and social media for business clients. Doug is a nurture marketing strategist, market researcher and even better - a gifted writer. When he said he wrote a post on his blog on the @IansonState happenings, and needed my review for social media context, I was ready. After reading it, I just had to share it with my audience as well. This version is adapted and shortened from the original but go to Pizza and Social Media Can Bring the World Together to read the entire story. I added several picture embellishments from my last visit to Ian’s Pizza.
Doug Tangwall author:
Our international social media success story begins in Madison
Madison, Wisconsin is not exactly what I would call a metropolis. It’s the Wisconsin state capital, and it’s a college town. The hero of our little story is a restaurant named Ian’s Pizza on State. Ian’s sits at the head of State Street—the six or so blocks that connect the Capitol building to the University. This cross-section represents Ian’s livelihood: students at night and the lunch crowd, a good portion of which are public employees plus a mix of conservatives and liberals from the state legislature. So, you might say that politics is at the heart of this small business.
Since this post is about the business and marketing side of the story, I’ll brush over the political debate. Suffice it to say that roughly 100,000 protestors—mostly public employees and students—encircled the Capitol in mid-February, in the snow, right outside a small pizza restaurant. The passion of this protest spread via social media and connections were made across the globe—some of these connections were people who had been involved in similar struggles in their own cities, some wanted to express solidarity, and some simply liked pizza and wanted to help.
Bottom line: Within a few days, Ian’s had taken orders for pizza to feed the protestors from individuals in every U.S. state, 60 countries and Antarctica.
Cause Marketing or Just Because?
How did it transpire that the restaurant would begin taking international orders to feed the protestors?” As I traced back through various posts, tweets and Facebook updates, I began to get a picture of how the events unfolded [according to Ianonstate]:
“On Tuesday night/Wednesday morning we took a late-night call from folks still over at the [Capitol]; they were wondering if they could have our end-of-night leftovers. Well, of course—we’re always glad to hand out food at 3:30am!”
“The next day we got a handful of calls from folks throughout the country, people who had heard about our late-night donation…Then a few more the next day, and next thing, fast forward to 5pm on Saturday when we were so inundated with calls—from over half the states in the Union and from international locales ranging from Canada to Denmark.”
Since the grassroots launch of the pizza ordered ‘round the world, Ian’s has organized a slightly more formal cause marketing campaign.
We’ve also been hearing that people cannot live on pizza alone (shocking news to us, but toothpaste is good, too, we guess). In the spirit of the protesters needing more supplies than what Ian’s Pizza alone can offer, here’s a link to help you better support them in many ways.
The reason our story feels so authentic is because it is…This was not a marketing plan that was executed. It unfolded in real time with real people.
Checklist for an International Pizza Ordering and Social Media Campaign:
1) Resourceful Staff, 2) Phone and 3) Chalkboard
It turns out I was also was wrong in my assumption that Ian’s Pizza used a slick online ordering system to capitalize on this opportunity. I found instead that the tenacity of its staff combined with a shoestring social media budget added up to overnight international recognition.
In fact, Ian’s shut down its online ordering system. This is the message on its website:
Call us at 608-257-9248, then press 1. As we have just three phone lines it may take a while to get through, and we apologize in advance for that.
The results: “Media coverage soon followed with articles mentioning us by name in newspapers all around the world. The followers on Ian’s Pizza on State’s Facebook page alone grew from 3,900 to almost 15,000 fans in one week.”
Add to that some great comments and tweets:
Manager Staci Fritz who handles the social media for Ian’s tells of the challenges of being a small shop during some unusual circumstances.
For the most part, I am responsible for coming up with our message, how our voice should be throughout and how the message needed to be conveyed.
It was pretty informal. When we had news, we wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible. Also, when someone posted something that struck a chord with us, we wanted to respond. I had some help from Adam May, a State Street employee who was able to step in when I needed to focus on other things. Let’s face it, the online stuff needs a lot of watching and I had to sleep sometime!”
Customer Service Is Important Even When You’ve Stopped Serving Customers
“[Our] normal business had to essentially be shut down so we could focus on feeding the protestors,” says Ian Gurfield, founder of the Ian’s Pizza by the Slice group of restaurants.
I advocate using social media to improve customer service, but in Ian’s case, the business needed to reverse-engineer the process to set expectations and explain why the restaurant couldn’t serve its typical loyal customers.
Check out these posts from the Welcome Page of Ian’s Pizza on State Facebook Page:
We are not advertising the online ordering process at this point, and it’s not because we don’t want to help you out; we really just don’t want to over-promise & under-deliver.
And it never hurts to be polite…
Everyone is thanking us, and to that we say, “You’re welcome.”
