Supporting Restaurant Expansion Through Smart, Local Marketing Efforts

Senior Friends Happy HourFour ways to build your customer base in new markets

When a restaurant brand starts expanding outside of its home territory, it’s tough to gain traction. Your business was initially built around your location, suppliers and consumer base. When you expand beyond those, everything changes.

Today I’m going to focus on consumer base. How do you convince a whole new set of consumers to visit your restaurant – ideally often, especially if there’s low awareness of your brand in that area? Whether you’re a regional chain entering a new market or just a single restaurant embarking on your second restaurant in a new location, I have four marketing tips to help make the transition as successful as possible.

  1. Reflect local tastes on your menu

Okay, so this one touches several aspects of your business, not just marketing. Do your research on local tastes. I’m not suggesting you overhaul your menu – rather, I’m recommending that you incorporate flavors that are reflective of the area while staying true to your core offerings.

Smashburger does a great job of this, usually offering at least one menu item that is unique to a particular region, such as the Carolina Chili burger in their South and North Carolina locations.

  1. Engage your existing fans to generate grand opening buzz

We’ve covered grand openings before, but I can’t overstate the importance of generating as much buzz as possible ahead of time around your restaurant’s big day.

You might be surprised to find that even in areas where your restaurant isn’t very well-known, there are often at least a few people who know and love your brand. Do your homework. Find these people and engage them via social media a few weeks before you open. Offer them coupons or invitations in exchange for helping you champion your brand on social channels. If you can find a fan who is a local influencer, such as a blogger or reporter, even better!

  1. Ingrain your restaurant in the local culture

If you are an established regional chain moving outside of your territory, this one can be difficult.

Let’s say you’re a well-known Pennsylvania classic – how do you make people in Indiana feel like your restaurant has a place in their daily lives? The answer is to get local. Find out what matters to the local community, and make your restaurant a part of that. Sponsor little league teams. Host fundraising events. Cheer on your new state’s premier sports teams. It won’t happen overnight, but in time your restaurant will feel like it was part of the community all along.

  1. Pump extra marketing funds into the new location 8-12 weeks post-opening

Even for restaurants who have a successful grand opening, it’s common to see the honeymoon period end 2-3 months later. At this point, many restaurants experience a dip in sales. This is a good time to pump a few extra dollars into that market. Radio sponsorships, social promotions or traffic-driving display advertising on Waze are all great ways to continue raising awareness levels in the new area.

Now, there are certainly no guarantees when a restaurant expands outside of its original territory, but these four tips will help put you on the path to success.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Driving Traffic Through a New Daypart – The Afternoon Snack

Burgers with different foodAs lunch traffic suffers, some restaurants are finding relief by updating menus to offer snack items.

Revenue growth – it’s what every restaurant is chasing in the face of the negative same-store sales trends plaguing the industry. At a high level, there are three primary ways that restaurants can generate revenue growth – through expansion, increasing average check value, or simply getting more people through the doors. Clearly, each of these is easier said than done.

Right now, let’s focus on that third revenue growth tactic: ways to increase traffic. One of the best ways to get more customers into your restaurant is finding a consumer need that you’re not yet addressing. Some restaurants are finding success by taking advantage of a rising trend in consumer dining needs – the shift from three square meals to focusing more on snacking.

NPD reports that in the year ending September 2016, restaurant lunch traffic declined 2% while restaurant snack visits increased by 3%. In fact, the afternoon snack outperformed all other dayparts in 2016.

What’s going on, exactly? This trend in snacking is driven primarily by younger generations, or, more accurately, consumers under the age of 35. As they’re not the types to be put in a box, Millennials want to eat when they’re hungry, not when the clock dictates that it’s lunch or dinnertime. Coca-Cola recently conducted a study on the dining habits of millennials and found that 30% eat snacks instead of a meal at least once a day.

So, what does this mean for you and your restaurant? First, this is definitely going to matter the most for limited service restaurants, since snacks typically aren’t a full-on sit-down-and-stay-awhile affair. If that’s you, then it’s time to consider tweaking your menu to provide options for those who are just looking for a snack.

The most common food items purchased as an afternoon snack are burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, chips, ice cream, candy and cookies. These are typically purchased alongside coffee, bottled water, juice or soft drinks. Consider adding smaller versions of your existing menu items, starting with burgers, sandwiches and fries. Pita Pit has seen success doing exactly that with their pita sandwiches. Snack-sized value offers, like a meal deal that includes a cookie or a drink, would also perform well during this time.

