Developing Brand Image
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Did you have any other restaurant experience before joining Cross Pizza?
No, before Crust the only restaurant experience I had was eating there. So nothing, nothing to do with working there. It’s the first time I’ve been able to work with restaurants, on the marketing side.
What are the differences that, the nuances that you see that is in the restaurant business that were different from your previous experiences?
Yeah. So previously I worked for a nonprofit. So obviously we were still dealing with reaching people. But the, the product was different. The product for the nonprofit was very different than the product of a restaurant, which is obviously food.
And so one of the major differences is just... I guess kind of the feedback, I get more feedback in restaurants than I did in the more people leave reviews for the restaurants that I’m over. In general, I get a lot more guest engagement with food than I did with a nonprofit.
And how do you use that information? Like how, how are you applying the feedback, the good, and the bad, into your planning and execution on the marketing side?
Yeah, so it, it goes as far as operational if we may have an operational issue in the restaurant being our oven may not, may need to be cleaned. And we know this because a bad review is saying, “Hey, my pizza wasn't cooked all the way.” So I use that information and go to the operations director and make sure the oven has been cleaned, that it's scheduled maintenance is correct. So it could go as far as that, to all the way to you know what people want? If there's a new pizza that people want, if they want new toppings or certain things like that they'll give their feedback and let me know “Hey, we want this too. We wanna see this on the pizza, we wanna see this on the pizza.” So I can use feedback in a number of ways.
So you joined Crust Pizza about two years ago, and if I'm not mistaken, at that point in time, Crust Pizza had 11 locations open. Now you have 18 locations open; 19 coming soon as well. What has been the biggest challenge in expanding the brand but keeping the same cohesive brand from one location to another location - that you had to deal with?
Man, the biggest, the biggest problem would probably be there's different, different people in different areas. We're mostly based in the south so Louisiana, Texas is where all of our locations are as of right now. Corporately have been able to have a good grasp on keeping the brand right since we're so close to every single one of these.
So we really haven't had that many struggles, but we kinda have our differences with a location in Louisiana has the people in Louisiana are very different than the people in a big city like Houston. So trying to, trying to figure out how to keep that same brand and market it in the exact same way to completely different people has been a challenge for sure.
How, how do you deal with that? Do you change your messaging depending on the location or do you add nuances to how you're promoting different item - or even promoting separate sets of items for different locations - or do you try to keep it all the same for the cohesiveness of the brand?
We try to keep it all the same. We do know. For an example, Mardi Gras is very big in Louisiana, but it's not as big in Texas. So we'll push Mardi Gras marketing wise on Louisiana stores a lot more than we will in Texas. Cause that would be money wasted in Texas.. So we would use that use that money elsewhere for Texas stores.
So things like that, a little differences. But for the most part, all of our wording, all of our brand… You walk into a store in Louisiana and it's just like walking into a store in Texas. And we try to keep that the same.
If I'm not mistaken, the model, like the most of the, the, the locations are a franchise model. Do you get feedback from them and adjust your marketing based on their needs as well? And how do you incorporate that to the overall marketing strategy?
Yeah, so we're, we're big on our franchisees are at the store every day. A lot of them are owner owned and operated, so they're there. They see the day-to-day. I’m not at the store every day. A lot of our corporate teams aren’t at the store every day seeing what the guests are telling the cashiers all these things. So we have weekly meetings with new stores that open for the first few months every week. We'll meet with them. What’s working with marketing. What’s not working with marketing. And the same with operations. And then after those three months, then we'll go to monthly meetings. And so we're always asking them, Hey, what can we change? What can we do different? Like, what's working for y'all? What's not working for y'all? What promotions that we're promoting are doing good? And which ones are doing bad? So we stay in contact with our franchisees.That's very important.
What is the biggest mistake that you've seen quick service restaurants, or pizza places, make when it comes to their brand?
Yeah, just staying relevant. The world we’re in now we're used to instant. I mean, if we buy something on Amazon, we wanted the next day, next day or two. People will just want things fast. They want new things. So just staying on top of trends in marketing staying on top of what people want. Somebody ask for it? A lot of people ask for one thing? You need to get on top of it. Cause we know within the next month or so it’s going to be the whole thing, then it will be something new. We're staying with what's trending.
Can you give me an example of some of those things that you brought up because there were a lot of people asking for it? And what, what was the impact?
When TikTok came out we, as a corporation, didn't really use it. But we had some of our employees or friends use for Crust Pizza. And so we had this one who kind of did a collab. One of our local stores did a collab with Chick-fil-A. So they did like a Chick-fil-A pizza and it got over a million views on TicTok. So just like trendy, cool things like that, you know, make a funny video for people to see. Like this is what we got, if you go to Chick-fil-A, bring some nuggets and throw it on a pizza. Things like that, and staying relevant with the community and using the social media that we have in front of us to our advantage.
And as, as a marketer, a lot of things that you do is around data, around tracking the feedback.. How do you capture the data that you need to run effective campaigns, effective branding, strategy effect, effective social media strategy... Where are the sources of these data points for you?
Yeah, the biggest, biggest source that we use before, I mean, obviously we use our, our point of, to see what's selling and what's not. We get all our data from our point of sale. We also use Facebook to see what pictures, what posts, what promotions are doing better which ones get more engagement, and which ones don't get as much engagement.
So we mostly use, I would say, Facebook and then our, our point to sale to see what’s selling. And then word of mouth as well. I feel like that’s the best source of feedback. Word of mouth – what our customers tell our cashiers that they like and what they tell they don't like about us.
How do you connect? Do you guys have a way of connecting those interactions that are happening in person to the digital world, or are you using some proxies of like… we are running this campaign and maybe there's an increase so you attribute that to, to that campaign. How do you really get that attribution correct?
