Mayur Hola of Culinary Brands on establishing Subway as a 'pal' to consumers

Pranali Tawte
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Mayur Hola

Mayur Hola of Culinary Brands speaks to Social Samosa about becoming more accessible to new sets of consumers through a revised menu, marketing approach, and improved and renewed restaurant chains. 

The roots of Subway date back to 1965 when Fred DeLuca, a young entrepreneur from Connecticut, partnered with Dr. Peter Buck to open a sandwich shop called 'Pete's Super Submarines.' This small venture gradually transformed into the Subway we know today.

The global sandwich brand entered the Indian market in 2001. They focused on becoming a healthier fast-food option through their tagline ‘Eat Fresh’ and their 'Build Your Own Sub' concept gave consumers more power to choose their ingredients, helping the brand carve a niche back in the day. 

Their marketing campaigns highlighted the use of fresh vegetables and low-calorie options, appealing to health-conscious individuals. 

To resonate with local young consumers, Subway further focused on Indianisation, launching a range with local flavours and played on the affordable price factor to target value-conscious consumers.

Becoming A Pal

However, their approach of ‘building your own sub’ is now seeing a pivot. Subway recently introduced a ‘point and order’ section where customers can simply point to their desired product, remember its name, and request it directly.

As per Mayur Hola, CMO, Culinary brands, Subway adapted their marketing strategy to cater to changing consumer demands and needs. Through market research and customer feedback, the team discovered that a substantial portion of their consumers preferred quick and easy ordering options.

He acknowledged that certain issues were hindering the consumption and brand’s growth and by addressing these challenges and making improvements, the brand could make a significant change. “People might not be consuming it because, it might have issues, it might be broken at some level, but a lot of things that are great about it. And if you just sort that one thing or maybe two or three things, you can have a transformative impact on it.”

He explained that the foundation for this transformation was laid during the winter season with the introduction of the 'cheese pull' concept. This initial experiment aimed to warm up Subway's reputation as a primarily cold sandwich brand. This early endeavor set the stage for Subway India's larger vision of having its own signature products, similar to other successful brands in the QSR segment. 

“It was time for us to have our own products which we would be recognized by,” said Hola. 

Hola insinuated other brands that have tried to make themselves synonymous with their product range. For example, a mention of Whopper reminds us of Burger King and Chicken McGrill is a burger only available at McDonald’s. 

With the new revised approach, Subway is aiming at expanding their userbase. The idea would be to attract new customers while still catering to regular loyal ones. Hola explained that regular customers often knew exactly what they wanted without referring to the menu, most to them knew their order by heart. 

However, the focus on this specific demographic limited Subway's ability to expand its customer base.

“Clearly there is a big market out there that doesn't necessarily understand Subway. It seems goodness in it, but I think it was time for us to also address that market by being accessible and easy to interact with,” said Hola. 

To address this limitation, the "Point and Order" concept was conceived. The larger idea behind this pivot is to become more accessible and establish Subway as a pal to consumers – someone who is easy to interact with, even for those unfamiliar with the brand.

Also Read: Brands share their X factor as Twitter rebrands

Spreading The Word

To establish their pivot, Subway collaborated with Vishwanath Anand, a renowned chess player. By featuring him in the campaign, the brand aims to resonate with individuals who appreciate convenience while still enjoying the meal.

Hola said, “Even the smartest amongst us can find it (ordering process) slightly complex sometimes. Even the smartest amongst us might know the answers but might have days in which all they want to do is (point and order) - hey, I want that one.”

The campaign was created by the Tanmay Bhatt - Devaiah Bopanna duo.

The brand seeks to strengthen their position among the demographics and broaden their appeal to a wider age range, including teens and young adults.

Emphasizing the brand’s intent to reach a broader market, Hola said, “We will be going out to smaller towns and cities like Lucknow.”

The campaign's multi-channel approach, encompasses television, connected TV, digital and social media, influencer partnerships at the local and national levels, and out-of-home (OOH) advertising, aiming to capture the attention of existing customers and attract new ones across diverse locations.

Hola said, “It will be the biggest campaign of the year or close to being the biggest.“

Social Media Footprint

Before the advent of digital marketing, Subway's marketing tactic relied more on traditional mass advertising channels to create brand awareness and drive foot traffic to their outlets. 

As digital marketing gained prominence, Subway India also utilized social media platforms to engage with their audience to promote new menu items, limited-time offers, and discounts. It currently has a follower base of 52.6K, 889K, and 2.2 million on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter respectively. 

Subway India keeps a close eye on trending topics and viral conversations on social media platforms and takes part in almost every relevant moment marketing trend. The brand crafts narratives that seamlessly integrate their core product - the sub, into topical conversations. Whether it's a major event or a cultural celebration, they find creative ways to include their subs within the context, making the content feel natural and relevant.

One of Subway’s recent example of viral social media campaigns includes sponsoring a date for a couple at their outlet. 

Hola explained that today brands must do be a friend and not someone who sits on a high horse and make some declarations from afar. Brands should be right in there with the audience as one of them. 

“If you try to be a brand on social media, you're dead. You must be a pal because why else would anyone follow you. So, if an opportunity comes around to send someone on a date, we would.”

The brand has also launched various digital ad films in the past where they collaborated with popular influencers to promote new offers and products and increase brand visibility. The brand has also collaborated with celebrities and a movie in the past.

Recently, the brand incorporated local cultural nuances to resonate with the people of Lucknow. By infusing humour and wit that aligned with the city's cultural context, the campaign became relatable and engaging.

"We find region level marketing supremely responsive, particularly in the new area of growth."

Mayur Hola


Way Forward

Hola explained that Subway aims to open new outlets in locations where they haven't been before. Their path is clear ahead, which includes a consistent expansion strategy, enabling them to reach more customers across various regions.

The front-of-house focus will ensure that customers have easy access to the menu and ordering options, enhancing the overall dining experience.

Lastly, as per Hola, Subway will continue to expand their menu, making it more diverse and simple for customers to order.

By building on the brand's strengths and continuing the appeal to a broader audience, Subway India aims to unlock new areas of growth and expand their reach.

Subway transformation Subway India Subway marketing Changing marketing strategy