Since he started his post as vice president of marketing for Pizza Ranch in January, Cody Pierce has been tasked with scaling up the 160-unit brand’s marketing and advertising strategies, which heavily accentuate its ties to the small towns in nine Midwestern states where it operates.
Hull, Iowa-based Pizza Ranch deploys TV and radio commercials for new-unit openings and increasingly for new-product news in larger markets, Pierce said, but the chain’s big drivers of repeat traffic are its community rooms for hosting local gatherings, Tip Night fundraisers for Little League teams and other organizations, and its Wagon Wheel fundraisers for local schools. “We live out our brand vision through those local ties,” he noted.
But now, as franchisees’ rising sales have put more money into Pizza Ranch’s marketing fund and franchise co-ops, the brand can elevate the frequency and size of its partnerships, according to Pierce. The chain’s latest announcement, a partnership with the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball team, proves that a healthier marketing fund results not only in more media buying, but also in bigger sponsorship opportunities.
In addition to advertising its “Buffet Your Way” positioning with signage at Target Field, the Twins’ home stadium, Pizza Ranch also will gave away hundreds of Twins tickets as prizes at its restaurants in the upper Midwest.
Pierce recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about expanding Pizza Ranch’s marketing ambitions to match the brand’s growth.
How does this latest partnership fit into the marketing strategy you want to implement?
I was brought in to Pizza Ranch as part of the big wave of additional staff [put in place] to grow [the brand] in several states [during] the next three to four years while still providing the level of service to our franchisees for which we’re known. My overall strategy is that Pizza Ranch is very tied to our local communities, not only through our community meeting rooms, but also in partnering with schools and churches in the towns where we operate.
With the Twins deal, we’re expanding our brand to areas located concentrically from where we are. The broadcast coverage the Twins’ networks provide is similar to our coverage areas. Lots of Twins fans live all over Minnesota or in Iowa and travel a long way to Target Field. We have a great amount of stores along the way on those major highways, so we can get those travelers who are seeing our billboards and our restaurants. With our signage at the stadium, we can show the fans our brand from the beginning of their baseball experience to the end.
What other new marketing initiatives are you leading?
The other big piece I see right now is interactive marketing, from our loyalty program to our customer relationship management through email and text. We’ll focus heavily on reworking our online ordering system, and we’ll work with our franchisee co-ops to deliver marketing ideas and strategies that they can do with their co-op funds to grow sales as well.
In larger franchise brands, higher sales mean a positive-feedback loop and more media buying. Is there a similar cascading effect in a marketing strategy that emphasizes local partnerships as much as Pizza Ranch’s?
Well, rising tides do lift all boats, and I’m happy to point out that Pizza Ranch has had 30 years of positive same-store sales growth. With that and the addition of new restaurants, we can expand the marketing fund and provide better tools and services for our franchisees. At the co-op level, they have more opportunities for spending and can have larger partnerships, and the Twins deal is a great example of that co-op-driven partnership. It directly affects the two co-ops near Minneapolis, but it benefits the entire brand.
It’s different to market in a small town with a population of 2,000 compared with a town of 90,000 people, but we’re finding that what makes us successful in smaller communities translates very well to larger markets. In these newer, bigger markets, we’re using more TV, radio and print to build the business, and we’re fortunate that we have great data on our guests through our loyalty program, so now we can look at an area we’re targeting and know who our guests are in that market and how to plan our media strategy to market to them.