I’m a huge foodie, and I happen to live right outside of Austin, TX. This delectable city in the U.S. has been named (by Mashable) a foodie’s paradise.
So you might be surprised at the chain restaurant I’m picking for today’s brand spotlight: Panera Bread.
Here in Austin, literally hundreds of great restaurants exist, from organic, farm-to-table brunch restaurants featuring dairy sourced from family owned and operated sustainable pasture-raised organic egg farms (that’s a thing, and it’s called Hillside Farmacy – go there sometime, their brunch is delightful), to French-inspired bistros, a “Wholly Cow” organic burger stop, and açai bowl yogurt stands.
Sorry, not sorry, if I just made your mouth water a tad with all that.
So, why am I picking a nationwide chain?
I’ll tell you, in today’s blog.
Panera hits it out of the park in a lot of ways – yummy and wholesome food with clean ingredients, of course, is the main draw – but it all gets amplified with their outstanding brand content marketing.
Every facet of the messaging they put out, from their social media presence to in-store signage to email newsletters, blogs, and more, drives their mission.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Check with the members of their loyalty program, MyPanera – they stand 28 million strong. Or, just ask their 13 million email newsletter subscribers.
You can also look at the fact that Panera ranked #11 overall on Technomic’s 2017 Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report.
And out of all the fast-casual restaurants that made the list, Panera reined supreme, even beating out the likes of Chipotle and Jimmy John’s:
Let’s not mince words: They’re killing it.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of inspiration to mine, here.
As such, let’s dig into why and how Panera’s brand content marketing is working so well. We’ll also explore the way it perfectly aligns with their food, values, and customer loyalty.
5 Reasons Why Panera Bread’s Brand Content Marketing Is So Tasty
Great content marketing always has a strategy behind it. Here is what Panera Bread does to take their brand over the top:
1. They Put Their Unique Values Front and Center
Panera famously made a resolution in 2014 to remove all artificial ingredients, including preservatives and sweeteners, from ALL of their foods by the closing months of 2016.
This was a HUGE promise to fulfill, but they followed through and were totally transparent about the process.
Since making this announcement, Panera has continued to reaffirm their brand values and use them as their differentiator.
For example, they regularly released progress reports as they moved toward their 2016 “clean food” goal.
Now that they’ve reached that goal, it’s prominently displayed on their website, right after “Menu Items.” Panera’s beliefs about what constitutes good food have become central to their brand.
In their restaurants, their signage reminds you of this commitment and promise for clean food:
Image via CatCoq
The store signs also highlight the healthy, clean ingredients Panera regularly features in their seasonal and year-round menu items:
Image via Willoughby Design
This is not something a lot of other national brands are doing. With this strategy, Panera moves away from the pack and sets the stage for authentic, transparent content marketing.
Takeaway: Identify your differentiation factor, the thing that makes you stand out from similar companies, and own it. Lean into it, stand by it, and live by it.
2. Panera Maintains a Warm, Friendly Vibe and a Consistent Brand Voice
Here’s another secret to Panera’s success – a consistent tone and brand voice across all of their content, from their website to their social media accounts to their menus and store signage.
Here are a few examples of this warm yet casual tone across Instagram and Twitter:
Cinnamon roll lovers UNITE! pic.twitter.com/2fHYqpFVzA
— Panera Bread (@panerabread) June 11, 2018
Their brand voice is also emphasized on their “Community Giving” page, where Panera showcases how each store pitches in to support local communities:
“As a member of your community, it’s important to us that we do what we can to support you.”
This same tone is even used on their menus. Check out their seasonal offerings and how they describe these special items (this section is called “What We’re Celebrating”):
Finally, a message from Panera’s founder and CEO seems to wrap up their brand identity into a neat package. It echoes the friendly, down-to-earth, yet health-conscious vibe you’ll see everywhere else in their marketing (note that it’s titled “A Conversation with Ron” – it’s literally shot across a dining table as if you’re sitting down with him for a bite to eat and a chat):
Takeaway: Your brand voice MUST be consistent on every channel, on every platform, and in every piece of content. (This is a great argument for creating brand style guidelines, which you can give to all of your content creators, writers, and marketers to use as a reference.)
3. Panera’s Content Features Mouthwatering Photos and Recipes
Along with their social media accounts, Panera also has a content hub called “Panera at Home,” which ties into the dressings, bread, and packaged products they sell in grocery stores.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant chain uses it as a place to post food-heavy content, including recipes you can make (with the help of said Panera at Home products, of course).
Every recipe on the site includes food photos that are guaranteed to make you hungry. Most have healthy additions (like the tomatoes you toss into the Tomato, Bacon Mac & Cheese) and the vast majority are easy enough to throw together in 15 minutes.
And, in keeping with their health-conscious branding, you can also sort the meal ideas by your dietary preferences or needs:
The food shots and close-ups that take up your entire screen always serve to remind you that Panera cares about food quality, including seasonal ingredients that are responsibly sourced, fresh, and, of course, clean.
Takeaway: Like Panera, make sure your content reflects and upholds your brand identity and values.
4. Their Email Campaigns Are Customer-Centric and Personalized
Panera’s brand content marketing doesn’t stop with blogs, recipes, social media posts, and lots of food photos. It also extends to their email newsletters, which, if you’re a member of MyPanera, are personalized and totally customer-centric.
For example, I’ve gotten a “heads-up” email about better ingredients coming to different sandwiches/bagels. They also send out emails announcing new menu items, limited-time ingredients, or seasonal dishes based on your tastes and what you’ve ordered in the past.
Why, yes, I do love bacon.
Also, note that this email is heavy on “you” language:
- “Love bacon? You’ll want to take note.”
- “If you’re a bacon fan…”
- “Find your favorite”
- “You can’t go wrong with this sandwich classic…”
The emphasis is on my love for bacon, and my interest in these new menu items. It’s not about how great Panera is.
Who doesn’t love getting emails tailored to their tastes?
Takeaway: Always make your content marketing about the customer/your audience. It’s about their wants and needs, not what you’re selling.
5. Their Rewards Program Marketing Is All About Delight
On top of their email personalization, Panera aims to delight you, too.
Just take a look at the email you get when you sign up for their rewards program:
You instantly get a surprise reward to redeem in-store. (Could it have something to do with that giant cookie? 🍪) In addition, the welcome email also contains a promise of more emails “to help you make the most out of your MyPanera membership.”
As you rack up points with food purchases, Panera keeps surprising you with not only tasty rewards, but also cooking and baking tips, exclusive previews, recipes, or invitations to special events.
In short, the brand aims to delight you as well as make you feel warm and comfortable. And, judging by the number of sales that Panera Bread gets through their membership program (over 50% of their total sales, according to QSR), they more than succeed.
Takeaway: Always look for opportunities to make your audience feel special, delighted, or surprised. Give them the good stuff, and they’ll repay you with brand loyalty and trust.
Ready to Level-Up Your Own Brand Content Marketing?
If you want to hit the big leagues with your content marketing, think like Panera Bread.
They’re a brand that obviously focuses wholeheartedly on their customers and target audience. It’s always about serving the people, not about promoting themselves.
Furthermore, they have a solid differentiation factor that sets them apart from other fast-casual chains. In fact, it informs their entire brand image and content strategy. It underlies everything they do.
Finally, Panera practices consistency with content. Their blog posts, social posts, website copy, images, and branding are all seamless. The vibe, style, and message that comes across is always on-point and makes sense for Panera’s 100% clean philosophy.
Take inspiration, then try applying these principles to your own content.
Here’s to better, more effective content marketing just down the road ahead! 🥂