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The founders of Pizza Pilgrims know a thing or two about influencer marketing.
Established in 2011, the business has been built on the back of digital and social media.
Co-founder James Elliot shared some insights into the company’s influencer strategy at a recent AdWeek event hosted by Time Out.
He strongly advocated a hyper-local strategy, which I've handily summarised below...
Pizza Pilgrims was founded by two brothers who set out to traverse Italy to learn how to make authentic pizza.
Their journey was documented on a dedicated YouTube channel, so they actually began building an online audience before they’d even setup business in their first pizza van.
This focus on digital has continued as the business has grown. According to James:
We got food bloggers involved very early on. It's been much more effective than print advertising or any other more traditional channels.
James said he quickly learned that influencer marketing yielded the best results when it involved people local to the Pizza Pilgrims van in London’s Soho.
And by local, James means “like, within one mile.”
This is because in order to be profitable Pizza Pilgrims has to get a large number of customers through the door every day.
Therefore it needs to attract repeat visits from people who live and work nearby.
James cited Meat Liquor - another small, trendy restaurant brand – as a company with a great hyper-local digital strategy.
Each of Meat Liquor’s London outlets has a different name and its own social channels.
James believes this works better as it enables restaurants to appeal to local markets and communities, rather than having one generic account for the whole brand.
Get ‘em involved
James discussed how to build strong relationships with influencers. Apparently it’s all about making them feel valued.
He said that rather than just randomly sending out freebies, brands need to make bloggers feel involved with a project or campaign.
Bloggers love feeling like they’re involved in a decision. For example, we might get people in to do a taste test of different types of mozzarella and let them choose which one we’re going to use.
This is far more effective than simply sending out a product and asking for a review, and it means you hopefully won't be penalised by Google for bribing bloggers.
Find authentic partners
Brand partnerships are very common in the food & drink industry.
See Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury’s or Heston Blumenthal and Waitrose for two very obvious examples.
Though these are obviously major corporate brands, these types of partnerships can also work for small businesses.
James recommends collaborations as a good way for two brands to gain mutually beneficial outcomes, but it relies on working with people who have authenticity.
Pizza Pilgrims recently worked with Chase Vodka to create Sohocello, a limoncello brand that was ‘grown in Amalfi, distilled in Herefordshire, born in Soho.’
Both brands have placed their company story at the centre of their marketing, so the collaboration is a natural fit.
It’s a good reminder that the search for influencers need not be limited to bloggers.
Horses for courses
The hyper-local influencer strategy that James advocated isn’t a viable option for all brands.
In fact, it’s probably only suited to restaurants that operate a small number of outlets.
Major food brands, such as McDonald’s or Starbucks, are better off working with influencers or celebrities with mass market appeal that give them national or international coverage. Such as Beyoncé.
In contrast, Pizza Pilgrims’ business model relies on attracting a high volume of customers within a small geographic area.
In this instance, it doesn’t make sense to pay a lot of money for someone with national appeal when most people aren’t able to visit one of Pizza Pilgrims' restaurants.
Time Out’s influencer research
To finish it's only polite to give a nod to some influencer marketing research that Time Out revealed at the AdWeek event.
The survey of 799 respondents identifies two different influencer groups: Shakers and Makers.
Shakers are defined as those with very large social networks (upwards of 3,500) who might be useful for driving broad awareness of a product or marketing campaign.
However Makers are actually more likely to drive a particular action despite having a slightly smaller social following (average of 1,700).
This is because Makers tend to be more passionate and knowledgable about a certain topic, so their followers place greater trust in them when it comes to recommendations.
And for more on this topic, download Econsultancy's Rise of Influencers study which assesses how brands are approaching influencer marketing.