Monday, July 27, 2009

Social Media Marketing Case Study: Express

I’ve decided that I do a lot of critiquing of social media strategies, rebranding efforts, Gen Y marketing tactics, and general business strategy. While I enjoy these mini case studies, I’ve decided that it’d be a nice change to spotlight companies/brands that are doing an excellent job in their social media and Gen Y marketing efforts.

Today’s spotlight, my long-time favorite clothing brand - Express.

I’ve been a loyal Express customer since it was originally named Structure (8-10ish yrs or so). I was originally drawn to the brand for its bold colors and tailored fit clothing - it use to be a hassle finding clothes that fit someone with an athletic build. I’ve remained a loyal customer not just because of the styles, but the customer service and incredible sales that have.

As someone with a marketing background, it’s been fun watching the digital marketing efforts of the brand explode like Vegas on Fight Night. After reflecting on Express’ digital and social media marketing strategy, I’ve decided that their success is due to three key characteristics: Brains, Brawn, and Balance.


A good marketing strategy is only as good as the person at the helm. In Express’ case, it’s their CMO Lisa Gavales (@ExpressLisaG). What I’ve enjoyed about her approach to social media, is that she’s incorporating a nice blend of push/pull marketing via Twitter. With her 7500ish followers, she alerts followers of upcoming sales, as well as quickly responds to individual comments/questions (an essential and often overlooked aspect of social media).

Example: When I was recently shopping on, I was getting frustrated with my inability to sort shirts and pants by size. I kept clicking on shirts I was interested in, only to find that they were sold out in my size. I tweeted @ExpressLisaG saying that it was hindering my shopping experience, and I’d be more inclined to purchase items from from their website if I could easily view everything that was available in my size. I promptly got a reply, and was informed that IT would get working on a fix. Awesome.


Many times, I see companies take a stab at social media marketing and open a Twitter or Facebook account and call it good. While it’s a good first step, social media is bigger than just Facebook and Twitter and it requires constant interaction with the consumer via these communication tools.

What Express has done well, is establish themselves in several social media mediums. They have a Facebook fan page with approx 50,000 fans, a Twitter account with 7500 followers, and a Bebo and YouTube channel to boot. Moreover, these accounts are all continually updated and they are interacting with their core consumers on a regular basis.


Every marketing campaign needs balance. You can’t focus only on social media, or only on direct marketing. To stay relevant with your consumers, you need to interact with them and create impressions across several marketing channels. By experiencing the brand’s message over several marketing channels, the likelihood of being able recall the brand and its messages is greatly increased. The marketing tactics are even more effective when all the communication channels compliment each other instead of being attempting to stand alone.

Over the past year Express has stepped up their opt-in email marketing efforts. The emails now come more frequently, are aesthetically pleasing to view, and most importantly, they direct the consumer to each of their four social media webpages.

Their direct marketing mailers contain additional sales coupons, as well as direct the consumer to their social media webpages. They also feature verbiage explaining a 15% savings off your first purchase when you signup for email alerts.

Finally, the social media strategy not only provides their consumers with info, but interacts with their consumers. Their Facebook and Bebo pages provides the information, as well as a blurb about the 15% discount for signing up for email alerts. Their Twitter account interacts with their customers and their YouTube channel provides videos with fashion/styling advice.

Each marketing channel supports the others seamlessly. This impeccably balanced approach to their marketing campaign is perhaps the most impressive and effective facet of their strategy.

Four for you Glen CoCo! You go Glen CoCo! (yes, I realize I just quoted Mean Girls, but it seemed appropriate given Express’ utter dominance in the social media marketing field.)

--Now Let Me Clear My Throat--

Josh Groth

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Starbucks to Sell Beer and Wine...?

It’s been quite the year for big-ticket rebranding efforts. Kentucky Fried Chicken has been transitioning over to Kentucky Grilled Chicken in an effort to ditch the negative health connotation linked with deep fried food. Pizza Hut has begun its transformation to The Hut - in an attempt to connect more with Gen Y. Starbucks has now started down the yellow-brick road of rebranding in an attempt to gain the upper hand in the Coffee Wars.

Two days ago USA Today broke the story that Starbucks is not only experimenting with a new name, but also several new additions to their menu - beer and wine. Opening next week in Seattle, the birthplace of the Starbucks brand, is the pilot store called “15th Ave. Coffee and Tea inspired by Starbucks” (seems a little long winded to me, but what ev).

15th Ave. Coffee and Tea will feature all of the same menu options as any other Starbucks, however it will have a liquor license. It will offer a half-dozen kinds of beers and wines — most with connections to the Northwest, and priced between $4-$7.

