Social sovereignty stateside by James Hacon

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Setting off from Heathrow last Thursday, our enthusiastic group of industry leaders and suppliers were full of buzz, looking forward to checking out the hottest new concepts Stateside. Whilst the diversity in the group meant that everyone had slightly different aims for what they wanted to get out of the trip, everyone was looking forward to a few days away, having fun with awesome company. I am delighted to tell you, no one was disappointed.

During the trip the Propel team had organised a superb tour of both dry and wet-led concepts, some by day and others by night. On top of this we would all venture off in different directions in search of something a little different or to check out the outlets we’d already researched online.

Fair share of corkers

Having recently joined Elliotts to lead marketing and strategy projects, I was particularly interested in how the companies had launched, planned to grow and perhaps more specifically, how they market themselves. I was pleasantly surprised that at nearly all of our stops we were treated to presentations by senior executives, rather than local general managers. The opportunity to ask direct, and at times, hard-hitting questions was not passed-by, with everyone getting their fair share of corkers in.

Having spent many of the past years leading digital marketing and operational efficiency projects, one of the trends that most interested me was how nearly all of the companies have put social at the forefront of their marketing and had truly embraced digital in their customer journey design.

Creating viral buzz 

The four that particularly stood out to me were:

Wow Bao: Chinese bun concept Wow Bao sees 60% of its customers ordering via an app or through a self-service check-out. It was brilliant to learn that this didn’t just decrease the staff costs but also actively increased the average spend per head compared to a traditional transaction. The brand has also rolled out at key festivals, events and has pop-ups in large corporate offices in the city, all of which attracted heavy usage of the mobile app.

Lyfe Kitchen: This concept successfully delivers tasty wholesome food and was developed by former McDonald’s executives. The fit-out and launch cost per site was high at around $2m and the brand looks only to social and digital in its launch marketing, heavily utilising the recommendation and endorsement of local social influencers. In an aim to grow to 250 sites in five years, the corporate messaging and brand has been heavily invested in and is reliant on their celebrity executive chef, who came to fame as Oprah’s chef. As you would expect from former McDonald’s marketers, content marketing is central to what they are doing and they have some interesting plans around getting the message out digitally and in store. One to start following socially, I’d say.

Blaze Pizza: A little less investment heavy when it comes to its marketing, Blaze Pizza spends $20,000 per new site launch. A small element of this is used with traditional PR, whilst a third goes on social advertising. The rest is invested in a two-day giveaway of pizza with just one condition: a social like. The executive showing us the restaurant talked of the massive effect this had on creating viral buzz about the launch. It seemed that the followers continued to regularly share stories of their future experiences at the restaurant and engage with the brand. The company embraces a mantra of giving customers what they want by saying ‘we don’t say no,’ – this seems to be keeping the sentiment super-positive across all social sites. As if not impressive enough, the company also invests a lot in teaching the team about how important social media is to the business and gaining their involvement by promoting engagement in-store with photos.

Haute Sausage: Whilst a little smaller in size, this digital-savvy operator has used Twitter to drive sales from the very beginning of its operation. When giving his talk on a very wet afternoon in Chicago, the founder and current owner told the story of his third day in a food truck, when he pulled up to a street corner to find more than 50 people waiting for him. The only way they found out? Twitter. Even after growing to a physical location and multiple food trucks, his own form of marketing is social media and maintaining a broad web presence. Showing that social is truly at the centre of what he does, all of his new products and concept are trialed by his followers, helping to keep them loyal and, of course, promote them through social snaps and stories.

Of course, each of these examples have an equivalent here in the UK, probably doing equally as well with digital and social. To me however, what the ALMR/Propel Study Tour provided was an opportunity to take the time to really experience them without distraction and most importantly, share the experience with industry colleagues.

Cheers to the Propel team and my fellow travellers for an amazing weekend!

James Hacon is an account director at Elliotts Agency, specialising in integrated marketing, strategy, digital, social and content marketing –


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