Pita Pit was doing NCAA bracket-style competitions before they were even popular—this year, that is.
In November, the healthy pita chain kicked off the Battle of the Pita Pits contest, which pitted fans across the nation against one another for a chance to win free pitas by showing loyalty to their favorite Pita Pit location.
The competition began with 64 Pita Pit locations from across the country—contenders were nominated by fans—and narrowed down through fan votes each week for six weeks until a champion was named. The winning unit, a Pita Pit location in Williamsburg, Virginia, received free pitas for the entire community at an event that took place March 13.
Nick Powills, chief brand strategist for No Limit Agency, who came up with the idea for the Battle of the Pita Pits, says he wanted to create a campaign that helped connect brands' four major communication channels: PR, marketing, advertising, and social.
“When all those campaigns are going in their on directions, it does create positive impressions for a brand, but rarely is a brand leveraging all four [components] to drive it to one place,” he says. “I wanted to take the idea of connecting the silos in some form.”
He and the brand were also looking for a way to strengthen the national Pita Pit Facebook page. “When I added up all the fans across their local pages, it was outnumbering their national page,” he says.
To draw more attention from both fans and the brand’s franchisees, Pita Pit directed each location’s fans to the central Facebook page to submit their nominations and vote throughout the competition.
But some franchisees weren’t excited about this idea in the beginning, Powills says.
“You have all these franchisees who have their own pages and who are reluctant to jump on board with a contest that was going to be all pushed on the national page as opposed to the local ones—that was going to encourage their local fans to communicate on a national page,” he says.
But once the competition kicked off and gained momentum—as well as attention from both fans and press—franchisees were eager to get on board. “It united the system in a big way for a low-budget, high-return event,” Powills says.
The competition also allowed the brand to more closely and authentically engage with its customers, no matter what location they’re loyal to.
“We like to have actual conversations with our fans out there,” says Peter Riggs, vice president of brand promotion for Pita Pit. “We don’t just post, ‘Come try this new pita that we’re featuring.’ We like to have a genuine conversation, so one of the things we were trying to do was draw more people’s awareness to the conversation that’s going on online.”
He says the Battle of the Pita Pits also showed fans that interacting with the national brand online didn't take away from their connection with the brand at the unit level.
“[The competition] really helps show a lot of customers that this isn’t just a big, faceless, national franchise organization,” Riggs says. “These are individual business owners in your community—they’re from your community—so you should get out and work with these people and help support their businesses.”
While this wasn’t the first Facebook fan contest for Pita Pit, it was by far the most successful to date. The Battle of the Pita Pits helped the corporate Pita Pita Facebook page gain more than 22,000 fans; pushed some units to see sales increases of 60 percent, with one unit experiencing sales growth of more than 120 percent; and allowed the brand to sign on 89 franchise units in 2012 alone.
It also garnered the type of press Pita Pit has never seen before. “Last year, we booked somewhere around 70 stories for Pita Pit across the various publications," Powills says. "And in January , we booked 61, and that was all in the local market. All that press was centered around the fact that Pita Pit’s hot, it’s healthy, and we’re doing this contest.”
The March 13 event at the WIlliamsburg location also drew its share local media and customer attention. Fans turned out in droves for the event, with the unit serving up more than 1,800 free pitas and fans waiting patiently in lines around the block, some for almost two hours, says franchisee Kimberly Twine.
“I think it was really cool that people were so appreciative after waiting that long,” says franchise partner Brandon Twine. “They were still like, ‘Thank you for doing this,’ and it really makes it all worthwhile.”
By Mary Avant