What I love most about digital is that it opens up so many simple ways to provide meaningful marketing to a brand’s customers. As much as we all like to spend hours developing deep digital strategies and playing with the latest innovations, it’s often best to go to the absolutely simplest slam dunks that you can think of. My current favorite example of a no-brainer in meaningful digital marketing is a program called MeetAtPanera.
MeetAtPanera.com is a very simple website that allows people to set up a meeting with a friend or group of friends and send invitations to join up at Panera. It is a natural outgrowth of Panera’s historical strategy of embracing community meetings and friend join-ups. Its restaurants provide free Wi-Fi access, have open seating with moveable tables, and usually include a “community room” that can be reserved for large meetings at no charge. The business benefit of this approach is clear-cut: By embracing groups, Panera brings in a large number of regular visitors, who repay it with recurring business.
The MeetAtPanera tool is basic but complete. You can select the restaurant to meet at as well as a time, and send the invite to multiple email addresses. Each invite arrives with driving directions and an option to add the event to your calendar. No registration is required, and there is no email list that you are automatically pre-checked to join. There is even an offer for a free coffee for you and your group if you bring in the invitations.
If there is anything to complain about it’s the fact that this could be done instead with other tools that people are already comfortable with. Most people will likely either just send an email to friends, or potentially use Facebook to set up an event. But that’s OK; some people will use the tool and feel more connected and loyal to the Panera brand. And the cost to set up this small site is likely very, very small.
So kudos to Panera for making the effort to add some value via this online invite system. Although I’m unlikely to personally use it for setting up meetings, it reminds me that this brand is working to keep my business.