Of course, simply updating your menu isn’t enough. Once that’s done, you have to get the word out! Strong offers, like freebies or BOGO deals, are great ways to drive trial of new menu items. Regardless of budget, every restaurant can (and should) make sure their existing customers are aware of the change. Social, email and in-store POP are smart and effective ways to do this without breaking the bank.

Since you’re talking to a younger audience, have some fun with the snacking daypart and build a campaign around your new menu reveal.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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The Importance of Search in Restaurant Marketing

search.jpg

How to make the best of your overall search strategy

Google processes over 3.5 billion search queries worldwide every day. These range anywhere from questions about health and history to searches for the latest viral cat video. In large part due to expanding technology, we now live in a world where we constantly “need to know,” “want to go to,” and “want to buy” – and have the ability to do so from our fingertips.

It’s important to have a strong grasp on both your organic and paid search strategy to ensure you are helping your customers find the information they need then ultimately getting them into your restaurant.

Keep Your Local Listings Up To Date

With the growing usage of mobile devices and the ease with which users can search on smartphones, local listings play a critical role for restaurants. Nearly 20% of all searches come from a mobile device and have location intent. It can be assumed that this figure is even higher for the restaurant industry. Users need to know your hours, address, phone number and other information before they can even make their way to your restaurant.

Another local listing factor that can often be overlooked is your restaurant’s reviews. A staggering 88% of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and your online reviews have an impact on your restaurant’s organic search rankings.

Luckily, there are a number of tools out there to help you wrangle all of the information about your restaurant(s) across a variety of search engines and websites. If you’re strapped for time, Google My Business is a great resource that will allow you to get pertinent information correctly conveyed to consumers searching specifically in Google.

Be There for Hand Raisers

If someone is searching for your restaurant, they likely have intent to visit and should be at the top of the list of people you want to be speaking to. Search ads give you the opportunity to not only speak to that consumer but also drive them to the site content you’ve designated to be most important.

You can also reach consumers looking for generic terms like “restaurants near me” in an effort to gain market share from your competitors by appearing at the top of the search listings (and by spending some money to get there).

The “Need it Now” Phenomenon

As I mentioned before, we live in a world where we need to know everything right this minute. Half of local smartphone searchers will visit a store within a day of making that search. In the restaurant industry, Google sees nearly 50% of restaurant searches happening within an hour of the user going there.

The search process doesn’t stop once a decision has been made, as Millennials especially are known for looking up information about their food while they are in the restaurant.

All of these facts should be making you think more about your search presence in the restaurant vertical, and if you’re really providing the value that consumers are looking for and could be getting from your competitors.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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How Convenience Stores are Winning at Restaurant Marketing

Yellow and Black Gasoline Station Convenience StoreQSRs, beware. C-stores are coming for your consumers.

More and more often, hungry consumers – particularly young Millennials and Gen Z’ers – are visiting convenience stores instead of fast food restaurants to satisfy their cravings. According to NPD, 10% of quick-service visits are claimed by convenience stores. This may not be surprising to anyone from New Jersey or Pennsylvania, where Wawa has been a beloved staple for years. But, everyone else may be feeling a bit bewildered. Let’s take a look at what c-stores are doing to attract and pull consumers away from your fast food restaurant.

They offer a wide variety of options

7-Eleven, Sheetz, Wawa and Circle K offer a surprising variety of prepared and fresh food. Hot dogs, subs, paninis, salads, pizza, breakfast items – it’s all there. Pair that with the typical convenience store lineup of chips, candy and beverages, and what more could a Gen Z’er ask for?

Their prices are lower

MSN reports that the average food purchase at a convenience store costs $2 less than at a QSR. At the same time, fast food restaurants, faced with supply pricing pressures, have started to reconsider their dollar menus.

They encourage loyalty

When people are willing to go out of their way to get a sandwich from a convenience store, you know the c-store must be doing something right. C-stores have a great start towards building long-term loyalty simply because they have done so well with attracting young consumers. Millennials and Gen Z’ers have long lives of spending still ahead of them!

C-stores have also found innovative ways to leverage loyalty programs, such as RaceTrac’s app-based rewards program. Customers scan purchases to earn, track and redeem points, which they can then trade in for rewards that they select themselves. Rewards span RaceTrac’s variety of food offerings – think frozen yogurt, hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches and more.

They’re innovating in ways that resonate with their consumers

Sheetz recently opened a “food-first” c-store on West Virginia University’s campus. Their goal is ultimately to develop and roll out a café-like concept, and the WVU Sheetz location is serving as a testing ground. Meanwhile, students and locals alike get to enjoy a restaurant-like atmosphere with seating and an open view into the food preparation area. There are outlets and USB ports so that customers can stay a while with their laptops or devices. It truly is an appealing place to spend time.

