A restaurant chain's transformative approach to digital communication
A restaurant chain's transformative approach to digital communication
In this episode of Uncaged Wisdom, our Customer Marketing Director Louise Hamer-Brown has the pleasure of speaking to the brilliant Sonya Mooney. Sonya is the Digital Marketing Manager at Pizza Hut Restaurants UK. They discuss the approach to guest communications Pizza Hut Restaurants UK adopted during Covid-19 and how this may influence things longer term.
Sonya MooneyDigital Marketing Manager
Louise Hamer-Brown: ...and I certainly will be coming in for some pizza sometime soon, because you've made me feel really hungry.
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Louise Hamer-Brown: Hi. I'm Louise Hamer- Brown, Client Marketing Director at Cheetah Digital, and I am delighted to be joined by Sonya today from Pizza Hut. So Sonya, tell us a little bit about your role.
Sonya Mooney: I am Sonya Mooney. I work as a Digital Marketing Lead at Pizza Hut Restaurants UK. So I look after basically all our digital channels, that includes our CRM, our social media, our PPC, SEO, and our paid media as well.
Louise Hamer-Brown: That was quite a broad remit. Do you have a team to support you there?
Sonya Mooney: Well, currently where I'm working with me, myself and I, we're operating a very lean team after COVID, but we do work with a number of brilliant agencies that we outsource various work to.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Tell us a little bit about Pizza Hut restaurant.
Sonya Mooney: Sure. So, I've worked with the company for about five years now. Pizza Restaurants UK is actually a franchisee of Yum!. So we're owned by Yum!, but we operate all their restaurants in the UK. We've been operating here for over 45 years now, and certainly since I've been here, we've undergone a massive refurbishment program. So we've had over 60 million pounds investment in our huts, giving a fantastic revamp across our estate and really trying to appeal to the younger generation and get people back in loving the brand again. So yeah, it's been a really exciting time to be at the business.
Louise Hamer-Brown: So, Pizza Hut is a very much loved and well- known brand in the UK and also known in America. So in the UK, how many restaurants have you got now and how big is the team behind that operation?
Sonya Mooney: Sure. So, we have just under 200 restaurants in the UK and that's supported by four and a half thousand employees UK- wide.
Louise Hamer-Brown: How important is digital marketing to the operation of that huge number of restaurants?
Sonya Mooney: Yeah, absolutely. So, it's pivotal really to all their communications. Certainly at the moment through COVID, it's been our main way of communicating to our guests. So, email we've relied heavily on to update all our guests with what's happening with our restaurants.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Yeah, that must have been a key challenge during this time, communicating with your customers and keeping them engaged, generally during a time when you've not being able to open and trade every day as you normally would. So, has that been really challenging for you?
Sonya Mooney: I think the hospitality sector's been one of the worst hit, so we've absolutely gone through some really difficult times. But yeah, email's been fantastic in letting our guests know what's going on, reassuring them that we're still here, and then also letting them know about the offerings that we have. Still being able to offer collection services and work with our aggregator partnerships as well. So if we didn't have our digital channels, we wouldn't be able to speak to these guests. So, it's a great way of ever really reaching our core audience.
Louise Hamer-Brown: So, you've been operating a take- away service in place of restaurants that are open and trading. Is that right?
Sonya Mooney: Yeah, and various times throughout the lockdown, obviously restrictions have changed and so we've adapted accordingly. But predominantly we've offered a take- away collection service and we worked in partnerships with aggregators like Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, enabling us to offer delivery service as well of our products.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Yeah, that's been quite a common move in this particular sector. So, did that require a lot of digital transformation? I guess obviously generated a lot of work for you and your team.
Sonya Mooney: The good news is we actually had the ball rolling for it, certainly with the aggregator partnerships, but before COVID. So we were up and running with Deliveroo and Uber Eats already, and Just Eat was given the pitch over as COVID came. So, the great thing is that the infrastructure was already there and the Huts were used to using them. I think one of the bigger challenges for us was certainly communicating to our guests and making sure they knew we had this offering as well.
