Have you ever wondered how companies make sales using brand building social media platforms like Snapchat?

It might be easier than you think.

With Instagram and Snapchat getting all the buzz lately, measuring ROI has been a hot topic of conversation. While both platforms are great for brand awareness or even driving measurable ecommerce sales, it can difficult to gauge it’s effectiveness in bro brick and mortar businesses. But there are food and beverage companies out there driving measurable boosts in revenue and foot traffic.

Today we’re here with an up and comer in the food marketing world, Christine Ferris, who has taken Smashburger’s social media presence to an entirely new level. .
On this show with Christine, we’ll explore:

  • How a single Snapchat story drove a nearly 5% year over year increase in revenue on Valentines Day
  • Why listening can be more effective than talking on social media
  • How to determine what products your consumers actually want
  • And much more…


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Alex: We’re here today with a really special guest who we actually work with – Christine Ferris, who is the Director of Public Relations and Social Media for Smashburger. Director of Public Relations and Social Media? That’s got to be a lot of work. Seems like it could potentially be two jobs in itself.

Yes. It has definitely been quite an undertaking, but Public Relations and Social Media, at least in my mind, in the new world of digital, really just go hand in hand and a lot of the things that I do from a public relations standpoint ultimately correlates and syncs up directly with what we do on social media as well.
It seems like it’s two different jobs but they work in tandem together. Like I said, a lot of the stuff that we do from a social media perspective – whether it’s supporting a campaign that’s in-store or whether it’s sharing public relations hits and articles that we’ve received directly for the brand, they all come together.
I’m definitely excited to be working for a great brand that has the potential and the ability to garner a lot of media attraction but then also score some great engagement on social media as well.

Alex: Tell us a little bit more about Smashburger. Being that it is a Colorado-based company, Colorado people know all about it, I’m sure, but for the other listeners who may not have heard of Smashburger or haven’t been there before, what’s a little background about it?

Smashburger started in June of 2007 here in Denver, Colorado and it was founded on the idea that Americans were simply unsatisfied with the burger options that they had. You have tons of different QSR (quick service restaurant) options like Burger King and McDonalds, and our founders Tom Ryan and Rick Shaden did some research and assessed that Americans were simply just unsatisfied; and there were a lot of options out there, none of which really gave consumers a great quality product and also served them for a decent price, in a quick amount of time.

They founded Smashburger to bring burgers back to Americans in a way that satisfied them not only in taste and quality but also in convenience and affordability. So, that’s why Smashburger was founded and today – nine years later, we just had our ninth birthday in June. We’re about three hundred and seventy locations. That includes locations all across the country in 37 different markets, in addition to eight international markets in countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – just to name a few of them.

We’re growing at a very rapid pace – the brand has certainly evolved over the past year or two to be a little bit more consumer-facing, and we’ve done a lot of segmentation studies and have recently discovered that consumers, while they are they are looking for a quality burger, are also very cognizant of the price point that they are paying for those burgers.

We get our name from our unique cooking process; we smash all of our burgers, and the reason why we smash our burgers is because the process creates a sear on the bottom of the burger that traps all the juices … Instead of the juices flowing out of the burger and creating a dry burger like you would probably think of when smashing a burger initially, the juices actually cook up into the burger, which gives it a lot of caramelized flavor that you get from that sear on the bottom. Then it’s just a juicy burger really that you can taste in every bite.

On Testing and Market Research

Alex: It sounds like you guys do a lot of segmentation and market. How do you guys go about figuring out which markets and what to test?

We do a lot of segmentation studies, not only to constantly be evaluating who our demographic is, but also to stay up to date with what our consumers want to see in store and how they want to interact with our brand.

The way we choose to go about testing different things is actually pretty strategic. We have never rolled out a new product or technology platform without first testing it in a specific market. The reason being, a lot of times obviously, when you are testing things you find little glitches or you experiment and do different things that consumers can help discover or give input into what will make it better.

Currently, we are actually testing small burgers in some of our core markets. And the reason why we’re testing it in some of the markets is because some areas may have a different preference than others and again you can really find some great feedback from consumers.

We are actually finding that we need to be testing small sizes for a couple of reasons. We did a consumer survey across the nation, I would say, probably six months ago and our guests told us that number one we are too expensive, and number two, our servings are too big. So a lot of women that want to come have a burger, they don’t want to pay the price for a large burger and they don’t feel like they can eat that large of a burger. And even if they could, they don’t want to.
So, in order to meet that guest satisfaction there, we have added a small burger. So, it’s a smaller size patty, and in addition, we have reduced the price of that burger. And so far we have seen tremendous success in those markets.

