Leaning on loyalty, Chipotle orchestrates engagement across channels
The quick service chain hits 20 million rewards customers, opens Chipotlanes
Chipotle recognized that first-party data has never been more valuable, as big brands become their own walled gardens with millions of customers to draw on. The regulated, post-third-party cookie reality ups the stakes for loyalty and CRM.
Of course 2020 wasn’t a normal year, to say the least. Lockdowns, supply chain challenges, safety measures and other pandemic-related factors necessitated changes to the Chipotle experience — but as the company pivoted it found new opportunities through digital solutions.
For a chain like Chipotle, the growth of its Rewards program resulted from integrated strategies, from delivery and in-store experience, up through pricing promotions and multi-channel orchestration.
While many food destinations were shutting down, Chipotle opened 161 restaurants during 2020 and only closed nine. This brought the total number of restaurants up to 2,768 at year’s end. Of those new stores, 100 of them included “Chipotlanes.” These drive-through lanes allow customers to order online or through the mobile app, and then pick up their order without having to leave their cars.
The Chipotlane was introduced in 2019 as a way to make ordering easier. Its innovation and popularity last year demonstrated just one more example of how improvements in experience, especially through digital channels, helped bolster success during the pandemic, even when such innovations were developed without the pandemic in mind.
Chipotlanes and delivery became crucial when in-store traffic was pulled back. No wonder that 62% of new locations opening up last year included Chipotlanes as part of the layout. Digital sales also reduce interactions between Chipotle employees and customers. If the digital experience is first rate, it does the heavy lifting for sales during uncertain times. According to Jason Scoggins, Chipotle’s director of loyalty and CRM, delivery is also crucial to digital sales.
“Of our digital sales, about half come via order ahead and pick-up transactions and half from the delivery so it’s incredibly important,” Scoggins said. “We are always looking to increase access for our guests.”
For restaurants without a drive-through option, the company is also testing “Carside” (currently in California), providing deliveries to customers parked outside of the store.
Cross-channel orchestration grows loyalty
Engaging with a pool of 20 million Rewards customers requires strong orchestration and decisioning. Brands building up their programs in the face of regulations and other identity-related challenges increasingly see the need to strengthen these strategies, which include segmentation, predictive modeling, personalization and even creative optimization.
“Fortunately, because we invested heavily in growing our CRM tech stack in 2019, we were well positioned to take [the pandemic challenges] head on,” Scoggins explained. “Our goal is to now keep those customers engaged in our digital channel, while also welcoming them back as an in-restaurant customer.”
He added, “Ultimately it’s all of the partners working together to make it a seamless experience. At the foundation of our program is a CDP that stitches together all of our data and ultimately gives us that 360 view of the customer. From there we onboarded a best-in-class CRM platform as our primary email engine which also integrated easily with our mobile vendors and offer-management tool to provide that cross-channel orchestration.”
Key channels include SMS, push, email and the company’s growing mobile wallet messaging. “As we look to the year ahead, the orchestration of these channels becomes more and more important,” said Scoggins. “While it’s easy to look at the engagement metrics for a channel in isolation, it’s more important to look at a customer’s engagement levels based on both channel and content to determine how best to deliver a message.”
Loyalty and brand passion
An important part of any multi-channel strategy includes remaining open to emerging channels. Also, from the marketer’s perspective, a new channel isn’t necessarily emerging unless a brand’s customers are engaged on it.
Chipotle recently brought back a piece of viral content that originally surfaced in 2014, and is now re-purposing it for the TikTok era. Same brand devotees might recall a young boy, Roy Murray, who got Internet-famous by declaring, “Chipotle is My Life!” He’s now 12 years old, and his image is included in t-shirts and other apparel for hardcore Chipotle eaters.
“Our number one focus with Chipotle Rewards is to ensure that our members feel known and valued,” Scoggins said. “This year, we will continue to work behind the scenes growing our analytical and modeling capabilities so that when combined with our creative, we are delivering the most relevant communication and experience for our members.”
The company will be looking at the new attention an old bit of viral branding might generate. They can monitor t-shirt sales, or the popularity of the “Chipotle Is My Life” burrito bowl, which was the order that got young Roy so enthusiastic in the first place.