What does all this mean for you? Well, if you are a marketer at a QSR and you haven’t started to look at convenience stores as key competitors, now’s the time. Whether it’s making updates to your loyalty program or finding ways to innovate within your menu or physical space, it would be wise to find ways to bring that younger customer base back through your doors.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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The Ideal Interrelationship of Restaurant Marketing and Operations

Business Team Meeting Strategy Marketing Cafe ConceptWhen it comes to restaurant management, there’s an inherent disconnect between operations and marketing.

Although their end goals are the same, the different paths they may travel to reach that destination can end up putting both factions on a rocky road. At a basic level, marketing and operations function in a circle.

For promotions, marketing creates a campaign to attract guests; operations executes the campaign and provides feedback/results to marketing. For Limited Time Offers (LTOs), the cycle is reversed with operations creating the LTO that marketing is then tasked with promoting. Considering the cyclical nature of this process, along with the natural overlap and dependence on each other for success, marketing and Operations must see each other as allies, not enemies.

To be completely aligned, operations and marketing should do their very best to understand the challenges faced by the other department. Operations teams are built to innovate and deliver good, scalable, consistent food and dining experiences, while marketing is always looking for something unique to offer new and existing guests.

Operations are tuned in to the here and now (i.e. guest feedback, current food costs, menu mix). Marketing, on the other hand, lives in the future; in a world of “what if?” When the two mindsets work in tandem, magic is possible.

Marketing has access to information that can shape operational decisions in meaningful ways, ultimately creating a better overall experience for consumers. The best marketers can detect trends in areas such as taste preferences, social chatter, and industry growth, and inform operations so that they can quickly adjust menus or server training based on that information.

Furthermore, monitoring should be a collaborative exercise between marketing and operations to ensure that the most important and meaningful metrics are gathered. Flavor partialities, protein penchants, healthy vs. indulgent proclivities, and even basic lunch or dinner preferences, can be measured over time to identify trend shifts and proactively solve potential problems before they occur.

If your restaurant already encourages an open dialogue between operations and marketing, your guests likely recognize that you offer a consistent experience with interesting menu options.

If your Operations and Marketing departments are not in regular communication, it’s time to start opening those lines and building bridges now. A marketing initiative should never leave the department without being vetted for operational feasibility.  Conversely, operations should strive to keep marketing informed of the most current information and feedback, whether negative or positive.

When marketing and operations work together, it not only makes for a more harmonious work environment, but a more satisfying experience for guests.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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How Restaurant Marketing Can Suppress Negative Google Results

feedback conceptSearch engine optimization tactics will help restaurant owners escape negative reviews.

PR nightmares can happen to any business, at any time, but their negative effects don’t have to last forever. If someone Googles your brand, there’s no reason why a negative story needs to become a permanent mantelpiece on the first page of Google. While consistently terrible PR might be a symptom of bad business practices, a few errant gaffes can certainly be mitigated with great search engine optimization (SEO).

  1. Utilize an always-on approach for any branded terms related to your restaurant. This is a surefire tactic to always showing up first in result pages. Additionally, owning the paid search section of Google’s results page ensures other brands can’t conquest potential customers.
  1. Wikipedia articles typically always rank on the first page for a brand. There are even firms that specialize solely in developing Wikipedia articles, getting them approved and keeping them approved. With a domain authority of 100, it’s not likely Wikipedia articles will fall out of Google’s good graces any time soon. Please note that for restaurants that opt out of a specialized Wikipedia firm and write and submit an article in-house, it’s important to become familiar with Wikipedia’s stringent article guidelines and acceptance policies.
  1. Interlink all social accounts (Facebook should have links to Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, etc. and vice versa). Companies that utilize this strategy have success showing actual tweets in search result pages, rather than a Twitter profile alone.
  1. Feature well-optimized menus on partner websites like Allmenus.com or Opentable.com, in order for Google to add individual menu items to the search engine result page within their knowledge graph.
  1. Key executives should have personal websites that mention and link to the brand website. Not only will this strategy rank executive websites for brand-related search terms, it’s also a good way to earn additional links and increase domain authority. This tactic is high-effort, but the payoff is worthwhile. Also, ensure these websites are developed on separate servers to avoid link-network penalties from Google.
  1. Set your restaurant up with Yext or another local listing management platform. For a company with just a few locations, the prices are pretty reasonable. This strategy will earn long-tail rankings on sites like Foursquare, Yelp, etc.
  1. Execute duplicate suppression across social and review accounts. For example, a company may have two Glassdoor accounts with negative reviews on both accounts. By combining these duplicate accounts, you limit the amount of times this result can show up in a search engine.

