‘Billions of Touchpoints’

Casey’s marketing approach aims to create a unified experience wherever customers engage.

‘Billions of Touchpoints’

June 2023   minute read

By: Ben Nussbaum

Casey’s first store opened in 1968 in Boone, Iowa, and “for the first 50 years, we were really a single channel retailer,” said Art Sebastian, vice president, omnichannel marketing for Casey’s. “There was one way to engage with us—you turned left or right into our stores.”

“Quite frankly, we were really good at it,” Sebastian added. Casey’s, with 2,500 stores, is the third-largest convenience retailer in the United States. Pizza is Casey’s signature foodservice item, and Casey’s is also the fifth-largest pizza chain in the United States.

Single channel gave way a few years ago to multichannel, with digital joining brick-and-mortar, according to Sebastian, who cited everything from building an app to email marketing to joining DoorDash as part of Casey’s digital efforts.

The shift now is to an omnichannel mindset. “What we’re looking to do is drive a cohesive experience wherever our guests go,” Sebastian said. “We need to do that across digital, but also physical touchpoints—our stores, our signage, the way our team members engage guests in our stores.”

Defining Omnichannel

Omnichannel is at the center of Casey’s marketing approach. The retailer even created an in-house definition of this sometimes confusing term:

The seamless integration of branding and messaging across digital and physical touchpoints, enabling a cohesive marketing experience wherever the guest goes.

Here’s a simple way to express what omnichannel means, one that gets at the heart of why it’s important no matter how many locations a retailer has: personality. It’s about your brand having the same broad personality in everything it does.

Recent and upcoming innovations by Casey’s are plentiful. Among them are a digital store pilot in the Kansas City market; AVA, which stands for automated voice assistant and is an AI-powered way to take pizza orders via the phone; and Casey’s Access, a retail media network that is about to launch. This “very robust digital ecosystem,” Sebastian said, “enables billions of touchpoints and interactions for us.”

Smaller retailers may not be able to mimic some of those advances, at least not yet, and they may not have much budget to spend on marketing. But Sebastian shared an example of omnichannel marketing at work that can inspire and motivate operators of all sizes.

The example involves selling one of the most saturated products in America: pepperoni pizza. Casey’s approach exemplifies omnichannel marketing’s mix of a voracious appetite for any and all platforms through which to connect and consistent messaging across all those platforms.

“Our marketing starts with a human truth and a consumer insight. I call this phase the aha moment. … You have to really think about the problems you’re going to solve. You have to think about humans.”

Next is building the marketing idea. Sebastian aims for the right amount of tension. “If you’re not feeling a slight bit uncomfortable, it might not be a good marketing idea. It’s not going to break through.” Then zero in on how to apply your idea to your brand and your guest.

As Casey’s thought about new concepts and LTOs, it came up with the idea of a triple-pepperoni pizza, one covered in three different kinds of pepperoni. The early feedback on the pizza itself was favorable, but “we asked ourselves if it’s excessive,” Sebastian said. “Is it too much pepperoni?”

Sebastian’s team wanted to match the pizza with an “excessive marketing campaign.” At the core of the campaign was the pizza’s name: PEPPERONI PEPPERONI PEPPERONI.|

“The more I said it, the more I liked those words,” Sebastian said. It was catchy, fun and would work well in social media.

Initially the pizza was available only to rewards members—part of the continuous process of driving new sign-ups and keeping the loyalty program exciting for current members. Another bonus: “Operationally, it’s a chance to sort of ease your way into the volume, since you’re experimenting with half your customer base.”

Sebastian showed the audience at SOI Summit a TV spot advertising the pizza. “There’s a whole lot to pack into 30 seconds,” Sebastian said. The goal was to make an ad that showed the food; had some drama, storytelling and humor; and delivered a clear message that the customer should try the LTO. The spot squeezes the phrase “pepperoni, pepperoni, pepperoni” into 30 seconds nine times. Casey’s also created a 15-second ad and 10- and 6-second spots for social media and YouTube.

A Relationship That Lasts

Art Sebastian, Casey’s vice president, omnichannel marketing, cites digital and physical touchpoints as essential to building relationships with customers.

“I’d ask you to think about the relationships that are most important to you,” he asked the audience at the NACS State of the Industry Summit.

These relationships—with a spouse, kids, friends—have two foundations. “You really know each other,” Sebastian said. “And as you get to know each other, you strive to delight each other and make each other happy.”

That’s the relationship Casey’s wants with Casey’s customers. “As our guests engage with us through this digital ecosystem, they’re giving us data … it’s our responsibility to listen.”

Photography—which Sebastian described as “a big part of our marketing program”—was another key element. The pizza had to come across as delicious and craveable. For Casey’s, that’s meant moving towards vivid lighting “that makes the food pop” for all its food offerings.

Another key piece: Paid digital media, particularly in connected TV, meaning spaces like Hulu and Disney+. “We can identify the audience we want to target and we can retarget that audience,” Sebastian said.

Reaching the on-the-go consumer is important, too, Sebastian said, considering that the retailer has widespread locations across 16 states. That means billboards and radio. The billboard campaign featured a photo of the pizza and the word “new,” but most of the space was taken up with PEPPERONI PEPPERONI PEPPERONI in bold block letters. “We hope in the three seconds a consumer is driving by on the highway we can catch their attention,” Sebastian said.

Casey’s used email marketing to promote the pizza, too. When Sebastian joined the company four and half years ago, its list stood at 300,000 subscribers. Casey’s now boasts an email list with six million addresses and an incredible 40% open rate.

The radio campaign had an auctioneer repeating the word “pepperoni” in the familiar auctioneering quick, singsong cadence. This is an example of omnichannel marketing at work, Sebastian said. The radio ad and the TV spot aren’t identical, but they have the same tone and the same basic approach: Promote a pizza with a lot of pepperoni by saying “pepperoni” a lot. “We tried to bring a common thread through every channel,” Sebastian said of the campaign.

Since the pizza debuted during the height of college basketball season, the company wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the sport. It signed three college players to endorse the pizza under the NIL deals that have been allowed by the NCAA since 2021. The PEPPERONI PEPPERONI PEPPERONI campaign marked Casey’s first foray into these deals. “This really drove brand awareness with a much younger consumer,” Sebastian said. “And we’re going to do more of this. On the first campaign we ran, we saw a really good return.”

Social media posts spotlighted the pizza, too. This marketing channel, Sebastian said, is “very relevant regardless of a chain’s size, because you don’t really have to invest dollars in this. You just have to create your brand identity and drive a following.”

A three-month campaign has to be kept fresh, and the campaign’s masterstroke may have come almost six weeks after the pizza was introduced. The PEPPERONI PEPPERONI PEPPERONI challenge asked Casey’s customers to record themselves saying “pepperoni” as often as possible in a 10-second span via the Casey’s app. “We built technology that does two things. It listens to your voice to understand how many times you say the word ‘pepperoni.’ It also uses facial recognition technology to watch your face actually say the word ‘pepperoni.’”

Depending on how many times users managed to say the word, they got reward points, a free slice of the pizza or even a free whole pizza. Sharing the video to social was made easy for app users, creating another integration and another way to reach the Casey’s audience. The challenge was so popular that Casey’s had to stop running it earlier than expected.

The end result of all those efforts: The pizza had the highest trial of any LTO pizza since Casey’s started tracking.

Even better was a positive halo effect on how consumers think about Casey’s overall. “We’re trying to become bigger, bolder, more modern, more contemporary,” Sebastian said.

Keep an eye on the retailer for additional messaging inspiration: “We’re excited to follow this up with a couple more interesting marketing campaigns throughout the year.” 

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