Naked Pizza: Out in Front: Turning Purchases Into Conversations

In launching Naked Pizza, our argument has never been that a healthier pizza is going to save the day, but rather that every "new" business should and can have a social strategy--a strategy that positively affects someone or something along the continuum. If you don't, then maybe you don't have a business. To us, mission, profit, and scale are inseparable. So far, so good.

Our thought process has been that as long as we execute on the disciplined business end of the arrangement--operations, operations, operations--coupled with a social consciousness and some science under the hood, customers will see a benefit. Combine this with cool technology and something we call "Cha-Ching 2.0" and purchases can now immediately be turned into conversations. At a minimum we would have a business that makes money, and possibly a new business meme altogether.

Naked Pizza was the first company in the world to remove its name from the sign out front and replace it with its Twitter handle. That catapulted us onto blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable. It was part of gaining the backing of two billionaires (Mark Cuban and Robert Kraft), more than 6,000 franchising inquiries, and today, less than 18 months later, we're opening stores at a clip of 5 per month with more than 400 in the pipeline.

The velocity gained by having a mission and model that fits the social platform wins us investment and media interest, powers recruitment, sells pizza, and equally important, allows for a relatively small company to gain necessary leverage in establishing its supply network.

Remarkably, we have become an international case study for use of social media, featured in hundreds of blogs like Socionomics.com and even on Twitter.com for business alongside Dell, Starbucks, Levi's, and JetBlue for social media proficiency. We've received similar recognition for our embrace of social media from The New York Times to Entrepreneur and most recently QSR magazine, which named us the fourth most-influential brand in the category--an entirely new level of absurdity given that Starbucks with almost 20,000 more locations than us was ranked number one. So does that mean we're a more viable and thus valuable company? We think so.

Our view is that all transactions are conversations--social. In addition to what you sell, there is an equally intense interest in who you are--mostly because people are interested in what a purchase or brand association says about who they are.

To facilitate this level of interaction we've created a rich publishing platform that works across social sites ranging from Facebook to Flickr to YouTube, which allows us to post a variety of content that reveals our story and allows our customers to comment and contribute. These are contextually linked across a digital platform that includes our website and our blog, as well as our online ordering system that will extend across mobile, tablet, gaming consoles, social media, cable, etc.

This is clearly different from Domino's running a $5.99 special on the Super Bowl. The theory might be that if you don't really offer any intrinsic value in your product or company ethos then perhaps you are required to "buy" attention (through discounts and $400 million ad budgets). With all due respect, this is a different world than the one Tom Monaghan invented 50 years ago and John Schnatter disrupted 25 years later.

The launch of our first international location in Dubai (we'll open six there this year) brought a new level of understanding to our social strategy. By setting up a social media platform and engaging with numerous audiences in the entrepreneurial, technology, marketing, health, and academic communities (months before anyone ever put a slice of our pizza in their mouth), we were able to ignite the conversation. Social was where we published that engagement. By the time we opened the doors on January 17, we had several thousand local Facebook fans/likes and Twitter followers. The sheer volume of online conversations was overwhelming. As I write this, that store will end the day with $5,000 in sales.

Cha-Ching 2.0

In the world of Cha-Ching 2.0, our relationship with a customer does not end with a transaction at the cash register--quite the opposite. It does not end until they share that activity with their friends through social media. According to an Econsultancy survey, 90 percent of purchases have some sort of social influence.

Simply put, consumers want to share if there's a benefit and don't mind being identified with that brand. And it's the influence among those friends and secondary relationships that is the sweet spot--the Holy Grail. Becoming part of their identity drives frequency.

From day one, we have supported this conversation with fast delivery (averaging 23 minutes), transparency of operations, and product through short videos posted online, blog posts about our perspective on health, and so forth. In other words, we don't use social networks as a broadcast medium to pound out specials and deals. We have morphed from a retail brand into a publisher and woven ourselves into the fabric of the conversation.

The lament is that social media has caused marketers to lose control of their brand. The truth is that now, there's no BS-ing your brand to cultural salience. In our view, in the post-recession, post-mass media world, that's a very good thing.

Robbie Vitrano is co-founder and chief brand architect of Naked Pizza. He is responsible for all branding, store design, customer experience, and digital strategy and has helped to position Naked Pizza as one of the world's leading practitioners of social media. He is also co-founder of entrepreneurial hub Idea Village, and co-founder of Trumpet, named Top 10 Most Innovative Advertising Agency by Fast Company. He lectures and writes extensively on branding, entrepreneurship, and corporate social responsibility. Contact kathryn@nakedpizza.biz.

Published: July 5th, 2011

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