Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Video marketer hits growth plateau in Toronto

Vital Stats
Name:
View the Vibe
Owner:
Nicki Laborie
Address:
374 Wellington St. West, 2nd floor, Toronto, On M5V 1E3
Contact:
416-253-1972, info@viewthevibe.com
Field:
Video marketing and media
Employees:
8
Offering:
Video production, promotion and marketing
Notable:
Partnerships with Tourism Toronto, Toronto Life, On the Go, Toronto.com, FS Local.

Nicki Laborie thought she had finally found the perfect digital marketing solution for the hospitality industry when she launched her company, View the Vibe, three years ago. Then came the surprise that few restaurants were willing to give her a chance.

“The first year, I would call it hell. It was walking the cold streets of Toronto knocking on doors, and the doors were being slammed,” she says. “I really did believe within six months we’d have restaurants calling us and we’d be so popular, and was I ever wrong.”

After struggling through that first year, Laborie has since signed on a number of prominent Toronto foodie staples, including Café Boulud in the Four Seasons hotel, Gusto 101, Bloke and Fourth, and Earls Kitchen and Bar.

Yet new competition coupled with a general apprehension within the industry towards digital marketing is continuing to hinder the company’s growth.

Laborie, 40, has harnessed decades of experience in marketing and public relations for the hospitality industry to build View the Vibe. The company is part video production and part digital publication, both with the goal of promoting restaurants’ online presence and helping Torontonians decide where to eat.

“Over the years for me the biggest challenge was that we were the pioneer video marketing for this particular style, and it is a very close-minded industry,” says Laborie. “Now the biggest challenge is that (restaurants) have a small budget and there’s a lot of competition, so it’s convincing them why they should come with View the Vibe.”

The idea behind the company came to Laborie in 2010, when she realized how expensive it was for restaurants to market themselves online, especially without a clear way to track return on investment.

“I started researching and eventually saw a video for the restaurant in the Eifel Tower in Paris, and it immediately made me want to go,” she says. “I thought this was a really genius way for a restaurant to market themselves, because it’s almost like inviting someone into your establishment before they actually go.”

View the Vibe’s high quality videos include interviews with chefs, tours of the kitchen, testimonials from satisfied customers, and of course a healthy amount of food shots.

While the videos Laborie created were initially only hosted on client websites, soon View the Vibe’s blog section began to attract more attention. Last year Laborie evolved the blog into a digital magazine and food guide, with eight to 10 new articles published per day.

“I decided to grow the brand as a place where people can go and get a trustworthy opinion and see the vibe of the place,” she said. “Every single one of (the restaurants) we’ve been to, we’ve tried, and we’ve loved, and our audience knows that.”

At the same time View the Vibe was able to increase its reach through new publication partnerships with restaurant guides and publications such as FS Local, Tourism Toronto, Toronto Life, Toronto.com and On The Go, all of which publish and promote their content.

Clients now have the option to get a video of their establishment produced along with a subscription to a content management system for $200 per month, have the added marketing advantages of View the Vibe’s partnering websites for $250 per month, or have the restaurant promoted through all partners as well as View the Vibe’s digital magazine, the Mike Chalut Show on Proud FM, and through social media for $330 per month.

As someone who is familiar with the high stress environment of the restaurant industry, Laborie ensures that videos are shot in less than two hours without causing any disruptions to the business. Restaurant owners can view the first edit within 10 days.

Laborie presents a strong pitch to potential clients, which includes case studies, analytics and online search results, but has found that many restaurant owners are completely close-minded to the idea.

“If people don’t want it we just move on,” she says. “At that point they haven’t seen how it can increase sales and how they would have a marketing tool they can use for everything.”

According to Denis Hancock, director of the restaurant consulting and strategic research practice at BrandSpark International, Laborie’s pitch might be falling on deaf ears in some cases. That’s because the recent trend of online restaurant coupons, brought on by popular group discount programs, has left the industry with a bad taste in its mouth.

“That’s not the kind of way restaurants want to build their business,” he says, adding that View the Vibe needs to differentiate themselves by promoting a greater value to restaurant owners. “It’s not about just trying to get those guests that will come in for a half price special the first time and never return, it’s really trying to get those real guests that have a reasonable likelihood to return.”

With growth slowing down in Canada’s most populous city, Laborie is now exploring new markets ranging from Vancouver to Florida in hopes of finding less competition and more enthusiasm for digital marketing.

“The whole idea is to build the View the Vibe brand so that people trust us and can use us in different cities,” she says. “Obviously that’s a big dream, but that’s the goal.”

EXPERT VIEWS

As Interviewed by: Rosemary Westwood

View the Vibe is a great idea, but I see some ways that Nicki could boost sales. The first is that the value proposition is not clear. Restaurant owners need to see the value for money and the return on investment. So what’s the specific ROI for $200 a month? How many customers are watching the videos? It’s not clear. Secondly, sometimes an idea is ahead of it’s time. I’m pleased she was able to sustain herself for a year and now it’s picking up, but it does still take time. The third point I’d make is that she might have to re-evaluate how to drive patrons to her site. There’s a lot of competition from sites like Yelp, blogTO, Toronto Life, Urbanspoon and Dine.TO. That’s where customers are going, so what’s driving people to her site instead of the competition, and giving restaurants a reason to think about her? Fourth, it’s great that she has some influencers, Four Seasons Hotel, Earls Kitchen and Bar. Now, how are you turning them into ambassadors and referrals? Word of mouth is really important on social media. That’s how people pick up the site. And finally, Nicki needs to increase her company’s profile. She could find some partners that can help her get her company’s presence where the industry gathers — that could be trade shows, events or virtual events.

by Garth Whyte

View the Vibe’s website is beautiful, it’s got a great front page, and the videos are wonderful. But Nicki needs to build traction, traffic and sales. I get that she wants to appeal to the new, hot bistros, but those places have limited marketing dollars. They’re going to be harder to convince to spend money long term. So she should keep going after the big corporate places, like Oliver and Bonacini, establish a base there, and then others will come to her. She’s also got to drive traffic to the website; right now there aren’t any comments on the videos. She’s got to market her own brand. Teaming up with traditional restaurant reviewers like Toronto.com and Toronto Life is good. She could start giving out awards, too, based on independent reviews. It doesn't cost much, and you can make a video about it, and then patrons will see the logo across the city right up beside Toronto Life. She also needs to target the kinds of customers restaurants want. They’re the regulars, not the bargain hunters. So host a contest where people post reviews of their favourite places to eat, and offer the winner $100 to be spent anywhere. Restaurant owners will need to start seeing that View the Vibe is connecting with their customers, before Nicki can land more customers of her own.

by Brian Heasman - Ryerson

Nicki has a timely product, a known market niche, and some established customers; the challenge is in growing her business further. She should look to other organizations in the same category for inspiration and successful growth strategies. One example is OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation system that has been successful at growing rapidly into most major markets globally by engaging consumers as well as proving its value to restaurateurs in such a way that word of mouth spread in its favour. Looking to such best practices for growth strategies is a good start. Nicki also has other basic options for growth, the least risky of which are: a) increase marketing spending so popularity with consumers increases resulting in restaurateurs with greater familiarity and interest in the product (market penetration); b) develop complementary products or services that might also be of interest to restaurateurs, could help raise brand awareness, and might even be bundled with existing product offerings for greater value (product innovation); c) expand into new markets with the current product offering hoping for new customers (market entry/development). Nicki has impressive clients and growth into her third year — perseverance and hard work should continue to pay off.

by Brynn Winegard - SEEC

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