It wasn’t that long ago in restaurant time that Chipotle suffered a major food safety crisis, but since then the brand has overhauled its marketing strategy to drive profitable volume growth and double its stock price.
The Mexican grill, with more than 2,500 company owned restaurants, offers a menu filled with wholesome food with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The restaurants have no freezers, microwaves or can openers.
“We use more local produce than any other restaurant group and always responsibly source real food prepared with classic cooking techniques that we’ve made fresh every single day,” Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt said. “If you’re going to have food this good you want to show it to people.”
That thought planted the seed for a new marketing playbook that would transform the way consumers understand and engage with the brand.
One major change took place last year when Chipotle moved its headquarters to California, closing its New York and Denver offices. That offered a chance to reset its marketing department with a new team
“I wanted agile and innovative marketers who looked at this changing world as an opportunity, not as a problem,” he said. “I really wanted people who generate ideas because ideas differentiate you. Ideas separate you. Ideas enable you to win.”
Brandt personally interviewed every person on his team to ensure they have the right chemistry and that everybody passes what he calls the “Friday afternoon” conference room test.
“In the unfortunate event that you have to go in a conference room on a Friday afternoon at four o’clock, are you happy to see a person there or are you sad? And I will tell you if you’re sad to see that person there you should not hire them, no matter what their qualifications are,” he said earlier this month at ANA Masters of Marketing Week.
Chipotle also fully embraced digital growth to engage Gen Z and Millennials.
“It’s clearly where the action is and one of the biggest things consumers want when we surveyed them was more access to the brand,” he said.
Brandt doubled down on the digital budget with delivery capability through DoorDash in Chipotle’s app and pick up shelves in every restaurant so customers didn’t have to wait in line to pick up their orders.
“Our operating model is so efficient that we can make the food really, really fast, getting order to delivery times of less than 30 minutes—which is incredible,” he said. “It’s a giant growth area for Chipotle.”
A new tone
“In the years since the crisis, the message for the brand was really heavily focused on what others don’t do as opposed to celebrating what Chipotle actually does. I wanted to have a much more positive tone. I wanted to have a lot more fun with the brand and I wanted to really engage with our consumers and we wanted to be more insightful and relevant in culture,” Brandt said.
That new positive tone included the new tag line, “For Real,” which debuted last fall.
“We needed a rallying cry for the brand with our customers, but also with our employees. We’ve got 75,000 employees out there, so we had to make them proud to wear that badge on their uniform,” he said. “And we wanted a tagline that few brands would dare say and fewer still could back up. The beauty of ‘For Real’ is that tagline is new, but it really harkens back to the principles the brand was founded on 26 years ago. We were off to a good start. But the job certainly wasn’t done,” he said.
With the campaign, Chipotle worked to change consumer perceptions and retell the “real” story in new and different ways and to show up in places where consumers didn’t expect brands like Chipotle to appear.
On the job training
In his third week on the job, Brandt, who joined as CMO in April 2018, went to work in one of the restaurants.
“I showed up at the restaurant at 7 a.m. and I was blown away because what I saw in the restaurant was whole heads of romaine lettuce, crates of whole peppers, bags of onions—whole ingredients. Then I saw the employees get to work cutting and chopping and cooking in that restaurant to make everything fresh for that day and I thought man, if we could show this to everybody they will love it,” he said.
He immediately called Chipotle’s agency Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco and scheduled a team to experience what he just had.
The results were the global campaign launched in February, “Behind the Foil,” the most intimate look into the company’s operations in its history. The documentary-style digital and TV spots, shot by documentarian Errol Morris, aimed to “pull back the foil” by featuring behind-the-scenes footage of Chipotle restaurants, including its kitchens, equipment and prep routines, and featuring Chipotle employees and the farming partners that grow the brand’s real ingredients. This spot is titled “The Guac Smasher.”
Supporting the campaign was a push to remind consumers that Chipotle uses only 51 ingredients, “all of which you can pronounce.” A massive billboard in New York City kicked off that part of the campaign and then the brand showed up at a very unexpected place—a spelling bee.
“Nobody expects Chipotle to show up at the National Spelling Bee, but we had this insight that the only thing that’s hard to spell at Chipotle is Chipotle, but that’s not necessarily the case with our competitor ingredients,” Brandt said.
Merging with current cultural moments helped Chipotle move forward. The brand had no involvement in February’s Super Bowl until Maroon 5’s Adam Levine took his shirt off during the half time show. A consumer posted on social that Levine without a shirt looked like one of Chipotle’s signature paper bags.
“So we poured on the gas adding 170 million views,” he said. “We kind of won the Super Bowl without even participating.”
In March, Chipolte launched a new loyalty program, Chipotle Rewards, reaching out to Venmo for a contest that used Venmo payouts to give away up to a quarter of a million dollars, to 25,000 Chipotle fans per day. Then in June, the NBA finals got underway. Chipotle, with no rights to the game, tweeted out that the first 500 people to use a special code could win a free burrito every time the announcer said the word “free” as in a free throw.
“We got a billion impressions on this thing and a bunch of Twitter followers,” Brandt said.
Another major piece to its comeback was menu innovation. In January, a collection of Lifestyle Bowls were introduced like Paleo Salad Bowl and Keto Salad Bowl available only for digital customers. The bowls were so successful that Chipotle followed up with “influencer bowls.” For example, the brand got in early with a Fortnite team and debuted a bowl after one of its streamers “because I felt like Fortnite single handedly lowered the GPAs of the entire nation,” he said.
And there were other bowls and burritos tied to David Dilbert and World Cup soccer champs Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle.
“We got real results,” he said.
