Today, building a community for every business—whether you are a direct brand or not —is non-negotiable. Brand loyalists are a critical part of differentiating a brand, and, if you are not creating them, you could very well end up a commodity.
Feeding our community of loyalists is what really gets me excited, because they are the ones who are out there talking about our brand for us. I believe that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing that exists, and that brand loyalists are the key to driving these kinds of conversations.
We have built our community in a number of ways. Most recently, it was through our new Chipotle Rewards program. Launched in March, we quickly signed up over seven million members. How did we do it? We started with this principle; the only thing better than free money is free Chipotle.
Having a central starting point allowed us to keep an ongoing focus on understanding, surprising, and delighting our customers. Program members earn rewards for purchases, and on special occasions like their birthdays, but they also earn bonuses for doing things like ordering a vegetarian meal on Meatless Monday. With this kind of focus we are able to not only reward behavior, but also to incentivize it.
Being a top loyalist earns you exclusive perks. When we introduced our new Carne Asada we let some of our most active members try it first, and even invited them to the press event. And that is the key to rewarding loyalty: to show consumers that we see them, we care about them, and we want them to feel special.
I would caution though that loyalty program is not a one size fits all answer. It really depends on your brand. Before launching a program like this you have to ask yourself:
- Who are our customers?
- What do they love about our brand?
- What do they expect in return for their loyalty?
This will look different for everyone. Sometimes it’s easy to look at what other people are doing and think that the same thing will work for you. There’s a lot of inspiration you can get from other brands, but at the end of the day you really have to look at what makes you unique and find ways to create loyalty around that.
Look at the whole customer journey, understand how people want to engage with you, and then see what friction you can remove from the experience. It’s always exciting for us to see what happens when we do that. For instance, we monitored social conversation surrounding Chipotle and diets, and recognized an opportunity to make it easier for those guests. We removed their friction by creating pre-configured Lifestyle Bowls, taking the guesswork out of ordering a Keto, Paleo, or Whole 30 compliant entrée.
Our Bowl Game TV spots followed the same idea. It was easy to make an association between our iconic food bowl and college bowl games, so bowl games were the perfect place to introduce our delivery service. We removed the friction of wanting to eat Chipotle during a game but not wanting to leave your house during the game to get it. We were able to disrupt the industry by creating a delivery experience on our website and within our app, and then reward our customers for trying that experience.
Try New Things
We are obsessed with what’s happening in our customer’s world and figuring out how we can involve ourselves in that conversation when appropriate. We knew that Gen Z and Millennials were spending a lot of time on the popular TikTok app so we started experimenting with it. We talked to the team at TikTok and told them that we were looking for the right way to show up. We didn’t want to be on the platform just for the sake of being there. We wanted to find the right way to engage the existing community. This resulted in the #GuacDance challenge, which urged app users to show us their avocado-inspired dance moves. We received a quarter of a million video submissions during the six day run, and had our biggest guacamole sales day ever on National Avocado Day.
Do the Unexpected
When you look for opportunities you find them in unlikely places. We knew that a lot of our customers were using Venmo to pay for our food so we approached it as a social network in its own right. To get people talking about the new Chipotle Rewards program, we surprised people with Venmo payouts ranging from free guacamole to $500. This had never been done before so people were excited to see us there, and we filled the public Venmo feed with messages about Chipotle Rewards to build buzz at launch. We even created a custom Chipotle pepper emoji to give fans a shorthand way to talk about us on Venmo.
Stay True to Yourself
Everything we do is built on strengthening our relationship with customers and rewarding them for being loyal. That’s why it is essential to be clear about who you are as a brand. What are the characteristics that identify you? What is your personality, and what do you have in common with your community? Answer those questions, find those shared values and stay true to that. Of course we love to do things that are innovative and to continually push the status quo, but at a foundational level, it’s about being loyal to your brand loyalists as well as yourself.