Tapping your staff’s ideas through social media, embracing the occasional failure and engaging your online critics are among the key tactics for restaurant brand marketing strategy, according to three restaurant marketers at a panel discussion yesterday, Marketing Strategies for Your Restaurant Brand.

A brand is a collection of perceptions in a consumers mind, according to Clay Dover, chief marketing officer, Raising Cane’s. “A brand is everything,” Dover said. “The brand is the art, marketing is the science.”

Harnessing the power of your crew-level staff is a key component of successful branding because they have more impact on the customer’s perception of your message than anyone else, says Stacey Kane, global director of buzz at AmRest.

Communication with all employees, not just managers, is vital to building excitement about marketing initiatives. For example, Zoe’s has a special hashtag that employees can add to their own social media to “celebrate what they are doing,” said Rachel Phillips-Luther, vice president marketing, Zoes Kitchen. Real and genuine stories tend to have the most impact.

“Marketing doesn’t always have to be contrived,” Phillips-Luther said.

What about social media? The group cautioned against seeing it as a stand-alone strategy.

It’s simply a way to disseminate information, a platform. The content has to be engaging. “If you don’t have anything to say, and social is your strategy, you are screwed,” Kane says. During the ice storms last winter in Atlanta, an employee at a fast casual restaurant got stuck there and helped others find their way and tweeted about it.

“That story got ten times more engagement than any other post,” Kane said. “Because people could identify with it and they could see it was real.”

Also, social media moves fast and “what’s lightning in a bottle today will be yesterday’s news tomorrow,” Christopher A. Tomasso, chief marketing officer, First Watch.

A lead-don’t-follow attitude is also a good tactic for all things social.

“You don’t have to jump on every bandwagon,” Kane says. “You don’t want to be another follower; you want to be a pioneer.”

And don’t let the fear of failure stifle ideas. Letting the team know it’s ok to fail can lead to great marketing successes, the panel agreed.

“Many of my employees are Millennials,” said Phillips-Luther. “They want gold stars and they want to win the game. But you’re going to miss the big ideas if you try to get it right all the time. Fail fast and fail forward is a tactic to overcome marketing missteps.

“I’ve learned more from giving away free tacos on Ash Wednesday or giving away free tacos for the first day of Passover,” Kane said.

“What did we learn?” he asked. “Consult the calendar.”