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Panera Bread managers ‘Harvest’ key sales data via intranet to support internal marketing goals

I’d like to amend the cliché that “everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it” with the following: “Panera Bread Co. is trying its best, though.”

It would be fun to write that the chain has installed giant wind machines to blow away storms that might keep customers away, but the truth is a lot more mundane.

Panera uses a weather application on its intranet that ties a cafe’s historic local weather to the store’s historic sales, allowing managers to forecast sales based on weather for any given day.

“That helps in staffing and how you’re going to allocate labor and what you need in terms of materials,” said Greg Rhoades, Panera’s senior manager in information services.

The application is part of Panera’s intranet site, dubbed The Harvest, and is a feature the chain is using through VisiStat, a Web analytics firm based in Campbell, Calif.

The Harvest is a vital part of Panera’s internal marketing-communications program, and Panera partnered with VisiStat last year to track how employees and franchisees use the intranet. The obvious goal is to give them the information that’s most important in running the business day to day.

There are more than 1,200 Panera Bread outlets, and about 15 percent of them use the Web-based analytics. By the end of next year, Rhoades said, all units will be tied to VisiStat so that the intranet site is “our single source of information.”

Using Web analytics, Panera can see what types of internal users are going to The Harvest, how long they stay there and what types of content they find most compelling.

So far, cafe managers spend a lot of time reading Panera’s company reports, which include daily sales, hourly sales, staffing, product sales, labor costs and ingredient costs.

Rhoades said The Harvest also is a “launch pad” to send employees and franchisees to other sites they need to monitor, such as food safety and customer satisfaction websites.

A geotracking element allows Panera to monitor which individuals in specific parts of the country respond to certain types of content. The chain’s senior management receives updates on daily page views so that they can make material relevant to that particular audience.

“We feel like we can have everyone working off the same page and focus on what is right and react to the market,” Rhoades said.

Speed is of the essence.

Suppose Panera identifies a change in consumer dining habits or finds out about a competitor offering a new product. The effect that would have on Panera’s sales could be measured and analyzed and sped along to managers to let them know “what they need to work on more quickly,” Rhoades said.

Since Panera began tracking intranet use and making information more relevant to users, site traffic has increased seven times, said Tina Bean, director of sales and marketing for VisiStat.

“They average over 700 log-ins a month,” she said. “Every month they have an increase in Web traffic.”

What’s at stake for Panera, as well as every other restaurant chain, is that external marketing can succeed only when it’s supported by strong internal marketing and communications.

Restaurant chains spend millions of dollars communicating with consumers through radio and print ads, TV spots, direct-mail pieces and point-of-purchase material to get customers in the door.

Panera is demonstrating that in-house communications, though not as costly, are equally important to an internal audience.

Just as advertising gives consumers information about making dining choices, internal communication provides employees with the information they need to ensure that consumers don’t come away thinking they made the wrong choice.

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