Subway's Social Amplification

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Source: Subway's Facebook Page
Source: Subway's Facebook Page

Think of Subway's "$5 Footlong" song. Now try to get it out of your head. That you probably can't underscores the effectiveness of Subway's marketing strategies across television and digital channels. Known for its celebrity endorsers like Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III (RGIII) and Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, the company also dips its toe by associating itself with individuals like Eric LeGrand, a Rutgers defensive tackle paralyzed during a botched play, as well as New York's Fashion Week and NBC's fledgling game show Million Second Quiz.

All of these associations feed into Subway's amplification across social channels. In September search terms for Eric LeGrand, NASCAR star Carl Edwards, and Million Second Quiz all generated traffic on Subway's various online properties.

Company CMO Tony Pace discussed at the 360i Digital Marketing Summit 2013 some of the big takeaways his brand has had from its years perfecting social media engagement strategies.

Look at your calendar

Subway is adept at planning ahead—knowing the events that are coming up, which Subway can ride to push out its messaging. “You know Eric LeGrand's is September 4, and you know that's right around the start of football season,” Pace said. “You can do something with that. You know from early in the springtime that you've got Million Second Quiz happening, and you can do something with that.”

When Rutgers retired Eric LeGrand's jersey three days ago, Subway tweeted pictures of star athletes Michael Phelps and RGIII wearing an inspirational Eric LeGrand shirt. Similarly when Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week debuted in New York, Subway put together a program challenging designers to create haute fashion around Subway wrappers, labels, and bags.

“The retirement of Eric LeGrand's jersey and the Fashion Week idea were late comers,” Pace said, “but we still had to make something happen and then amplify.”

Marketing is building

Many enterprise stakeholders view marketing as another expense.

“We don't look at it that way,” Pace said. “We look at it as building assets. We've heard pretty consistently from everybody in the social media space: How do you get all the folks you work with to send out social media messaging? What is your contract with them like? Our contract is: We'd like you to do that stuff and we'll call you if we have something we'd like you to do.

Getting RGIII and Phelps to agree to wear LeGrand-themed, Subway-branded clothing, Pace said, wasn't a matter of contractual stipulations. The athletes agreed because they liked Eric LeGrand.

“And because we work with those folks over time and have done things to support their interests, they're happy to do the quid pro quo for us,” Pace said.

Sentiment trumps market size

What's the point of social media amplification when you have national ads on Sunday Night Football, reaching an audience of 25 million engaged viewers?

The point, said Pace, is sentiment.

“Sentiment is a very important thing for us to measure,” he explained. “If you look at the sentiment around Eric LeGrand and, even though there was some consternation about us being in Fashion Week, the sentiment was that it was a pretty creative thing, and we'll take that.”

Don't rush to the Next Big Thing

Magpies like shiny new objects, but marketers shouldn't follow. “We like looking at the next thing, but when you have something that's working, you shouldn't abandon it,” Pace said.

Of course, how do brands know when something works? Pace recommended YouGov, which buzz around hot topics in politics, social trends, and—most importantly for Subway—brand sentiment. Pace pointed out how, from 2010 through 2012, Subway was the top brand—not just restaurant brands, but among all brands, beating out Apple, Google, and YouTube.

“The fact of the matter is, when you do all sorts of social media messaging and you get good sentiment and do interesting stuff, you'll raise your profile of your brand and add to the brand's story,” Pace said. “And that is certainly helpful in terms of differentiating yourself in the marketplace."

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