Starbucks has been attacked from all sides like Kobe on game night. However, unlike the Black Mamba, Starbucks isn’t coming home with a ring. During the recession, Starbucks has endured store closures, layoffs, and same-store sales declines. They’ve also been hit with a full-court press by McDonald’s, as their competitor infused their McCafe with a $100M marketing budget.

Starbucks’ solution: increase foot traffic during the evening hours, where store sales are at their lowest. It’s a viable strategy, but are beer and wine the answer?

In order to address Starbucks’ proposed solution, I think it would behoove them to take a closer look at the problem at hand.

The Problem(s):
  • Starbucks has the highest price point among its competitors (McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts).
  • Demand for coffee peaks in the afternoon then tampers off into the evening.
  • Coffee can be considered a luxury good in a recession (easily replaced by brewing at home).

Bite the bullet and compromise on price. While it may have an immediate negative result on net profit, they could start making up some of the ground they’ve lost to McCafe and Dunkin’ with consumers who are price conscious. Their competitor's biggest selling point (in relation to Starbucks) is that their product is less expensive. If you take that away from them, what do they have?

Give recession weary consumers a reason to come to Starbucks instead of brewing their coffee at home (i.e. FREE WI-FI). When I was at school, there was a small locally-owned coffee shop right next door to the campus Starbucks called Espresso Roma. It always got the same, if not more, traffic than the Starbucks. Why? It was a better place to get work done at because it offered free Wi-Fi. This seems like a no-brainer, which makes it even more impressive that Starbucks is seemingly the only company left that actually charges customers for Wi-Fi.

If they’re still hell-bent on increasing traffic in the evenings via alcohol, why not sell alcohol that at least has something to do with their pre-existing brand image? Rather than beer and wine (yes I recognize that these are common in European coffeehouses), why not sell drinks like Spanish/Irish coffees and peppermint schnapps infused mochas around Christmas? Unlike beer and wine, this would not be a complete 180 from the brand image and would actually complement their current product offerings quite nicely. After all, Starbucks already produces their own coffee flavored liqueurs.

What are your thoughts? Would you go to a Starbucks for a late night beer with your friends? What alcoholic drinks (if any) would you consider purchasing from a Starbucks?

--Now Let Me Clear My Throat--

Josh Groth

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Consumers React To Pizza Hut's Rebranding Efforts

(Photo Courtesy of

As a follow-up to my previous post on the rebranding of Pizza Hut to “The Hut,” I thought that it would be interesting to highlight consumer’s reactions to the news. So, I went to several prominent news sources that posted the article, as well as several popular social bookmarking websites such as Digg and Reddit. I then copied and pasted them here so that you can get an idea of how consumers are reacting to the rebranding efforts (none of the posts have been edited). Some of them are offensive, others are crass. However, the majority of them are pretty hilarious.

From the article’s thread on

HAL_9000: “Already printing up stickers in the same font style that just say "JABBA" on them to be ready.”

alesis: “Yes! Eat pizza at The Hut and wind up like Jabba!”

Rantastic: “Because naming your restaurant after the fattest villain in cinema history is a good marketing strategy. I hope they fire that marketing team and kick them in the balls for good measure.”

Shiggityx2: “Seriously, "The Pizza" would have been way cooler.”

From the article’s thread on


Mika Hutchison: “It sounds like a very bad joke. Too bad it's not. Lame.”

Robobot: “I was dearly hoping to see a link to The Onion at the bottom of this post.”

From the article’s thread on MSN Money

Fedup in VA: “Wow, wheel of fortune. Can't get any hipper than that.”

jimmyjoejack: “a little late for an april fool's joke!”

Amanda Hugankiss: “They should start by serving beer. Who wants to hang out and JUST eat pizza and maybe watch a little "Wheel"? I'll have a Sam Adam's with that cheese pizza, then we'll talk about hanging out.”

healthyeatin’girl: “These fast food restaurants can change their names a hundred times and they're still going to have the same greasy, unhealthy food and the image that comes with that.”

chaostheory6682: “This is Pathetic!!! I will never eat at a pizza hut again, o sorry,"the hut ". I'm so sick and tired of companies and people changing and often shortening their names in an attempt to look more hip. It's bull and I won't have anything to do with it.”

Throttlemonster: How about "Jabba the Hut"

Caffeine Clone: “Hmmm. The Hut... makes me think of Jabba the Hutt... which makes me think of something grotesquely fat and disgusting... qualities that I am sure that Pizza Hut doesn't want to bring to mind when thinking about their restaurant.”

theadrock13: “I just called a few friends and asked what do you think of when you hear the name "The Hut" as a place to go eat or hang out. Everybody says it sounds like a gay bar.”

Michaellane: “The Hut? Ewww. Sounds like some 70'sish- Long Island-Christian rock-coke drinking-"Wheel" watching-hipster-dude, (or Travis from WKRP) saying ‘let's do The Hut guys!, come on- it's almost six o'clock.”