Louise Hamer-Brown: I think we've seen a huge change, haven't we, in the way that customer bases have interacted with brands during COVID. Swapping some of their traditional behaviors, going out for a family meal perhaps, to actually buying online and ordering online and becoming more tech- savvy themselves. So, how did you sort of get into that mindset? What did you have to change in order to reach that market? In fact, did you find that your audience had actually changed? So, maybe seeing a new customer base.
Sonya Mooney: Yeah, that's a good question. I think one of the monumental achievements for us this year has been the introduction of our mobile ordering system. So when we were trading and open for dine- in, we launched a new system that allows all our guests to order online via our menu and get their food delivered to the table without having to have interaction with the server. So, it is a fantastic feature and it's something we've rolled out and it's had about 80% uptake, which is phenomenal. But one of the big challenges with that is education to the guests, the reassurance that they're still going to get the same level of service and also working with our team members as well to ensure they're fully happy with the system we've got in place, and ensuring them that it's going to work efficiently and effectively. So yeah, that has been a really big achievement for us, and I think what COVID's done in a lot of ways is kind sped up people's appetite for tech. If we'd introduced the mobile ordering system maybe a few years ago, I don't think that the majority of people would be as open to using it. Whereas launching it last year, where a lot of the state are offering something similar, at least comparable, you're almost forced to catch up with it and forced to use it. That's the new industry standard really, that everyone's a bit more open to tech.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Yeah, and I think probably more open- minded to brands as well, because you might've thought of particular operators for pizza delivery, but now suddenly you've got more choice than you had before. So, that can only be a good thing for the customer base.
Sonya Mooney: Absolutely. That's why we were keen to work with several delivery partners for aggregators, because we can get our brand out to as many places as possible, and ultimately let as many people as possible have our food, because it's a really popular brand with great products. So for us, yeah, it's been fundamental in reaching new audiences as well.
Louise Hamer-Brown: So, who is your sort of typical customer base and how do you segment that? Who is the typical Pizza Hut customer?
Sonya Mooney: So, we have a variety of core segments. I guess we do index very highly with young families, because our huts are such a fun environment and kids certainly love the unlimited features we have. So, the ICF and the buffet and things like that. So certainly one of our core audiences is young families, but equally we do index highly with millennials and gen sets coming through, as again, a fun place people like to come to.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Do you find that different segments and profiles, you use different communication channels?
Sonya Mooney: What unites our segments is the majority use our mobile, however, we obviously segment based on communication. So, we have a number of ways of segmenting. On a basic level, we look to have relevant communications for a hut that people are associated to. So if we know what your favorite hut is, we'll send you relevant communications for that, and then deal- based. So, do we know people are particularly deal- savvy? Would they like to hear more deals? Do they have children? They let us know if you've got kids, and then likewise, we'll send them more kids- focused. One segment that we're really seeing growing in the last couple of years is alternative diets. So there are vegan offering, gluten free. So we've actually launched a full vegan menu now, just because it's been so popular. Certainly that's something we would like to take forward in our email campaigns. So, identifying those users that really want to hear more about our vegan offerings and have that as a tailored segment to make. Because it is quite polarizing, and we've got diehard meat lovers, they love our pepperoni, they wouldn't think of going vegan. Then we've got this in the middle, but then we've got the vegan lovers as well. So I think that's something we have to be quite careful with in the communications, just making sure that segmentation is bespoke where possible.
Louise Hamer-Brown: So using tailored, more personalized communications to help, I guess, with your product innovation, to expand your market as well through various channels. So we were talking a little earlier, Sonya, about some of your future plans and ambitions and how you're working with Cheetah Digital. Tell me a little bit of how you work with Cheetah Digital typically on a project, and then perhaps you could talk a little bit about what you're planning to do next.
