How Top That! won over the Millennial crowd

Like most other restaurant chains, Tulsa, Okla.-based Top That! Pizza is trying to crack the code in appealing to the vast Millennial demographic. Millennials now make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population and represent direct spending power estimated at $200 billion annually.

According to a recent report from Technomic, "Understanding the Foodservice Attitudes & Behaviors of Millennials," Millennials cover a broad range of life stages, from college years, to early career to young families. Because they're not homogenous and their needs and expectations are constantly changing, attracting them can be tricky.

Founder and chief marketing officer, Lori Walderich, said Top That! was developed from the ground up with these changing expectations in mind.

"We have created a unique combination of food offerings, in-store experiences and out-of-store communication techniques that are effectively reaching the 18- to-30-year olds," she said. "This population is independent and once you've dialed into their desires, it's likely they will be fiercely loyal to your brand."

In-store experience

Some of the efforts Top That! has put forth to reach this crowd include launching a custom pizza ordering queue ("Chipotle-like") and featuring a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine at each location. According to Jeff Fromm, EVP at advertising agency Barkley and co-author of "Marketing to Millennials," this fits the group's demand for "customizable." Millennials, he said, want to interact with their food and make it their own.

"When people come in who have never been in before, there's a 'wow factor' and they get to pick what they want. We see lots of young adults who are just starting families," said Teresa Starling, Top That! Pizza franchisee. "They get what they like and they love it."

Also, seating is modular, allowing groups of people to push tables together however they choose. And on-table marketing pieces encourage guests to connect on social media and join the brand's email club with their smartphones, opting in for texts, via the mobile website link or through a QR code.

Out-of-store experience

Walderich adds that out-of-store initiatives are just as important as the dine-in efforts, and that technology plays "a major part in completing the brand experience." This fits the narrative from many Millennial experts, including Fromm, who called the demographic the "savviest group of consumers ever... because they're digital native rather than digital learned." 

In response, Top That! recently rolled out a mobile website, which features an interactive pizza-builder nutritional calculator so guests can plan their meal before ordering.

Other site features include the menu, Google maps of each location that can sync with a smartphone GPS, click-to-call buttons that connect viewers instantly to any location, a link to online ordering and detailed franchising information.

"We've gotten some great feedback already from Millennial viewers. They love it — especially the nutritional calculator," Walderich said.

In addition to its mobile platforms, Top That! actively engages its audience through an integrated social media communication system that encourages trial and loyalty. The strategy is made up predominantly of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram and encourages two-way communication between the brand and its followers.

"'Where Pizza Gets Personal' is our slogan," Walderich said, "and we've found that the more authentically personal our marketing is to the audience, the better the result we get."

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