Auntie Anne's Bakes Up Successful Engagement Campaigns

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The soft pretzel company uses modern social media strategies to market an age-old treat.

A boost in awareness and engagement are often the first steps toward a major lift in sales. But even marketers for a long-established brand can find themselves with an all too common awareness problem.

“The challenge is obviously creating awareness around something that's brand new or that no one has ever heard of before,” says Kaitlin Scicchitano, social media manager for 28-year-old soft pretzel company Auntie Anne's. Scicchitano says her team realizes that customers often come to its pretzel shops for quick, impulse buys. And that, she says, makes it hard to build relationships, promote engagement, and boost awareness. So, when marketers for the pretzel chain set out to market and drive awareness for its newest product, a pretzel nugget stuffed with cheddar, they found themselves facing some major hurdles.

“We have to think about how to attack that and identify what's the most important thing that we want people to know about this product,” Scicchitano says. “Coming up with a sound [marketing] strategy on how we want to educate people is, well, tough.”

“Essentially, when you're taxed with goals like driving awareness and boosting engagement, you need the ability to zero in on the correct audience,” says Honey Comer, account director at Likeable Media, a social media agency. “Being able to focus a message and then tailor it to audiences is what makes it extra relevant—and extra resonant—to the people who we want to send our message to.”

They best way for Auntie Anne's to home in on that audience, Comer says, was through social media and user-generated content. “Social is a two-way street,” she says. “We're starting to place a lot of emphasis on fans' stories and their experiences with [Auntie Anne's] products—really listening to those insights, then using them to create experiences that are more relevant in the future.”

So, with tools and strategy from Likeable Media, the social media team at Auntie Anne's built a marketing plan with several moving parts: a 30-second video entitled “How It's Made” that gives viewers on social a behind-the-scenes look at the pretzel-making process; a UGC contest—“Say Cheddar”—that encouraged followers to submit their own photos with the pretzel chain's products; and a game-show spoof series, entitled “Cheddar Know Your Stuff” that allowed fans to engage with Auntie Anne's.

From May through mid-November, marketers for the soft pretzel company used social media not only to stay top-of-mind with social media fans, but also to engage with consumers and promote the company's newest menu item.

“If you're looking at the metrics, if you're looking at the goals, if you're looking at the KPIs, then you'll see we blew the large majority of them out of the water,” Scicchitano says. Viewers on social media watched the 30-second, behind-the-scenes video more than 176,000 times on Facebook, alone—more than 1,178% over the original goal Auntie Anne's marketers set. The game show video series got more than 123,000 engagements (e.g. views, comments, likes, shares), and nearly 540 photo submissions for Auntie Anne's UGC photo contest. All promoted the new product and the company boosted engagement. Plus, each element of the campaign allowed the company's marketers to tailor its message to a defined audience: fans of Auntie Anne's.

“From this campaign, we learned how we want to approach content going forward,” Scicchitano says. “We learned a lot about how we want to speak to guests, what type of content we want to push out, what's effective, what's the right voice. We learned best practices, and best of all we learned how to keep innovating. We want to make sure we're [at the] top of our game in social media.”

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