Sonya Mooney: So, we do work closely with Cheetah Digital and we've got fantastic customer success managing that who we work really close with. So, I guess typical project we might work with them on is if we're looking to optimize a particular project sends, we'll do analysis with them, we'll do regression analysis to understand, just to really get to the perks of the data and understand when is the best time to send, or what sorts of subject lines are performing the best and just identifying kind of key factors that can help us optimize. So, that's certainly the sorts of projects we'd worked with them in the past and we tend to give quite a broad brief, and then as we get on, we segment it down, funnel it down to get more specific answer where we're going. But yeah, we've had success in the past of optimizing our open rates significantly, but yeah, where we're really heading to in the future is we have signed up to onboard the EDP as the engagement data platform, which we're really excited about. So, it's going to give us a chance to utilize some of the data coming in from our mobile ordering system. So, I mentioned earlier that we've got this new system to allow guests to order online in huts, and what the really fun thing, is now we're going to have all this data coming into the system, so we'll know when people are visiting, what product they're ordering. So we'll obviously anonymize, but it will allow us to have really segmented, really feed into our personalization of our emails and ultimately give people content that's more relevant to them.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Yeah, so allow you to create a single customer view to track behavior and events and communication channels, and to optimize accordingly so that you get that hyper- personalized approach to your communications.
Sonya Mooney: It's exciting for us, because it comes at a time where we've got access to this holding data source, this new data feed coming in. So the project's quite a big one, in that we're going to reconfigure our data feeds, and then beyond that, really look at how we develop these profiles. As much as we'd like to be very segmented at the moment, there's a lot of limitations in place, so this is an opportunity to kind of start fresh and think, actually what are our core segments? How do we want to split up people? But also look at profiles in general. We can identify different types of customers' viewings. So as I mentioned, we know that we over- index highly with young families and we tend to index well as well with millennials, but really beyond that, looking at what our average guest profiles look like and really just expanding that beyond inaudible limited profile range.
Louise Hamer-Brown: So, moving away from sort of demographics to really powering more dynamic content based on behaviors and a whole range of data, and also EDP allows you to model data as well and predict data and create new clusters and new profiles as well. It's really good to hear, actually, having sort of had the impact of COVID, but that hasn't deterred you from moving forward and thinking about the future and where the growth is going to come from in the future, and how you can continue to outperform in the markets where you have been successful and how perhaps you can recover in the markets that you need to as well. I think that's really good advice for anybody in your shoes to continue to look forward and to not be scared to innovate, and keep that digital transformation going, ongoing. What would you advise someone who is just starting out on that journey as a marketeer in your particular sector?
Sonya Mooney: Yeah, I think there's no one amazing thing I think you should do, but I think for what's worked for us is test and learn. No matter what the challenges this year, there's been so much that's been thrown at us in 2020, and when you try something, it might not work and you learn from it and you do something else. That's the approach, it's really just taking us through. So especially during this time, unprecedented time, I think you can't be afraid of change and you can't be afraid of trying something different, and yeah, just being open to adapting new ways. You have to be really adaptable is what I'm trying to say.
Louise Hamer-Brown: So, what would be your key takeaway or a key learning based on your experience, Sonya?
Sonya Mooney: So, I think it's good to look at the business as a whole and really champion what everyone's been able to do. As I was saying, adapt, be flexible, but really just conquer adversity. So for example, even with our product offerings, we've had to totally redo what we're offering our guests. So Pizza Hut's really known for our self- serve concept, so with our buffet or salad bar. Which with COVID and Hut's regulations, self- service wasn't an option, so we did introduce our bluffet concept, which is essentially unlimited pizza served to you at the table. Which is obviously a big education piece with our guests, making sure they still... where you get as much pizza as you want and still a really compelling offering, but it is just changed. Entire business is just full of wonderful people that have adapted to change and overcome this adversity. So whether it's changing our food offering, whether it's our team members in Hut implementing all the various hygiene standards and working hard to make our guests feel safe and secure, or our IT department implementing our mobile ordering solution, it really is just a fantastic business that's come together to overcome this really hard time for our sector.
Louise Hamer-Brown: Well, it's been great talking to you today. Thank you, Sonya, learnt a lot from you.
Sonya Mooney: Thank you very much.
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