HotBox Pizza's 'National Breadstix Day' marketing boon
October is the unofficial pizza-and-customer-appreciation month, giving the major brands all sorts of inroads to promote their newest crust or slash a couple of dollars from their pies. But Indianapolis-based HotBox Pizza is giving something away completely free for today's customer appreciation day. The only strings attached have involved optional interaction with the company on its social media outlets.
 
National Breadstix Day is the three-hour breadstick giveaway that HotBox has held for the past four years in late October. Customers are welcome to visit HotBox stores from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. today for their ‘sticks, no other purchase necessary.
 
But besides ingratiating customers and getting them into the stores, the "12 Days of Stix" leadup campaign to the giveaway seems the real value for the six-year-old company. Gabe Connell, owner of the HotBox franchise system, said that lead up is all about engaging customers in a meaningful way—not like some more irrelevant e-mail marketing messages he's come across.
 
"One company sent (an e-mail marketing piece) out Mother's Day weekend that said, ‘Nothing says "I love you mom" more than taking your mom out for pizza on Mother's Day.' I felt like replying, ‘Do not order your mom pizza for Mother's Day! Take her out for a nice brunch!'"  
 
Conversely, the "12 Days" project was launched through a blend of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, e-mail text and in-store initiatives to get customers to interact with the burgeoning brand. The promotion kicked off Monday, Oct. 12, and each day thereafter featured a giveaway. For example, day three prompted HotBox's Twitter followers to submit a new shirt concept with the tag #NBSD (National BreadStix Day); randomly-chosen winners would get a free shirt. Day six invited customers to post details of their worst date on HotBox's Facebook wall: Winners got six free movie passes. The daily activities were posted in-store and at the Web site www.nationalbreadstixday.com.
 
The results were meaningful conversation and interactions with customers, and a much-raised profile for their target young demographic that matches well with their interactive, edgy marketing strategy. A few of Connell's eight locations are in college markets like South Bend or West Lafayette. In fact, last year's West Lafayette store had 775 people come in for Breadstix in the 3-hour period. "Who would have thought college kids liked free food?" Connell said of the likely majority turnout of Purdue students.
 
The marketing must be hitting a chord, because HotBox has year-over-year growth in a time where that's not exactly the norm.
 
"Our business is good -- we're up to last year, and last year was a good year for us; up in same-store sales," Connell said. Prices fluctuate, he said, but the key to staying a healthy business is to maintain communication with customers. Social media is a main part of Connell's maintenance strategy.
 
"I think that the real value of social media is an opportunity to connect with our fans. It appears as though a lot of businesses look for a quick hit (by using it). However, we believe that it's more about forming and sustaining a relationship than looking for a quick (and often disappearing) hit to revenue."

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