Rittenhouse-Wise Family: “I think that it is hilarious that they think young people want to sit around and watch CBS... My dad watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. As far as Entertainment Tonight... Don't we get most of our entertainment info from the net anyway? Hilarious... Next thing they will do is add a disco ball and take names at the door... LOL”

From the article’s thread on

fiendishMuffin: “Good luck getting people to not say "Pizza Hut." Saying "The Hut" makes me feel like a tool.”

seattlegirluw: “Maybe they watched Spaceballs too many times?”

onechad: “Maybe I'm just completely out of the cool-people loop (okay, I definitely am), but it seems to me that the harder a business tries to be "hip," the less likely they are to be viewed as such. It's like when parents try to use slang to sound younger and relate to their kids.”

FirstOne1: "Let's order The Hut tonight!" Sounds pretty stupid actually.

BDOUG: “...this will simply remind people of Jabba the Hutt, probably not a good idea when you want to sell fast food. I have a better idea, how about not putting 14,000 tablespoons of sugar into your nasty pizza sauce instead?”

MrColdHeart: “Add wifi and beer and I would go.”

greenvortex: “Leia felt chained down by her Job at the Hut.”

relaxeder: “They will include televisions that broadcast CBS-programs such as Wheel of Fortune and Entertainment Tonight." Oh boy, I can't wait to watch crap while I'm eating it.”

ErrorLoading: “Let's connect with youth by showing "Wheel of Fortune"! Are these people like 900 years old and consider 60 year old's youth?”

SnuKs: “Jabba?”

Pizza Hut Rebrands as "The Hut"...Hilarity Ensues

To rebrand or not to rebrand. It’s a question that many companies are dealing with as they attempt to reposition their company/brand in order to better align themselves with current hot topics (i.e. clean and green energy, organic/healthy food, etc). This repositioning is often times in attempt to make the brand more relevant to Gen Y.

Case in point, Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut is currently rebranding in an attempt to change their image. They’re currently testing a new name: The Hut. They are also introducing new items such as a multi-grain crust and all natural tomato sauce in an effort to cast their pizza in a healthier light. While The Hut is just a marketing effort and not a permanent name change, it’s got me scratching my head. But more on that later.

Brian Niccol, Pizza Hut’s CMO explains the rebrand in BrandWeek:

“There's a big trend in general around having confidence in the foods that you eat. People over the age of 35, whose frequency with pizza is declining, said one of the big things that would reignite their passion with the category is to have a pizza made with multigrain crust and an all natural tomato sauce...

Design is a great way to create an emotional expression for your brand. But the pizza category has been a real laggard in doing that. Our red box is a game changer in packaging and design. And yes, we're also introducing another vocabulary word with Pizza Hut, which is 'The Hut.' That ties in nicely with (today's) texting generation. We wanted to make sure that Pizza Hut and 'The Hut' become common vernacular for our brand. Red is our mark and when you see that red roof, people will refer to it as 'The Hut' or 'Pizza Hut.' As we expand our online and mobile businesses, 'The Hut' is the perfect icon for our mobile generation.”

Additionally, Pizza Hut is introducing Hut TV, an in-store video channel that allows customers to watch shows like Wheel of Fortune and Entertainment Tonight while eating.

Instead of putting this rebrand on blast (like I have a tendency to do), I opted to offer some quick observations of mine. Then to add insights into other consumer’s reactions, I will highlight some of the comments that I’ve seen popping up on popular social media sites in a follow-up post tomorrow.

My Initial thoughts:

  • “The Hut” may be shorter, therefore easier to text, but dropping one word in a text, one that’s in my phone’s predictive text anyway, is not going to affect a purchase decision. Now if you had an iPhone app for quick orders, that’d be a completely different story.
  • The first thing any Gen X or Gen Y consumer thinks of when hearing The Hut (especially male consumers) is Jabba The Hutt from Star Wars. The second thing they think of, is Pizza the Hutt from Spaceballs. If you’re trying to associate your brand with a healthier image, why is the first thing I think about when I hear your new brand name, a 4000 pound, drooling alien?
  • Pizza is about convenience and price, it’s rarely about a dining experience (outside kid’s soccer parties). As Gen Y consumers, we’re not going to be dining in, but out. Make it more convenient to order; don’t try and entice us to dine in with Hut TV.
  • Address both cost and convenience by ditching the store front, and have more stores like a Dominos where all they do is deliver. Make a phone app for easier ordering. With the money you’re saving on the lease, buy healthier or even organic products and differentiate your brand that way. Convenience and Organic = Gen Y = increased sales.
--Now Let Me Clear My Throat--
Josh Groth