Yeah. So I feel like a lot of marketers stick to just digital. But we also do use our location that we have for our free marketing. You know, we already have customers that will always come into.
But what we've used is we use our location. We have signs up all the like signs up everywhere with our promotions that we're running that's right in front of their face. So while they're in line, they see what promotions we have, we see what we're offering next month. What we have offered. We have t.v.’s… so they don’t just see it on Facebook, they see it while they’re in the store.
I feel like marketers sometimes forget to use what's right in front of them, which is their storefront.
And, and you mentioned loyal customers, the people that are coming over and over. How do you, so what's the goal of your branding? Are you trying to get more people to become those loyal customers? And if so, how do you measure that?
Oh yeah, of course we try. We're always trying to get more and more people in - the more people the better. But the best way that we measure it is our point of sale. We have a loyalty sign up. That's the easiest way to measure people that keep coming.
Cause once they sign up for loyalty, then we have access to, you know, their name, to know like, Hey, this person has been here once a week, and they come on Wednesdays. So that's the way we’ve been able to who's our loyal customers are, who our new customers are, and what customers haven’t been in in a while, of course.
And do you tailor your messaging to those specific customers? Like if there's a customer that is ordering certain type of pizza, do you try to tailor the promotions that they're receiving from your loyalty?
Yeah. So one of my bosses kinda says it like this. He's like, once they're in they’re sold, the product will sell itself. We really sell not more than just pizza, but the environment. Any Crust Pizza that you walk into is just the environment. Even me, before I started working there, I went into the Crust, and the area – the atmosphere – was just so nice I was like I wanna stay here, I wanna sit down. I don't even have to eat any pizza. It's just a nice place. So we use that to our advantage to kinda attract more people to come in. I wouldn't necessarily use our loyalty members to try to entice them to come in a little bit more. Cause once they're in, they're in - so we'll maybe remind them of, Hey, this is the promotions that we do have, we have promotions that we run every week.
It's same promotion. Tuesdays we have kids eat frees. And on Wednesdays we have half off wine and those are our big promotions that we run 24/7. And so they know about those. But if we have any new promotions, like we just ran a newest promotion, our lunch special, we started doing a lunch to get more people in for lunch. So we put in front of their face. For all of our customers that come in we have a big sign that says what offered and what the price is. So they can know about it as well as it's boosting on Facebook for new people to come in.
You mentioned that the location is very important. In the digital age, how do you communicate that to them? When you are doing on your online ordering, they're not in in person anymore or on Facebook, they're not in person. They're not seeing that. How do you try to create that cohesiveness of brand and that feeling in a medium that's not capable of like really translating all of that?
No, it's, it's difficult for sure. On, on Facebook it's a lot easier. Cause we use our photography to our advantage. We have photos of the inside of our place, so you can see what it looks like. People are very visual. I know me personally, if I search a restaurant, I go on Google and I press images. I wanna see what that restaurant looks like before I go in there so I can know like where everything is, how it looks. So we use that when it comes to Facebook.
When it comes to third-party delivery services, it's a little bit harder because they just see the food. They just see the pictures of the food they like. We become hyper aware when these third-party delivery services ask us, like, Hey, what cover photo do you want when somebody clicks on your logo? We make sure to have a cover of people sitting at table enjoying food so they can know that we do offer to-go if you want, you can do delivery if you want, but this is what you're missing inside. And so they get to see that little picture. And so it may get them, it may not get them. A to-go customer is still a customer.
What’s the percentage of people that are using this third party versus coming either in person or ordering directly from your website?
I think our highest percentage that we have at a location, I think is maybe 10% to-go. A lot of it, it depends on the day. Like on weekends we have a lot of to-go orders, but we have a lot of people in the lobby as well. Here recently with Covid that’s kind of transitioned. We used to have more dine-in, but with Covid, when it closed down the restaurants where they were to-go only and now people have leaned more towards just doing to-go, or pick up, or delivery rather than coming in. So it's a little bit more difficult, but we've kinda had to transition to that. And we're also transitioning in the franchise, we may go more towards smaller to-go model because of how the world moving right now.
What is the, the secret sauce of making somebody loyal to your brand?
So the biggest thing with us is that you can only have one first impression. First impressions are very, very important. So when it comes to dine in customers coming in - in order for us to keep them - we need to make sure that they have what we call as a smaller franchise, a “Chick-Fil-A experience.”
Everybody knows how Chick-fil-A, you know, is my pleasure. You know, the customer service is just absolutely amazing. You like a five-star guest. So we try to be really big on that as well at Crust. If a customer comes up if they have any questions, our cashier will ask if they have any questions. When they sit down, we have somebody go up to them and make sure that they have everything. If they need any drinks, any napkins or anything like that. We ask after they get their food if everything is good. If everything they ordered is correct or not.
We're really big on first impressions. If we can get that first impression five stars, then they'll for sure be coming back and we've seen that time and time again.
If you were to give one piece of advice to a restaurant owner that that's either doing their own marketing or have some help on the marketing side - on developing their brand image, what would that be?
Ooh, developing their brand image. I would use what's right in of you. So always use what you have. Like I said, marketers try to spend more money on Facebook and the digital cause that's what's big right now. But use your restaurant to your advantage. Use your storefront to your advantage. Do that and stay relevant. Every day something new is trending, something new in the restaurant world is happening, something new in the marketing world in general is happening. So stay on top of marketing trends. Make sure that you're on social media as and individual looking what other people are doing. Follow other people. Follow brands that are bigger than you or even smaller than you, that you think you're doing a great job. Look what they're doing and see how you can do that and switch it and put your own on it as.
Amin Yazdani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Craver, a fast-growing mobile platform for Restaurants, helping them gain and retains their loyal customer base.