It’s interesting because when you are rolling out a burger that’s cheaper, you don’t want that to cannibalize sales for say a regular big burger and have check size decreased. But we have actually seen the percentage mix in small burgers has been relatively even and relatively small across the board, but in a good way, to the point where it is not cannibalizing sales from the larger track items like the large and the regular size burger. Instead, it’s bringing in more female consumers who are looking for that smaller size. So, it’s been going very well.

And we take a typical testing period of about six to twelve months, and in that time, we feel we have a good amount of data to assess whether we can roll it out nationwide. And to answer your question on how we choose certain markets – we have a set of about six to seven core designated market areas, largely based on the fact that they are corporately owned.
It’s much easier for us to do a lot of tests with small burgers, with turkey burgers versus regular burgers, in corporate markets versus franchise markets because we have that control.

A lot of times we test it in a corporate market and then go to our franchise community and say, ‘Hey guys, these are the results – obviously very positive. Let’s roll out in your market and to a degree, almost one hundred percent of the time they are on board to do that.

We choose our largest markets, and by largest I mean markets with the most amount of units. For instance, in Denver we have about thirty Smashburger restaurants (this is our largest market), and it’s a great market for us to test in our own backyard – so Denver is always a test market for us. We also have larger test markets in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Vegas and New Jersey – very spread out across the board. By running tests in some of our corporate markets where we have some amount control, we are able to analyze results then be able to provide a recommendation to the field on whether a test went well or whether we need to alter the test to better perform for our consumers.

Alex: Well, it’s good to hear that the smaller burgers and the lower price tag are increasing the volume and resulting in more sales for Smashburger. What is the threshold for success on a new test or product launch?

Ultimately, a successful new product launch is going to be mostly directed towards the sales of the product and the percent mix of that product. For example, we did the launch of a limited-time-offer item last year of the Sin City Burger. It’s a regional burger that is offered solely in our Las Vegas market, but we actually decided to roll it out nationwide, for a limited time. We had only promoted it, ironically, through our digital platforms on social media and then PR. There was actually very minimal in store POP and collateral promoting the product. We figured if the product is going to be generating sales then it’s going to be a great product for us to have on the menu full-time.

Sometimes with our limited time offers, whether they do well or not, we decide to either keep it or not. That was one particular product that we actually blew out of the water with all of our digital landscape and our digital promotions – a social media contest that ultimately drove the Sin City Burger to be one of our highest selling LTO items in Smashburger history, which is amazing. And we have that on our secret menu full-time.

Another example of a great new product test that we rolled out a couple of years ago, actually, was with a new shake flavor. It was our Mint Oreo Chocolate Shake, and every single year, it was our highest selling shake during the time that it was in store. And so, we eventually just decided to put it on the menu full time and it still sells at a very high percentage. So, you definitely have to look at sales as a restaurant brand to make a determination. If a product is successful or not, a lot of it is driven towards the amount of sales. If a product is successful and you’re seeing high sales, you know people are obviously happy with it and are purchasing it on a more frequent basis.

Then again, a lot of times we go to social media pages and we hear a lot from our fans – and we have an awesome social media team that scours the web for any conversations. And while sales are a big determining factor, we also hear a lot of feedback from our guests on social media and on our digital platforms regarding products and whether they like them or they don’t. And a lot of that comes sharing pictures or simply sending in a tweet, and we collect a lot of that information and share with the exec team and say “Hey, we’ve received X amount of engagement or X amount of comments about a product.” If they’re saying it’s great for this reason, they need some help on this side.

Listening to our social media fans as a way to get feedback about our products is a great way to really utilize that platform in a positive way for the brand.

Alex: As far as measuring feedback from a social media standpoint – are you guys looking at your fans’ feedback from a qualitative standpoint or are you looking at just general comments about a product? How do you measure whether a product is gaining traction or is going to be successful based on feedback on social media?

We have just started to test a new analytics tool that will help us to pull conversations around a specific topic, like a new product. We are in the transition period of utilizing a tool to do that, and in the past, we have had our social media coordinator really keep an eye on specific products. So, for example, when we rolled out the Sin City Burger, or we just rolled out a Spicy Cowboy burger, we typically tag the new product with a hashtag. For example, this recent one was the hashtag #SpicyCowboySmash, so we are able to pull on conversations that way.

