Raquel Bravo has been the new Regional Marketing Director Iberia at TheFork since June this year. This executive has been working at the popular restaurant booking app for six years. Before taking up her current position, she was in charge of the Marketing department in Italy, where she also managed the Brand & Communications area. Previously, he was at eBay for 14 years.
Among Bravo’s objectives in his new position is to strengthen the TheFork brand in Spain and Portugal. He has a particular challenge in our country after the recent internalisation of the brand after adopting the global naming. Another of the pillars of his strategy will be to continue helping the hospitality sector after a turbulent year in the industry, boosting consumption in restaurants in both countries.
TheFork celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. How has marketing evolved in this period?
We started as a start-up, with hardly any resources, with a tiny budget. Now we are a global brand, with a presence in 12 countries, with 80,000 restaurants and a much more consistent budget.
At the beginning we did campaigns mainly with ROI: a lot of Google, a few dabbles in offline… Nowadays a lot of investment goes to television and in digital media we use almost everything: social media, TikTok, YouTube, influencer marketing… On the offline side, in addition to television, we also spend a little on Outdoor, although it is quite expensive and difficult to measure.
The strategy is long-term. If you want the short term, you go to Google and that’s it. When you want to build the brand, you have to touch all channels and also do awareness, which is more expensive, but you build for the future.
You were talking about your budget, which is getting higher and higher, can you give figures?
I can’t give exact figures, but for Spain we are approximately 10 million euros.
How is that budget distributed?
Most of it goes to online media, but the offline budget is no less than 35%.
Surprisingly, being a digital company, you spend a significant budget on television. What attributes does this medium give you?
We don’t do it alone. Other digital brands do it. We started doing it quite early. In my case, I started in Italy and it worked very well. Then we implemented it in other markets, including Spain, and it also worked very well for us.
Offline advertising and – in particular on television – is very effective. What we are looking for is downloads of the app. We know that downloads are coming in when the spot is playing. We use tools that measure just that. And it works in volume as well: you manage to increase the number of downloads and direct visits in quite short periods of time.
We use television quite a lot and I think we are going to use it even more.
In offline format, do you use other media besides television?
We have done things outdoors, more in Nordic countries. They are more evolved countries and television is not seen as much. For example, in London we do quite powerful outdoor campaigns and we achieve results as if it had been television here.
In Spain, it is a question of cost and measurement. It’s difficult to measure and it’s quite expensive if you want to have a strong impact.
Talking about digital advertising, do you invest a lot in Google?
Yes, but it’s true that to build for the future you can’t rely on Google to do everything. Google is at the end of the funnel. It is effective for the user when they are already thinking about going to the restaurant.
We also invest a lot in social media, in display network and we have also started to do it more consistently on YouTube to generate awareness and complete what we do on TV.
In short, SEM is important, but it reaps the rewards of everything you do on top of it, which also builds your brand. It doesn’t take the majority of the budget. A few years ago, yes, but not now. Although it is true that the cost is the most efficient, absolutely.
“We measure everything. What is not measurable is as if it did not exist”.
How has influencer marketing worked?
Here we are learning. We have done several campaigns -three or four-. The objective with which we started was more about reach, branding, giving visibility… It’s true that it doesn’t last long. You do the campaign and you have the flash of the moment and then it’s over.
We are trying to find the perfect formula. We haven’t measured the ROI as we do in other channels, but the intention is to evolve and turn them into user generation campaigns. There are already options on the market that can achieve this goal.
I understand that measurement is fundamental for you
Yes, we measure everything. What is not measurable is as if it didn’t exist.
You recently changed your brand in Spain: from El Tenedor to TheFork. Has it been a complicated process?
It has been easier than we thought. For several reasons. One, because it wasn’t the first rebranding we had done: we had done three others before the Spanish one. The first one, in Australia, with a completely different brand and look & feel. In Holland and France there were also similar processes. We learned a lot, both from a technical and marketing point of view.
