Catching a buzz

These brands’ innovative marketing efforts have consumers talking.
piada italian

Asking a marketer how to generate buzz is a little like asking someone how to be lucky. But just as the famous saying suggests, what may seem like chance really is more preparation than fate.

When it comes to buzz specifically, it’s about innovation and differentiation, says Chris Tomasso, chief marketing officer of First Watch Restaurants and a board member of the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group (MEG).

Two restaurant brands that “get it” are Cooper’s Hawk and Piada Italian Street Food, winners of MEG’s Buzzed About Brands award for 2015. “Rather than trying to be a better ‘insert name here,’ they created a new concept or delivery system,” he says.

Winning fans, one by one

Even with just 17 units in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, Piada Italian Street Food has consumers from California to Charlotte, N.C., talking about its approach to salads, bowls and its signature wraps, or piadas, which some describe an Italian burritos. And yet, the Columbus, Ohio-based fast casual flows few dollars into traditional marketing channels, says Matt Eisenacher, Piada’s director of marketing. “For us, social media and finding people on a one-off basis and making them screaming fans” is the goal, he says.

At Piada, customers place their orders for wraps “at the stone,” a stone grill where thin-crust Italian dough is warmed, then topped with their choice of ingredients, including premiums not often found at a fast casual, such as salmon or steak, plus vegetables and housemade sauces.

There are more than 30 items to choose from. To avoid backups caused by stumped customers, Piada dispatches “queue ambassadors” at new store openings to greet guests, help with menu decisions and follow up at the end of the meal, suggesting a different option if a guest was dissatisfied.

Piada also is using social media and its rewards-focused mobile app to engage loyal fans. “We try to surprise them with things such as free entrees and putting some credit on their app,” says Eisenacher. When the system revealed one guest’s more-than-once daily Piada habit, Eisenacher sent a bag of swag gifts to that store’s chef to hand to the customer on his next visit.

A wine program fit for all

At regional polished-casual chain Cooper’s Hawk, the wine club is winning. “By far, of everything we do marketing-wise, it is the No. 1 thing that sets us apart,” says CEO Tim McEnerny.

Membership costs $18.99 a month and includes a monthly bottle of proprietary wine. Helping grow its membership from 1,400 in 2006 to 130,000 today, Cooper’s Hawk removes the barriers that might keep wine novices from joining the club. Members can sign up for the Red Club, White Club, Sweet Club or Variety membership (which alternates reds and whites), and they can opt to receive one bottle or two. More importantly, participants can swap in and out of different plans, if they want. “We have all the different pieces covered, from entry level to your average consumer to your more sophisticated consumer,” he says. “The point is to keep it approachable.”

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