And what our social media coordinator does is take all the feedback regarding a specific product through that hashtag tracking system and put it into a database, and then we go through and analyze whether a comment is positive or negative. From there, we bracket it out. What were the specific comments regarding a positive response from a consumer? And ultimately does that drive us to keep it in store longer? Or, is it simply just saying, “We love the product”?

We definitely take positive and negative feedback and bracket them into specific categories of conversations that people are having about our products, and from there can really analyze. Again, are they just saying that they like the burger? Or what is it about the burger that they like, or the shake that they like?
In the future, what we need to be doing is reaching out to our consumers more – whether it’s doing polls or surveys and asking them, “Hey, would you like to keep this burger on the menu full time, why or why not?” But again, really utilize the qualitative data from a social media standpoint and engaging with our consumers.

All that does is even more is let consumers know that we actually care about their opinions, and while a product may not seem great to us, it could mean so much more to consumers.
Social media and digital are so much in real time these days, and it’s so convenient for someone to simply get on their phone and tweet something to a brand, versus calling a corporate office or sending in a survey online. It’s a vehicle that we can use to our advantage, even more so than we are doing today, we can be reaching out to fans and getting their feedback and continuously providing that information and data to our executive team, who makes the decision for menu changes, to be able to decide whether we are putting a product on the menu or not.

Alex: What is the analytics platform called that you guys use to measure the actual data?

It’s called Cision.

Alex: Cision is typically used for PR but I guess they have a social media version as well?

Yes, exactly. They are known for PR databases of media contacts. We actually use that on our public relations side of things with our agency out of Boston, in order to pull media contacts in both the US and different markets. But they do have an arm of their company specifically designated to social media.

And again, social media and PR go hand in hand. I think a lot of conversations that consumers are having about brands, whether it’s a blog or whether it’s on social media, ultimately ladder back up to PR. So, it definitely makes sense to have the two in one place. We just signed on with Cision, and like I said, kind of just started to explore the platform a little bit. They have a nice responsive database that we can pull conversations and categorize them based on positive versus negative; and from there be able to dive down even deeper into where those conversations are coming from, so we can reach out to the specific markets where consumers are either having issues or are having positive responses to the brand, and even tailor some of our messaging a little bit more.

Alex: When you are actually reaching out to your fans on social media, how are you doing it in a way that makes it seem like you care, and really want to know their opinion and avoid being spammy?

The most important thing for brands on social media is to maintain a brand-voice. And I think that some brands have had issues with that. First and foremost, before you even start, if you are a new brand or even if you are an existing brand, it’s important and it’s a good kind of standard, to constantly be evaluating your brand-voice. Regardless of if you are responding to someone via Twitter or responding to someone on Facebook – it doesn’t matter what the platform is – it’s really important to maintain a brand-voice. And if you can establish a brand-voice and constantly be speaking in that way too, your consumers are going to feel that they can resonate and really relate to a brand on a more personal level.

For example, at Smashburger, about a year and a half ago, we sat down and established: Hey, who is the person that the brand voice is coming from? Is it a thirty-two year old guy or a fifteen year-old girl? Maybe it’s a forty-five year-old married couple? You have to determine who your audience is – we went back and looked at our demographic information and our key demo is that 32 year old male. In order to appeal and to relate to thirty-two year old males – and again that’s not to say that’s all we are talking to – we know that thirty-two year old males like to talk to thirty-two year old males. So, we established a brand voice around that persona and from there we even chose a celebrity that would be most like our “guy”.

You establish a brand voice and go from there. Utilizing that brand voice to relate to your fans across different platforms is great. Additionally, when you are responding to guests and (whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook) always using their first name, always responding with the name, and then signing it from whoever it’s coming from. I think it’s important to sign a response or a comment from the brand – you can either respond from the brand itself or from the person who is actually doing it.

We found it’s a little bit more personable to say, “Hey, ‘So and So’, sorry to hear about that issue, how can we help you today,” signed by Christine. And that way the person knows “Hey it’s coming from Smashburger” but there is actually a real person on the site, on the brand side that’s wanting to help me out. Making things personable, making things relatable and again, just determining your brand voice even more so each and every year, and just maintaining that brand voice and consistency across different platforms is extremely important. It makes your guests be able to relate to the brand on a more personal level.

Alex: So, how do you keep that voice consistent? For example, if you’re transitioning between people in different roles, and somebody is taking over a new job to actually respond to these people, how do you make sure that it’s the same voice and doesn’t change across each person?

That’s a great question. We put together a social tone of voice document. It’s essentially our tour guide and it’s our storytelling guide for how we can best go about responding to people. We even have a whole bunch of responses, (pre-determined responses) which I know sounds like it’s a templated version, but again it changes each time you respond to someone. We have some templated responses that we can go to that are consistent with the brand voice that we have pre-determined.

