The rapidly growing fast-casual pizza segment continues to grow within the industry with consolidation and new brands creating increased competition for the “next big thing” in the restaurant industry. One of the leaders, Pie Five Pizza, has been able to grow to 91 restaurants and over 400 currently in development across the U.S.
I was able to get a perspective from Randy Gier, the CEO of Pie Five Pizza parent company Rave Restaurant Group. I wanted to get the perspective of a Chief Executive Officer on marketing, branding and advice to share with marketers. Being a previous CMO and with over 25 years of industry experience, Randy has a unique perspective as a CEO and was able to share some thoughts with me on the segment and some suggestions for building a brand.
Explain to the readers what your approach is towards marketing, and the importance of brand building from a CEO role.
My personal experience as a CMO allowed me to bring a different perspective to Rave and pinpoint exactly where we needed to boost our efforts and focus our energy. Marketing is instrumental in giving the entire team a perspective on seeing the business through the eyes of the consumer because they are privy to so many channels and data points. It’s so important not to get caught up in seeing the customer through the eyes of the business. We create opportunities from this customer insight by solving problems on behalf of the consumer. My mentor at PepsiCo, Roger Enrico, once told me marketing is in charge of the 5 most important words in business which are “because the customer said so.” I couldn’t agree more!
I would also say go big. You can’t make a big impact on a brand by being timid. You must push yourself on new menu innovations, marketing campaigns, training programs and in all communication. It’s OK to be a little controversial as long as you stay true to your brand and always keep the customer top of mind.
You really have two tough competitive segments. What are you seeing in the pizza industry — and also fast casual?
Everyone loves pizza. People have big blow ups over the best pizza. When is the last time you saw someone fight over a burrito? There is passion for our category and that is energizing! The restaurant industry as a whole is very competitive. We’re all working to gain a bigger piece of the pie. The ability to give consumers options to customize their favorite food has been a game changer in the fast-casual industry.
Consumers are very conscious about the sources of their foods. Their knowledge of ingredients and nutrition is better than any other generation. They are looking for authentic food options made from all natural, farm-fresh ingredients that taste good but are also served fast. This has really fueled the popularity of the fast-casual restaurant industry and continues to drive growth and innovation in the segment.
Can you share your thoughts on “communicating with customers” versus the traditional model of talking to them?
Marketing has really evolved from talking AT a customer to having real conversations and genuine engagement. Today’s guests want to feel like they are part of a brand. I like to call it call it the “Norm effect.” Remember the TV show Cheers where everybody knows your name? Although it’s impossible for a chain to know everyone’s name, they must do a better job of personalizing the experience for each taste and guest experience. We use new technologies, restaurant culture, social channels and our loyalty platform to create a personalized experience for each guest. The “Norm effect” is about inclusion and it involves every touchpoint of the business.
What consumer trends are you seeing that the restaurant industry should take notice of?
Today’s customers are more involved, more knowledgeable and more in control of their dining choices than ever before. They are looking for brands, companies and even political candidates that treat them as individuals. This extends to their restaurant experiences. It’s become more than an expectation of great service and good food — that is just basic. They know they can have it all. They want chef-inspired menus that are served fast at a fair price in a fun environment.
Guests also crave complete transparency and want to customize their food to meet dietary needs like gluten-free or vegan. I think this is why fast-casual pizza is so hot right now. At Pie Five, we offer gluten-free, vegetarian or even Paleo. With four artisan dough option, we have the best variety and guest experience in the segment. We make everything in store and all right in front of the customer, with all natural ingredients, shredded, chopped, mixed, proofed and baked in house every day. And, we can serve up fresh baked pizza in just 5 minutes! Hard to beat that value proposition!
Tell me about your philosophy toward social media.
Social media is another opportunity to engage with our guests and really get to know them. We have such a vibrant, quirky brand voice and we use social to create unique content focused on engaging and intriguing our guests versus being a hard-sell. We use social channels as a two-way conversation. It’s all about them. We ask fans to tell us about their experience with us, post their pizza creations and involve them in the process. Our guests are the reason we do what we do and their perspective on the experience is invaluable. User generated content is just another way we connect with our customers and let them lead the conversation. Sometimes our loyal customers sell our concept even better than we do.
One of my favorite quotes is “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Continued innovation is imperative to success in our industry.
What advice would you give to marketers in dealing with their CEO?
The most important thing is to make sure everything you do builds the brand AND drives sales. Don’t settle for one without the other. Push yourself to have campaigns that accomplish both. Create affinity and stay ahead of the curve.
Correction: July 11, 2016: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Rave Restaurant Group's CEO. The proper spelling is Randy Gier.