When Rian McCartan joined Utah-based Swig last October, the dirty soda brand had 45 restaurants in five states. Less than a year on, the company has grown units by 20%, and in August announced it had signed 250 franchise units in just six months.
It’s not surprising for a company that seems to generate buzz wherever it goes, and that alone makes McCartan a suitable leader — he’s previously worked for See’s Candy, American Eagle, Williams-Sonoma and Skechers.
“Building a buzzworthy brand is definitely an art and a science,” McCartan said, describing audience research the company does in each new market. He calls it “expansion 101.”
“We dive very deep into demographic data, consumer behavior, market trends. We look at population density, age distribution,” he said.
But Swig executives also want to understand the nuances of each community it enters, and so the company conducts community surveys and hosts pop-up events to “gauge the reception and understand the unique market,” McCartan said.
When the company does eventually open in a market, it continues to ease in and really get to know its new community. “Before we open a store, we often host soft launches, soft openings, and this allows us to introduce our brand and gather more feedback and make any necessary adjustments before the grand opening,” he said.
Once Swig is established in a market, it relies on storytelling to maintain the connection to its consumers.
“People connect with stories more than they do facts and features,” McCartan said in reference to Swig’s approach to social media. “Staying very agile and investing in transparent, authentic ways of approaching … business” is key whether a brand is a startup or a Fortune 500 company. “It’s really important to be agile and nimble and have the ability to quickly adapt to changes, whether they be macroeconomic or [related to] market trends or consumer behavior,” he added.
For example, Swig knows its fall pumpkin cookie is its customers’ most anticipated limited-time offer — but this year’s cookie “doesn’t taste as strong of pumpkin as I know our customers are going to want,” McCartan said. So the brand turned it into a TikTok, showing a pumpkin sitting next to a cookie with air blowing the scent onto the treat.
“We’re really just poking fun at ourselves,” he said, “saying, ‘You know what, we made a great cookie — it didn’t come out how we expected, but it’s still a fantastic tasting cookie.’”
That kind of authentic storytelling has brought Swig 61,300 followers on TikTok and 95,500 followers on Instagram — numbers that can only be expected to grow as the brand does — so one might say it’s working.
Contact Leigh Anne Zinsmeister at [email protected]
Hear from McCartan at CREATE: The Experience in Palm Springs Oct. 1-3, where he will sit down with NRN group managing editor Leigh Anne Zinsmeister to talk about building a buzzworthy brand.