As all components of the turnaround began to gel, Chipotle’s work was paying off.
“The category of restaurants in general runs about plus two or three on comp sales and traffic is flat to negative. It’s a tough business,” he said. “In Q4 we launched the ‘For Real’ campaign and saw comp sales up plus six and traffic up plus two and that was the first time Chipotle saw traffic up in two years for a quarter. Then in Q1 we were plus 10 and plus six. Q2 we were plus 10 and plus 7. The beauty of this growth is that it’s profitable volume growth because it’s really driven our earnings per share and that earnings per share has driven our stock price to more than double over the last year or so.”
According to The Motley Fool, Chipotle has more than tripled its share price since bottoming in early 2018.
“The numbers are amazing,” Brandt said.
Most of us – as marketers and consumers ourselves – inherently understand the value of referrals. As professionals, we’ve read the referral marketing statistics and have seen it work for companies large and small. In our personal lives, when we make a big purchase, we seek out reviews or ping our networks for recommendations.
While you may see referral marketing work for successful companies like Uber and Airbnb, it’s understandable that you might question if it can be achieved by your brand. You might also be wondering if your unique audience would be interested, or engaged, in your referral program.
Here’s the short answer: No matter the industry, successful referral programs generate a natural network effect. As you acquire more referred customers, an abnormally high proportion of them will convert into new ambassadors. Those ambassadors will then draw in new customers, and the cycle will start all over again.
A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It is what consumers tell each other it is. -Scott Cook, co-founder, Intuit
Need more proof on why referral marketing should be a critical component of your strategy? We thought you might!
Which is why we set out to answer a few key questions:
– How influential is word-of-mouth in their purchasing decisions?
– Which channels do they rely on most for recommendations?
– How (if at all) do people want to be compensated for providing referrals?
What was the verdict?
Let’s just say that even we were surprised by some of the results. To get the full picture, check out our infographic below.
At its core, referral marketing doesn’t have to be overly complex. In fact, getting started is as simple as putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. Ask these questions:
– Would you recommend your company’s products to others?
– Where and how would you do it?
– What incentives would motivate you to increase your referral activity?
– What barriers would keep you from doing it?
Why is a Fall Seasonal Marketing Strategy Important?
Seasonal marketing is more important than ever before. A well crafted Fall seasonal marketing strategy helps humanize your brand and connects you with customers in a more meaningful way.
Seasonality affects everyone’s life, regardless of locale or demographic. It affects the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and how we spend our time.
Fall Seasonal Marketing
Fall tends to be thought of as a time of change – and that change brings around endless opportunities for marketing. Virtually every type of business can benefit from a fall seasonal marketing strategy.
Autumn is a time of year when everyone can find something to enjoy. If you’re the outdoorsy type, most people can brave the outdoors without a parka. Prefer the great indoors? All the more reason to stay inside, bake, craft, and relax.
Consumers spend a huge amount of money each year on Halloween. In 2017, the NRF valued the holiday at $9.1 billion. Halloween is one of those rare holidays that’s driven by pure, unadulterated fun. This gives your brand a chance to let loose and embrace the occasion.
Scaring Up Engagement with Gamification
Need another reason to get excited about Halloween? Nearly 80% of Americans celebrate the holiday in some way. Getting customers involved with on-site gamification is a great way to piggyback on Halloween’s playful nature.
Need a push in the right direction? Consider gamifying minimums on free shipping offers already available on-site. Creating an experience around gamified minimum order values or free shipping thresholds gets users involved the moment they start shopping.
Each time customers add an item or “treat” to their bag, they get closer to the cart value threshold. When the shopper meets the minimum, display a message similar to “No Tricks, Just a Treat! You’ve Qualified for Free Shipping!”
This strategy is an easy means of integrating gamification alongside an offer that is already available to shoppers.
Black Friday/Cyber Monday
According to the National Retail Federation, shopping in the month leading up to the major gift-giving holidays accounts for about 30% of annual revenue. For that reason, best-of-year deals and promotions are par for the course.
Progressive Remarketing Campaigns
One important aspect of Black Friday/Cyber Monday preparation is a carefully crafted remarketing strategy. Remarketing is a fantastic tool for continuing the conversation and recovering sales.
Large purchases like video game consoles, bicycles, and electronics are popular during this time of year, but often require customer consideration. Since virtually every retailer is vying for consumer attention, remarketing keeps your brand top of mind and reignites interest in your products.
Progressive remarketing campaigns follow a three-pronged approach. The first message reminds shoppers of their relationship with you, what they left behind, and why they should come back.
For customers that simply became distracted, this first touch can be very effective. For users that do not convert with one email, a second with a small incentive can get them to return and purchase.
If users still do not convert after two touches, combining an incentive with urgency in a final email can offer one last push toward conversion.
The day after Christmas is one of the largest shopping days of the year. This is partially because stores are working hard to clear excess merchandise with end-of-season sales and clearance deals.
Additionally, customers are returning gifts that didn’t quite hit the mark, meaning lots of store credit. That, combined with the increasing popularity of gift cards means that people are looking to do some serious shopping in the days following the holidays.
Mobile messages consistently achieve open rates of 90%+. Leveraging the power of SMS means you can keep shoppers informed about new arrivals, discounts, and promotions. Additionally, it allows you to connect with customers in a more personalized way.
SMS allows for quick communication, making it perfect for real-time updates on clearance products, markdowns, and end-of season offers.
Including a short link to popular sale items is a great way to lead shoppers directly to purchase. Of course, make sure they can opt-out at any time, as compliance is key in any successful marketing campaign
Catch up on my current posts along with industry articles