‘Marketing a waffle chain’ amidst the pandemic: with inputs from Shrey Aggarwal, The Belgian Waffle Co. we understand the nuances of marketing a food chain during a pandemic.
The Belgian Waffle Co. claims to have not only witnessed an exponential growth in revenues but has also opened new stores. Been able to crest the impact of this pandemic and retain their foothold in these trying times, Social Samosa gets in conversation with Shrey Aggarwal, Co-Founder, Belgian Waffle Co. to know more about the brand’s marketing gameplan, social media footprint, supply-chain, logistics challenges and more.
What were the initial challenges that you faced while introducing the foreign concept of ‘waffles’ to Indians?
Initially, we had to drive a lot of education on the product format. Waffles were not something that the average Indian was well versed with as a concept. However, we used this challenge to our advantage as we wanted to position the product as an anytime, easily accessible and portable snack/dessert in contrast to the typical plated, more formal affair with a breakfast association. We had to educate customers about the term we coined – “waffwich” and its meaning which was an interesting challenge.
What were the kind of marketing tactics that you initially adopted and how has it evolved over the years?
Initially, our biggest marketing spends went towards prime locations with high visibility. That was our biggest marketing channel – Inox, Carter Road, Marine Drive Chowpatty were among our first few locations which were equivalent to having billboards in those localities. This is what initially worked well to create buzz, drive trials, brand awareness objective, etc.
This was in conjunction with social media, events and exhibitions, and POS. In addition to this, we engaged with bloggers and influencers, newspaper inserts, and very hyper-local targeted activities. We still do not deploy huge marketing budgets and utilize a similar mix but now have a more omnichannel approach – online platforms, digital – social media, YouTube hyper-local, some print, collaborations, cross-promotions, and local BTL campaigns.
What was the impact of the pandemic on the waffle chain? How did you strategize to overcome it?
For us at The Belgian Waffle Co, a few months following March 2020 were turbulent. During the peak lockdown months, we too, of course, had stores temporarily shut or restricted with timings. During this time, externally – material transport Pan India and logistics suffered, while internally – managing the ground operations team by keeping them motivated and incentivized; sustaining without footfalls and abiding by the safety standards and SOPs laid by the government, etc., were highly challenging. We are lucky to have seen only a few permanent outlet closures and some store openings.
The foremost important step that we took was to execute the necessary measures to ensure the safety of both, our customers and staff. With the pandemic grappling the world and nationwide lockdowns announced, we immediately implemented safety SOPs pan India including sanitization mandates, double packaging of products, digital payments, social distancing norms, and so on. We ensured to scale and uphold the same seamlessly as we ramped up.
We launched our own DTC platform via our website and WhatsApp for orders in certain markets.
We also concentrated on innovation and worked on initiatives such as diversifying into FMCG with our premixes and ready-to-eat range (which will be out soon), multi-packs, and bundling to help increase AOV since consumer behaviour in lockdown was to order for a larger group of people, product innovation with new flavours, stroopwafels, savory waffles, and cakes.
How was it to market a waffle chain amidst the pandemic?
During the pandemic, we slashed our marketing budgets substantially and had to rethink the marketing approach for a few months.
During the initial few months into the pandemic, we shifted focus from talking about our products to creating engaging and relevant content to connect with our customers. We concentrated on highlighting the various safety measures we put in place to ensure our customers were comfortable ordering. We also launched a DIY section online with our premix and toppings to ensure that customers could make and enjoy our product in the comfort of their homes, should they choose to.
We saw a lot of organic engagement on social media in the initial period of the lockdown and capitalized on the same. We worked with our online partners on data-driven approaches to market online, innovate, and also launched our own DTC platform in certain test geographies via our website WhatsApp, QR codes, and so on to make the ordering process easier. Besides this, we have had some packaging innovations with curated festive multipacks that have worked well.
How did you carve a niche for ‘the Belgian Waffle’ and set a clear differentiation amidst the rising competition?
The Belgian Waffle Co has been standing strong as the preferred and leading Waffle QSR since its inception despite the now cluttered market and a great deal of imitation. The quality and consistency of our product range is definitely our strength and a differentiator for us.
Our endeavor in maintaining its perfect consistency of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside despite being completely eggless and at the same time keeping it simple enough to scale, and last but not the least, standardizing the consumer experience throughout our outlets, etc, has helped us to hold a leading position in the market.
What are the key target markets and how does the marketing differ from other cities or towns? Also, how has it been like in the regional markets- the consumer reaction and growth?
India is very diverse and marketing to different geographies requires a localized strategy. Our marketing approach is data-driven and we work as per the market insights to create localized marketing plans mostly via digital mediums as much as we can in addition to our brand-level marketing campaigns. Our products are very popular in Tier 2 and 3 geographies. We have recently opened outlets in tier 2 and 3 cities like Solapur, Akola, Guntur, and Bardoli. Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad are some of the markets where we have a maximum presence.
What does the Media Mix of The Belgian Waffle Co. look like? How much of it does digital occupy?
Our audience mainly comprises the Millenial and Gen Z TG. Keeping this in mind digital has always been our most preferred and cost-effective medium to reach the right eyeballs – for which Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc., make up most of our mix. We also engage in some radio, local BTL activities, cross-promotions, and collaborations digitally and offline.
Waffles are too close to our hearts but when it comes to social distancing we listen to our mind over our hearts! We at…Posted by The Belgian Waffle Co. on Monday, January 18, 2021
Please shed some light on the social media strategy of the brand? What are the elements and content hooks that you incorporate to market the food chain?
Food marketing is all about the visual representation of our products so making sure to churn out good-looking content is key. We try to make sure we keep things contextual and interactive through engaging content. We use the right partners, collaborations, cross-promotions, user-generated content and influencers to amplify ourcampaigns and make sure to reach the right eyes with targeted campaigns, all the while analysing and constantly tweaking our marketing approach as per relevant insights.
What are the emerging trends that you see getting adopted on social media for f&b marketing? Your views on Influencer and content marketing?
The younger generation enjoys engaging with brands that are relatable to them but still are aspirational. Authenticity from brands is important with this TG. In terms of content, there is always a new gimmicky way of packaging content that is popular – Reels, filters, IGTV videos are the latest trends our customers have adopted and give way to some amount of creativity.
Influencer marketing and engaging with communities has created a niche for itself. It is a good way to increase awareness and amplify our reach but by making sure to collaborate with the right spokespeople and keeping it genuine. We do a lot of work to find the right influencers for our brand in different geographies and have seen good results with our influencer and content marketing campaigns.
What were the advertising trends observed in the F&B industry in the year that was and what do you foresee in the future?
Consumer trends and purchase behaviour have been altered through the pandemic but it remains to be seen whether some of these changes are temporary or are here to stay. Online share of sale has understandably increased and DTC channels have emerged from this habit.
We have also seen good traction with our DTC online ordering platform since its launch. The consumer brands that contribute to providing the “little joys” have sustained and will make a good comeback. In terms of advertising, digital has taken more of the forefront and traditional ATL mediums have lost their charm. Gen-next marketing activities, meaningful collaborations with the right partners, cohort marketing, and hyper-targeting content are all possible with the advances being made by digital avenues.