The best marketing is authentic. It doesn’t need to be polished by admen; rather, it is an organic, pervasive manifestation of the company’s culture at every customer touchpoint.
Two local pizza shops are cases in point.
Austin Onion taps into one of the two most lucrative markets for pizza in the country: college kids. Their shop on 5th Street is equidistant between the two primary bar districts of downtown. Drunk tourists from 6th and drug-induced 20-somethings from 4th are both just a short walk away from by-the-slice heaven.
However, their hours of operation and quality ingredients are not that unique. Several pizza trailers roll into this area every night to help calm the munchy giant. What Austin Onion has as their secret weapon is a gang of employees that are really cool.
For one, the owner is involved with 9th Street BMX. These guys haven’t grown up yet, as you can see here. Therefore, it is only logical that the business culture of Austin Onion exhude the same sense of…how would you describe it…loose morals?
Regardless, the kids love it. The storefront is dingy, almost as if the people work here, party here, and pass out here. Punk rock screams from the cheap stereo sitting in the corner, and the dress code can be summed up in three words: full arm tattoo. This shop has a line out the door almost every night of the week, and their lunch business is doing almost as well.
Then there is the delivery service. Here’s an idea of what will show up to your door:
Home Slice, started by two of my neighbors, was opened about a year ago and aims to appeal to the second most lucrative market for national pizza sales: moms with young kids.
In the case of Home Slice, the target audience is hipster moms (and dads), sometimes known as Grupsters. Their approach is subtle so as to not alienate childless parties, but a trained marketing eye soon discovers that every decision has been made in an attempt to make Home Slice the alternative to Chuck-E-Cheese.
For the opening night, the couple that started the shop, Jen and Joseph Strickland, made an effort to request all of their friends come to hang out, drink beer, and act fabulous. Oh, and bring the kids.
This set a precedent that remains intact today. The place is teeming with kids – well-behaved, Ritalin-free, unplugged kids – who are attracted by the Pitchfork-approved music on the radio and killer graphics painted on the walls.
The owners of Home Slice have reaffirmed their commitment to cool, progressive families by making them the centerpiece of almost all their business affairs. For instance, Home Slice is known to throw a party on their back porch from time to time, but the events are always intended to draw in a combination of Grupsters and kids. The kids watch a pie eating contest and get balloon animals. The parents get an excuse to eat pizza a drink beer in the middle of the day. Clearly, it’s a win win.
Here’s what they did with the kids play/coloring book:
As proof that cool family is more than just a target audience, the Stricklands and co-owner Terri Hannifin recently chose to close shop for a week for what they called a “cultural field trip”. From a press release:
They’re taking 22 people from their staff to New York City to give them a chance to try New York style pizza in the Big Apple.
“It seemed like a perfect time to take a family vacation. We have a great crew here. They are hard workers helped us make this restaurant successful and we wanted to treat them to an exciting field trip to New York City,” owner Terri Hannifin said.
The owners plan to take their employees to lunch and dinner at several pizza places and have them go on a scavenger hunt.
Back home in Austin, the waiters share tips and are known to break out in chorus whenever Weezer’s Sweater Song comes up on the iPod queue. Their love for their work rubs off on the vibe people get when they come to eat. Happy smiles, happy kids, big tips.
How cool is this? Whereas Austin Onion targets party kids by becoming the party-pizza-parlor, Home Slice targets progressive families by establishing their own family traditions. And is “target” even the right word? Call it purpose, call it attraction, call it branding…whatever it is, it works.