Of course, restaurants should do everything they can to limit the source of negative press. But for unintended blunders, the above tactics will act as defensive measures to suppress negative Google search results.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Learn Why This Food Is Dominating Restaurant Marketing

Homemade Spicy Shrimp TacosIt’s No Wonder Tacos are Popping Up on Every Menu

Admittedly, Mexican cuisine is not new to fast casual. Not even close. In fact, the burrito is arguably what started the whole thing. But, tacos, specifically, are a hot trend that restaurant brands of all types and sizes are capitalizing on.

And there are a few chief reasons why tacos are such a popular item as both the overarching theme of a menu and simply as a new item.

Versatility: Tacos come in all shapes and sizes. From flour or corn tortillas to naan bread and more, tacos are the ideal vehicle for any number of delicious flavors. And, because they are made to order, they can easily be customized, thus offering easy adds and substitutions for guests without creating an operational nightmare.

Anything Goes: As our palates evolve to include a multitude of international flavors, restaurants struggle to keep up with current trends whilst remaining true to their brand. Tacos are an authentic catch-all where everything is an acceptable interpretation. Brands can easily offer a taco with Mexican, Asian and/or Indian flavors without seeming trite or that they are trying too hard.

No Veto: Because tacos are so customizable and often follow the latest food trends, there’s always something for everyone. This eliminates the ever-powerful veto vote when dining with friends or family. From vegan to carnivorous, Mexican to barbeque, tacos allow everyone to enjoy their meal without infringing on the preferences of others.

A New Go-To: We’ve all been with a significant other or family member when the response to “What you do you feel like eating?” is “I don’t care.” Rather than allowing that statement to send you into a tailspin, allow tacos to be your life raft. The diner trying to make healthy choices and the diner in the mood for something indulgent are both satisfied. Finally, there’s a menu item that can keep the peace.

Innovation: Tacos allow restaurants to flex their culinary muscle without asking your guests to stray too far from their comfort zone. Tacos are a great option for limited time offers, as a mechanism to test new flavor profiles and as a way to attract new guests.

Whether you’re handling restaurant marketing for a Mexican restaurant, a comfort food establishment or an Asian bistro, tacos are a great way to appeal to the masses and try something new while staying within the acceptable range of innovation. After all, who hasn’t thrown a bunch of ingredients together at the end of a shift to create an impromptu taco? You’re already doing it; share it with your guests.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Four Ways to Use Your Restaurant Marketing to Create Grand Opening “Buzz”

news word written by ketchup on a plateHere are four cost-effective tips to drive interest in your restaurant’s most important day. 

As a restaurateur, you know all too well just how much time and effort you have put into hiring the right staff, creating an interesting menu, developing on-premise collateral, and selecting a location that is sure to drive butts in seats. Your team has countless hours invested.  Don’t allow your hard work to fall flat by missing the last crucial step: telling guests you exist! 

 1. “Build” excitement

Just like your operations, your restaurant marketing must start long before your grand opening.  Whether breaking ground on a new location or retro-fitting a building that already exists, make certain to post signage that your restaurant is coming soon.  This can be in windows or on chain-link fences surrounding the construction site.  Anytime a business closes or construction equipment makes an appearance, the community is curious.  Use that curiosity to your advantage by sharing information. 

 2. Be a good neighbor

Your real estate team spent a lot of time and effort putting your restaurants in thriving neighborhoods and schools or on a street with easy access to a busy office park.  Now take advantage of all their hard work. Attend events in your community, and go armed with information on your restaurant, opening dates and coupons that encourage trial. 

 3. Get social

Start creating a following on social media long before the opening.  Set aside a modest spend for paid social to geo-target the area.  Hint: 10.2 miles is the ideal proximity for restaurant marketing. Encourage people to LIKE/FOLLOW your pages and handles.  Then, provide regular updates on the progress.  And, depending on budgets, consider hosting a pre-opening event for social fans.   This is a great way to engage fans, as well as a soft opening for your staff to identify any necessary operational adjustments. 

 4. Alert the influencers       

Historically, the food and restaurant sections are among the most read in print and online versions of local papers.  Given this, it’s smart to make friends with those reporters. 

Invite these reporters and editors into your restaurant before you open,  for a “VIP” experience. Treat them to a free meal or and the opportunity to check out your new space and take photos. Invite everyone personally, send an invitation and follow up with phone calls.  If your restaurant has access to a local chef, offer a cooking segment on a local TV morning show to highlight the cuisine offered at your restaurant.  

These small but effective tips will ensure that you’ve created the proper buzz necessary to drive interest before, during and after your opening. 