And in order to maintain that you just have to be constantly be reassuring yourself and relooking at some of those social tone of voice documents that we’ve provided. Again, just be constantly following some of the different attributes of the social tone of voice that Smashburger has. Whenever we are responding to guests, we are taking a step back and saying “Is this our brand?”, “Is this something our brand would say to someone?” or “Do we need to rethink that?”

christine-ferris-quote

Consumers want to be able to trust a brand that they relate to. @christine_ferr Click To Tweet

Consumers want to be able to trust a brand that they relate to. Ultimately, word of mouth is what’s driving sales and what’s driving people to go try new brands, more so than ever before with the social media and the digital platforms out there. A lot of times, positive word of mouth about a brand is going to come from someone feeling that they can trust a brand and that a brand is being transparent with them, and that’s a lot of what we are trying to do.

We are just trying to be a fun, engaging brand that people can relate to and that ultimately, when they come into the store, they can have a great burger. But we want to be more than just the product that we serve – we want to be a brand that they can trust and relate to, and that again comes with maintaining a consistent brand voice.

Snapchat ROI Campaign

Alex: So, how do you measure when it comes to quantifying what the responses are doing to drive sales? When you’re actually reaching out, ensuring that the effort of being fully attentive on social media and showing that you actually do care – are you actually able to quantify that?

There’s definitely some things that we’ve been trying to do on our social media side in order to ultimately prove sales and ROI. For example, we launched Snapchat last year and already have over thirteen thousand followers (which is crazy) but we did a specific promotion that would be able to prove that people engaging with us on Snapchat was driving sales for a holiday promotion.

We actually launched a specific code in order to come in and get a buy one and get one free burger for Valentine’s Day. And the only way that people could get that code was through a Snapchat account. We drove people to our Snapchat account via our newsletter, using some cross-channel communication there to grow our following. From there, people on Snapchat were the only ones able to get this code.

From there, we were able to see a spike in sales that day – obviously on our Classic Smash burgers where that promotion was tied to and can ultimately say, this is the only platform we were actually doing this on, and we were able to drive X amount of sales. I believe we had over 7,000 coupon redemptions. For a holiday that typically wouldn’t be super busy, it was one of our busiest holidays yet, and had really high redemption. That was specifically tied to social media. Whether it’s through engagement or you’re tracking conversations about positive or negative sentiment and then ultimately tying that back to market sales, or whether you’re running specific promotions on your social media accounts that can ultimately tie back to proven sales or ROI, there’s definitely ways to do it. It still remains difficult…

Alex: Snapchat is an emerging platform. It has grown in users and in the complexity of what brands can do on there. What other success have you seen in how Snapchat works for you?

We decided to launch Snapchat last year because it is the new platform for millennials and even for Gen Z. It’s a platform that a lot of younger millennials are using and a lot of the Gen Z’s are starting to use. And the best thing that I think people like about Snapchat is the real-time engagement. It’s kind of that exclusive feel into a brand and that’s why I think people like it.

And, it’s one of those things where you have the story up and it’s only there for twenty-four hours and then it’s gone. People feel that they need to see it right then and there, in order to really see what’s going on. Again, it’s that ‘behind the scenes’ – it’s a live feature into a brand, whether it’s at an event or whether it’s a new product launch. There are so many different ways to utilize Snapchat to get consumers really engaged.

And another reason I like it is consumers have to be engaged on Snapchat in order to see the full story. Now as Snapchat has updated its platform, users don’t specifically have to click through each of the different story parts, but we have still seen amazing engagement. We’ve seen about 60-65% engagement on all of our Snapchat stories throughout the entire year – now that we’ve launched about a year ago, I guess, it’s been to-date.

We’ve actually gotten good coverage on our Snapchat. It’s been a great way for us to utilize the inside scoop about new products, about events, about different interviews we’ve had – different types of things like that. It’s really been an amazing platform and we’re going to continue to grow that over time.

Alex: Sounds like you guys are doing some great things and I know you’ve won awards for being such an innovative brand and targeting the millennial demographic. Obviously you’re doing something right and it sounds like you have contributed a lot to that success, Christine. So kudos to you and thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Thank you so much. It’s very nice of you. I’ve been very fortunate to work for such a great brand in the role that I am and I love it because it’s constantly changing. The landscape is just growing immensely, not only in digital but across the board, so it’s been amazing and I thank you guys so much for having me on – I’ll talk to you soon.

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