing, it’s more important than ever before to deliver an engaging experience that keeps your customers coming back.
Dining is a sensory experience, so how can mobile and digital be used to accentuate the consumer experience and really tie in to a company’s goals? For Danielle Vona, Senior VP and CMO of Bloomin’ Brands Inc., the parent company of restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill, it’s all about bridging together the digital and physical.
This means embracing new technologies and platforms to keep the traditional dining proposition fresh. It’s an approach that has paid off for Vona, with a digital and social strategy that has seen Outback reach 314 million impressions and hit $94 million worth of earned media. 
In this episode of the Big Leap, Vona talks to host Peggy Anne Salz about how rewards programs, limited edition NFTs, and symbiotic influencer relationships can all help restaurants connect with their audience and keep diners coming back.

The Power of Being Everywhere

For Vona, even for something as inherently physical as food, it’s about being cross-platform and omnichannel, maximizing availability to consumers. There’s a huge amount of choice when considering where to eat, or where to order from, and even for a Bloomin’ Brand such as Outback, it’s a challenge to grab the audience’s attention.
Being available, and being on the platforms their customers are, is all part of Outback’s strategy: “Anywhere we can have a presence that helps give access to people when and where they want it, that’s where we want to be. So, it’s not just our nearly 700 restaurants across the country for Outback, it’s also anywhere you want it in any way you want to get it.”
This “being everywhere” mantra isn’t just about availability and accessibility, it’s about keeping Bloomin’ Brands mobile users engaged with their favorite restaurants and staying front-of-mind when their customers choose their next meal. Vona believes strongly in making use of all the social channels available: “We have to understand how to play in all of those channels. And they each have different roles, they have different kinds of content, different ways that you engage with audiences…. We need to be in all of them, and we need to have the right content in the right places.”

Knowing Your Audience

An omni-channel approach certainly doesn’t exclude being granular or being strategic across platforms. Vona sees her company as one that embraces opportunities, and there’s no better example of this than the NIL Outback TeamMATES program, which has seen Bloomin’ Brands team up with college football players as brand advocates. 
“We create partnerships with them, they help promote our brand, and we promote them,” Vona says. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship. We’ve had 314 million impressions that are earned because of our involvement with NIL, which has been amazing. We have $94 million in earned media that we’ve gotten from this kind of activity.”
As a company that blazes a trail for customer engagement, Web3 is naturally a next step, and Vona has seen great results from their series of NFTs. After jumping in with the ‘Bloomin Bud NFT’, which sold out of a limited run of 8,000 in 20 minutes, Bloomin’ has a new range that ties to its catering — offering in-restaurant discounts with each NFT purchased. 

Testing and Learning to Earn User Engagement

A challenge faced by any brand looking to make the most of a variety of platforms is that user demands are ever evolving. How can brands hit on a winning strategy as the game constantly changes? 
Vona thinks that adaptability is key and has found that a structure that allows learning and testing has brought better results and even new audiences: “Whatever the plan is, it probably will change. So, test, learn, but be ready to change and adjust if things are not working exactly the way you had hoped. You have to be willing and ready to make adjustments as you go.”
Digital, and particularly mobile, may have been neglected by the restaurant trade until recently, but Vona sees the app as a powerful way to better connect with customers and to add value to the Bloomin‘ Brands dining experience. 
As she sees it, the experience has to be a valuable one for consumers, not just window dressing for a restaurant that they ultimately might not visit. “The reality is you have to earn space on someone’s phone. So, if you’re going to be an app and you expect to take up one of those little boxes, it has to have some value to the user.”
To hear more of Vona’s thoughts on engagement, and a more in-depth view of the Bloomin Brands NFT program, listen to the episode in full.


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Posted on April 4, 2023