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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How Technology is Changing Restaurant Marketing

Hand holding mobile with Order food online with blur restaurant

Technology is changing the way consumers order in restaurants.

The world is becoming more and more automated and, as a result, so is the restaurant industry.  Gone are the days of servers taking orders with notepads. Now, servers have digital pads to take orders and send them directly to the kitchen. Some establishments even allow consumers to order directly from their table without needing to wait to place their order with a server.

So, as technology continues to advance, how will the restaurant dining experience continue to evolve as well? Will a robot take your order?

There are several different pieces of technology available now – including everything from reservation apps to table top ordering and more.

Reservations can now be made at the tap of a button with a multitude of apps before they even get to the restaurant. Some restaurants even incentivize guests to book with them by rewarding reservations with loyalty points. This technology allows the restaurants to fit more seamlessly into the consumer’s multitasking, fast-paced lifestyle, while providing value for them.

Continuing to put the consumer in charge of their dining experience is key. Some establishments are now offering the ability to order directly from the table. Forget about sitting there waiting for the server to take your drink or app order. Simply enter your order into the table top tablet whenever you’re ready and “poof!” it’s sent to the kitchen or the bar.

But does it make sense for your establishment?

First, take a look at your guest traffic.

Do you have the volume of traffic to support the technology infrastructure? Are your guests looking for control and quick-turn service or is it more of a leisurely environment? Does it seem authentic with your establishment and the type of service you deliver? Are your guests technologically savvy? These are all good questions to ask yourself before jumping off the deep-end into the pool of technology.

It doesn’t make sense to do them all right away – you have to dip your toe in first. Start with one that you think can most immediately solve a business need.

Is your bartender also taking reservations or hostesses also bussing tables? Maybe start with a reservation or no-wait app and see if that helps improve the customer experience and service time.

Is your hostess also taking drink orders while a line of people wait at the door to put in reservations? Try starting with a table top device to send drink orders to the bar so guests get drink orders faster.

This can also help with table turn times, allowing you to increase yield. Also, because guests can put in drink orders faster, this could potentially increase check size and simultaneously shorten the length of time at the table – which may allow for faster table turnover.

Simply start off with testing the waters of what works best for your establishment and building from there. That way you can stay on top of the technology game and give your customers more control of their experience at the same time.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Restaurant Marketing Starts With How It Makes Your Customer Feel

Hands Reach for Naples-Style PizzaWhen making decisions about new changes in your restaurant, give special consideration to how they will affect all five senses.

Are you looking for ways to improve the overall experience at your restaurant but aren’t sure where to start? For those on low budgets, consumer surveys and market studies are not realistic. Fear not as it does not always need to be a big production.
Here’s a way to start simple by using your five senses to guide your focus. If dining out is about the experience, then it only makes sense to cater to your senses, right? The trick is to address each of the senses in isolation.
If you only had one working sense, then how would you feel about dining at your restaurant based on that one sense?

Sight – If you’re familiar with real estate then you are very familiar with terms such as ‘curb appeal’ and ‘staging.’

What guests see from the outside is their first experience with your restaurant and you want to make sure that you make a good impression to keep them walking from the parking lot through the door. This also applies inside – what do you see when you first walk in? Also important – what does the food look like on the menu and upon delivery to the table.

Sound – Close your eyes and walk in to your restaurant. How do you feel? Is it loud? Does it sound busy, or worse, does it sound empty? Is the music so loud that you can’t hear the hostess? Or is the music setting a mood that makes it feel like you just walked in to a book store?

Changing up the music is really simple and you will be surprised at how it can impact the experience of your guests. Additionally, adding simple sound dampeners to the ceiling, walls or floor does not necessarily have to be a costly endeavor.

Smell – Before your guests can taste the food they will probably smell the food. But be careful, when you close your eyes and put some earplugs in, do you actually get a cacophony of smells?

 There is a fine balance between sweet wafts of fries as they float by the table and a blend of all plates coming from the kitchen. Bottom line here is, if it doesn’t smell good, your guests are not going to want to eat and may leave before ordering.

Taste – This is probably the most obvious sense to prioritize for restauranteurs and is important to keep on the list. Help your guests by creating sample menus that combine different dish tastes for the most optimal overall experience.

Touch – Tables and chairs that look good are great for your eyes but not so much for your butt. When you sit down at your tables, do you want to stay there for a while? What about the texture of your food? That also affects how guests taste and experience your dishes.

When making decisions and thinking about new changes in your restaurant, give special consideration to how they will cater to all five senses. If they are pleasurable to the majority of them, success is sure to come.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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