In the Spanish rebranding we had no problems at all from a technical point of view. We recovered very quickly in SEO and we didn’t have any impact on the website. On the branding side, we are still called El Tenedor. That’s normal. But people do know that El Tenedor-TheFork are the same.
This change to a global brand makes life much easier for travellers, who now know that if they go to France, Italy, Holland, Portugal… it’s always TheFork. Spain was the only country left to rebrand.
It was also necessary for the restaurants, which receive more customers. Those who come from abroad see the TheFork sticker and increase their bookings in Spanish restaurants.
Beyond this rebranding, what challenges does the company’s marketing department face?
Always growing. We want to grow in users and grow in restaurants to offer a better service to both. They feed off each other.
Apart from this, the novelty this year is the launch of TheFork Pay, which is the digital payment solution integrated into our app. This is the future because once you book, you go to the restaurant, you have the experience and you also pay with our app: the flow is complete at 360º and we offer a much better service to restaurants and users. And it opens up possibilities, such as the gift card, which are new users and customers for restaurants. Currently, we already have 5,000 restaurants in Spain that work with TheFork Pay and accept gift cards.
Spreading this new gift card product we thought it was going to be faster, but we have realised that it is like another brand we have to launch. People don’t know it exists and we have to work on raising awareness of this product in the market.
As you said, you have two different types of customers: users and restaurants. Which one do you put more effort into?
It’s similar for both. But it is true that in terms of budget we invest more in users, because there are many more of them, millions of people.
However, it is essential to work well on both fronts because they feed off each other. You have to strike a perfect balance between them. If we don’t serve restaurants well, they will stop working with us. On the marketing side, we have to optimise communication as much as possible and help the sales team to provide a better service to the restaurant. And the same with the users: if we don’t bring customers to the restaurants, they won’t want to work with us. We have to maintain this balance. Every campaign, every activation, we do it with both in mind.
In the sector there are still very traditional restaurants that keep their reservation book on paper.
With COVID, a lot has changed. Digitalisation is fundamental and all restaurants have joined in. Obviously there will always be some with their paper book, but it is not difficult to convince them because they all understand that it is key to accept digital reservations. The advantages are very obvious. It’s not like twelve years ago, when we did have to convince them because they had deep-rooted habits.
“35% of the Michelin Guide restaurants in Spain already work with us”.
Do you have resistance among Michelin Star restaurants to bring them to your platform?
TheFork is the official booking partner of the Michelin Guide. We are the market leader in credibility and reliability. 35% of the Michelin Guide restaurants in Spain already work with us. It is a question of trust. It is true that there are restaurants of this type that do not need reservations because they are already full. The advantage here is not to bring customers to them, but to use our software, which helps you to manage everything you need in your restaurant in an optimal and complete way.
We have launched a partnership with another very powerful software – called SevenRooms – for the niche market of this group of Michelin Star restaurants with very precise needs. We establish a very personal relationship with these restaurants.
The pandemic hit the restaurant sector hard, which was closed for several months. What did you do in terms of communication during this time?
During this period we could do nothing but help the restaurant industry to suffer as little as possible. We spread the campaign “Let’s save the restaurants”, in which the whole team got involved. In just 20 days we came up with a technological solution so that they could sell pre-paid vouchers to be consumed when the restaurant opened. In three or four weeks we raised 420,000 euros. We opened it up to all restaurants, not just those that worked with us.
Another action we did was to facilitate home delivery and collection. It was not for our business, because we go in the opposite direction.
It was a particular period, but we liked to innovate together to help as much as possible.
I imagine you have first-hand data on the sector. Can we talk about a full recovery after the pandemic?
We are in a particular economic context, with inflation, the war in Ukraine… But what we see is that bookings have grown by 10% compared to 2019. And last summer we grew by 30% compared to 2019. That’s a lot. People are looking forward to it. We have been far apart and we need to spend time together. The restaurant is the perfect place to enjoy together.
It’s going to be a good summer. The hospitality industry is looking forward to it too. What we don’t know is what’s going to happen in the future because we’ve got used to living a little bit by the day.