How Cinnabon Uses Digital Tools to Thrive Despite Declining Foot Traffic

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It is well-known that the rising popularity of e-commerce for everyday goods is driving down foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores, causing traditional retailers an industry-wide headache. Less apparent to most observers might be the toll this trend could have on impulse brands like Cinnabon, which depends on foot traffic in public commercial spaces for a large share of its sales.

The good news for Cinnabon and other impulse brands is that the rise of e-commerce tech has also brought other digital tools and social platforms that make selling goods more efficient. Street Fight recently caught up with Cinnabon’s president Joe Guith to discuss the challenges his brand is facing these days and how digital and social strategies can help.

Let’s start with an overview of the company. Where are your stores located, and what are your primary marketing objectives?
We’re a national brand, so we’re not in every state, but we’re in most of them. The highest concentrations of our units are in the Northeast and California (or the West Coast).

We don’t do traditional media for marketing, and that was born of the size of the brand, and it’s become a huge asset. Basically, everything we do is on social or digital. And we’re very fortunate to have a brand that has 95% brand-aware status. We’re considered the most craveable food. We’re a top-5 brand in QSR.

So a lot of what we do isn’t traffic driving as much as it is equity building — reminding people of the brand and what we’re doing. We definitely make [consumers] aware of new offerings, so I suppose that is driving traffic. We do very little, if any, paid. It’s all earned.

The other part [of our marketing efforts] would be in-store marketing. When we talk about local marketing, it’s really about in-store, about merchandising.

Do you partner with any marketing technology companies or use any technological solutions?
For the last 18 months we’ve been using Crimson Hexagon to measure our digital and social efforts. So that has been our tracking and helps us keep a read on brand sentiment and the efficacy of our campaigns working on platforms. And we’re definitely going more and more to Google as a partner within the digital space. We also have an agency for community management.

In terms of infrastructure, we’ve moved onto a platform called Sitecore. It has database (1:1 marketing) and commerce (ability to accept online payment) capabilities. Our new website (built on Sitecore) is connected to our social platforms and is also integrated to our POS solution, Revel. This allows us to take the order online and push down to bakery for either pick-up or delivery. Revel is cloud- and IOS-based, which gives us the flexibility to deploy new capabilities very quickly (such as online ordering) as well as provide a more relevant experience for team members and guests.

How do you market locally at such a large scale?
We’re a little nascent on [that front]. There aren’t a lot of brands that require local spend. Our vision of how we’re going to do that is: How do you leverage your broader digital strength nationally to drive it locally?

The franchisee in Syracuse did a wonderful job. He connected with the local mall, and he had a massive opening. He opened with $35,000, which puts him on track for a million dollars. He showed us that leveraging digital platforms can benefit [franchisees] at a local level. So we’re really now figuring out how we leverage our tactics on a national level at a local level.

What is your social media strategy?
Our most prevalent is Facebook. We’ve had a growing presence on Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter we have 150,000-plus followers. AdWeek cited our launch on Snapchat about a year and a half ago as one of the best-in-class in terms of hiring some influencers to take over our channel for our 30th birthday.

So, in addition to the social platforms, you mentioned you’ve been going toward Google more as a partner. Could you elaborate on that?
It’s more of what you start thinking about in terms of optimizing search, SEO. How are we showing up? Given [Google’s] presence in search in general, partnering with them is helping us understand where we should play in the digital world to be most effective in our ad spend — whether it be paid search or leveraging AI to sort through and optimize the paid search that we [already] do.

What are the challenges and frustrations you encounter with the marketing tools at your disposal or in marketing in general?
Being in a lot of retail locations, a big challenge we have — and pretty much every retail brand is going to have — is declining foot traffic as a result of e-commerce. So everyone’s going to use the buzzwords like omnichannel, but the bottom line is you have to figure out how your brand is going to play in the new world and be accessible to people in the way they want it — whether that be through mobile payments, digital menu boards, or overall presentation and merchandising of your brand.

The [offline and online] worlds are now together, and the good news for us is we have a really strong brand with a really strong digital presence, so that convergence of things actually plays to our benefit. [In terms of digital marketing], it used to be only Facebook would be posting food porn and building equity and craveability. Now, someone sees the photo, they can click on it, and we can say, ‘How would you like it? I could ship it to you or you could come and pick it up.’

Joseph Zappa is Street Fight’s news editor. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]