A brand fan created this handmade banner - a reference to the film "Clerks" - for a location of Columbus, Ohio-based Mikey's Late Night Slice so other customers would know the pizzeria is still serving pies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why Pizzerias Should Double Down on Marketing – Mindfully – During the Coronavirus

By Darren Easton, Vice President & Creative Director, The Cyphers Agency

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has added “social distancing” to the vernacular and made in-home dining Americans’ only choice, pizzeria operators find themselves in an interesting position.

On the one hand, they’re facing operational challenges and the unexpected loss of any in-restaurant revenue. On the other, they have the ability to continue producing and selling their product and, because some of their competitors don’t, the opportunity to stand out in a less-crowded market.

In this context, operators can and should be going far beyond the obligatory emails reminding customers that they’re open, adhering to hygienic practices, and offering contactless pickup and delivery. In fact, they should be doubling down on their marketing efforts.

So here are some top tips on how to assess, adjust and proceed with your pizzeria marketing at this unique time:

Mind/Modify Your Brand Messaging
Pizzerias should develop and disseminate a continuous drumbeat of messaging that conveys their concern for their customers and their community. At the same time, they should take a close look at whatever planned internal and external brand messaging might no longer make sense and adjust accordingly.

Seasons Pizza, a client of The Cyphers Agency, ran this special to support the Red Cross’s relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey victims.

For some operators, this might mean simply replacing any messaging surrounding now-suspended sporting events or concerts with positive news of your ability to retain or even hire new employees, as Domino’s recently announced. For others, it might not only mean rethinking your messaging but also sharing a tangible show of goodwill—for example, donating pizzas to local hospitals or waiving delivery fees.

The key is showing that you care.

Mind/Modify Your Product Messaging
Similarly, operators should assess when and how they present their products and services. For example, now would obviously be a bad time to let customers know about your new outdoor seating options for spring, pizza-making classes, or tableside-crafted Caesar salad.

On the other hand, this may be the perfect time to reposition—or even physically repackage—your products and show their value in the context of COVID-19. This could mean reminding customers of how your customizable family meal deal solves the question of “what are we going to eat tonight?” quickly and affordably or introducing make-your-own meal kits.

786° in Sun Valley, California, now offers meal kits for carryout customers, along with a not-so-subtle message about the superiority of freshly baked Neapolitan pies straight from owner Ali Haider’s oven.

Taking things one step further, it may actually make sense to launch a new product or service at this time. Examples include wine and beer options (especially in states where executive orders have opened the door to alcohol delivery), additional partnerships with third-party delivery companies, or in-house free delivery to a greater geographic area.

Again, context and content are king.

Mind/Modify Your Medium
Last but not least, pizza operators of all shapes and sizes should be mindful of where they’re spending their marketing dollars given the very sudden, very substantial change in the public’s media consumption habits.

Nielsen recently predicted a 60% rise in all TV consumption due to working from home, while programming related to finance and local news is drawing unprecedented attention. This goes for content streaming services and social media as well, with providers such as Netflix, Spotify, Facebook and Instagram approaching record usage.

For operators, this means cutting back on or canceling those geo-targeted ads you’d planned for office parks, shopping malls, events, etc., and shifting that spend to options such as traditional TV, Over-the-Top (OTT), and social media platforms.

As long as the message is right, doing this could allow you to reach a record number of ears and eyes.

In sum, there’s no reason not to market amid COVID-19— and in fact many reasons to do so. But as with all things, you just need to be mindful.

Darren Easton is Vice President & Creative Director at The Cyphers Agency, an independent, full-service creative agency offering advertising, public relations, and digital services to diverse regional and national clients. He has developed branding and marketing campaigns that have delivered measurable results for a wide variety of restaurants, from national chains to regional multi-unit brands. To learn more, visit www.thecyphersagency.com or We Know Restaurants.