Are You Going to Win the First Quarter of 2020?It’s the most wonderful time of the (sports) year again. January kicked off a new calendar and essentially begins the best three-month span for most sports fans.

College football bowl season, NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl, college basketball March Madness, NHL, and NBA seasons start to heat up, and pitchers and catchers report for MLB spring training. I’m sure there is even something on “ESPN8: The Ocho” that is “must see TV” during these months.

But it’s not just an exciting time for the sports world — it’s also a critical time for restaurants, as food and sports are intertwined industries that virtually touch everyone. According to Nation’s First Restaurant News, the first quarter of 2019 proved successful for the industry but traffic continued to be a challenge. For 2020, all brands once again will be chasing the same goal — drive Q1 sales and set the tone for the entire year. Many will use sports-themed marketing to accomplish these goals because, no matter the sport, they will have the audience to do it. The key will be how they activate these fans. I’m a self-proclaimed sports enthusiast so let’s break this blog down into what I’m referring to as the four quarters of your Q1 marketing strategy.

1. Align with your corporate branding message.
Most major brands have an affiliation with a sports team or even an entire league. If possible, utilize these sponsorships in conjunction with your local marketing efforts (avoid any fumbles by carefully checking sponsorship agreements for applicable guidelines). It is much easier to increase reach and awareness if franchise owners incorporate the same branding strategies in their local media. If you (or your corporate brand) do not have a major affiliation, that’s OK. You can still find ways to connect with your local fans.

Which brings us to the second quarter…

2. Connect with your fans.
If your brand does not have a sponsorship it can use, think about sponsoring a high school team and promoting that relationship with your local advertising. People love cheering for the local home team — get them to love your food next time they’re cheering. Consider offering digital deals that coincide with results from the game, or for the really savvy digital marketer, use mobile location data to serve ads to fans that attended the game.

A quick halftime and customer engagement kick off the third quarter…

3. Use incentives.
A serious penalty against restaurants, especially limited service, is the diet trend that comes with New Year’s resolution season. Coming up with promotions is a great way to entice your guests to use their “cheat day” and visit your restaurant. Valassis’ “Defining the Coupon & Value Restaurant Consumer” study data found that coupon users actually spend more and visit more than value menu users, making these cheat day spenders even more valuable. To entice group decisions, consider offering family or party deals in your ads leading up to the game and sending digital offers during and after game day.

Now it’s the fourth quarter, when execution matters most…

4. Put data in the game.
Like we learned in “Moneyball,” data is a marketing game changer. Apply online, offline, and customer sales data to a strategic game plan for your next marketing strategy. Employing media vendors that use first party data to spark action will give you advantages over the competition. Data is the real MVP.

And because everyone loves overtime…

5. Win the game with omnichannel.
When it comes to your local marketing, you must diversify. Think of it this way — just as you would never want to play a basketball game with five point guards, you should never rely on only one media for your ad strategy. Filling out your marketing lineup with digital, print, TV, connected TV, and radio is, and will always be, the most effective way to increase awareness, extend reach, and ultimately inspire action.

For our post-game summary, sports and food will forever be linked and Q1 is a “must win” time for your brand. Employ advertising partners and strategies that create a consistent brand message, connect with your local fans, and use data to drive results. Incentives will spark action from your guests and ultimately lift sales for your restaurant. And finally, you will need to stay diverse in your marketing; a omnichannel media plan is the game changer that you need to win Q1 and kick off a successful 2020. Now go get ‘em!