(After all, we are polite Midwesterners.)
We are still taking calls starting at 10am to help you feed the protesters, by the way (we’re not done yet!) but our business is back to normal, with both deliveries to the Capitol and to our regular customers. Thank you so much for all that you do!
A Balanced Approach vs. a Balanced Budget
I had assumed that Ian’s was taking a stand on one side of the controversy. But again I was wrong. Look at how elegantly the company balances its message in this heated atmosphere. (After all, its customers come from both sides of the political aisle.)
We rarely take sides on any debate unless you want to talk about food—fresh vs. old, delicious vs. yucky, Wisconsin cheese vs. California cheese (whose cows are truly happier?). But other than that, we really just want to serve you the best food we can, using the best possible ingredients, with the best possible customer service.
Yes, we’ve seen tens of thousands of people vigorously exercising their right to freedom of speech, steps from our front door. We’re not going to get too in-depth here (we are just pizza people, after all) but suffice it to say it’s been a rather unusual mid-February downtown.
[L]et me conclude by stating what will come across as obvious to everyone, but during these heated times, might be forgotten by some: Ian’s Pizza is not a political party. We stand in solidarity with anyone who shares our company’s values, but we don’t believe it’s our job to endorse a specific political entity. Despite the highly polarized political climate we live in, we feel food (especially pizza!) is something that brings us together regardless of political orientation.
I asked Fritz, “How do you see social media tying into your business objectives, especially in light of recent events?”
We are known for being friendly and for doing interesting things with pizza. We use Facebook as a way to get information to our “fanatics” and to continue a personable presence.
The social media is done at a store level. I am the person who very loosely oversees what they are writing and how they are writing it. In that role, I essentially make sure posts aren’t too full of typos and that the voice is similar to “Ian’s Voice.”
By and large, it’s a very “go with the flow” type of atmosphere. However, in these past couple of weeks, I have been primarily responsible for coming up with and writing the messages on Facebook. We were starting to get a lot of attention, and I wanted to make sure we adhered to our main message of not taking sides. We also encouraged staff to post but to be mindful that we were not taking any side and that they should keep their posts on a lighter note overall.
Lessons Learned in My Own Backyard
This story has all the components of the American Dream: the freedom of speech that social media enables; the entrepreneurial spirit of a dedicated team from a small, main-street business; the delicate balancing act necessary to maintain our democracy; and, of course, pizza.
But, in the end, it’s less a story about marketing (or even simply running a business)—than it is about Ian’s doing what they do best: feeding people.
Ian’s Pizza deserves praise for rising to the occasion during extraordinary times. But the candor, grace and affection infused in the company’s social media messages hold lessons that go beyond business: These are lessons for life. (Politicians, are you paying attention?)
- Be transparent about your values
- Serve your customers (constituents)
- Take a balanced approach
- Show respect
- Be polite
- Do what’s right
Politics divide us. But if we follow Ian’s example, maybe we can all find a way to get along. It’s a simple recipe…Pizza and social media can bring the world together.
Maybe Ian should run for office. What do you think?
Tangwall is founder of End Result Marketing, a nurture marketing and social media company based in Madison, Wisconsin.
Note from Wendy: I think this story is worth sharing based on a company staying on brand, carrying that consistent message onto the very place they need to manage the social business relationship. They continued to do what was right and rose to the occasion. How do you feel about this? Please share and tweet about Ian’s Pizza on State. I am objective about this since I eat gluten free so can’t really enjoy the pizza but I like the business ethics I saw portrayed over the past few weeks.
- Cairo Lends Support to the Protestors in Wisconsin – With Pizza (newsfeed.time.com)
- World Buying Ian’s Pizza For Madison Capitol Union Protestors (dekerivers.wordpress.com)
- Blizzards + Social Media = Pizza (iowabiz.com)
- Support for Wisconsin unions pouring in worldwide–in pizza form! (dailykos.com)
- The New American Revolution: Are Wisconsin’s 100,000 Protestors A Sign of Further Resistance to Come? by Andy Worthington (dandelionsalad.wordpress.com)
- How Egypt inspired Wisconsin (salon.com)
- Feeding the Protest . . . (nylondaze.wordpress.com)
- Andy Kroll: Cairo in Wisconsin: Eating Egyptian Pizza in Downtown Madison (huffingtonpost.com)
- Pizza – the latest weapon of protest (guardian.co.uk)
- Free Pizza to Protesters in Madison – From Afar, Very Afar (mypetjawa.mu.nu)
- “Someone in Egypt Ordered a Pizza For the Protesters in Wisconsin” and related posts (nymag.com)