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Marco’s Pizza CMO Seyferth Plots Noisy Digital Expansion For Quietly Growing Chain

The digital ad vet who helped shape the interactive strategies at Domino’s, Kraft, Coors, Gatorade, and Ford is refashioning the 40-year-old Marco's Pizza to better capture mobile moments.

“Who’s heard of Marco’s Pizza? Please raise your hand,” Steve Seyferth asked the crowd at the Modern Marketing Summit’s Upfront 17 conference earlier this month.

Barely five hands went up at the New York tech and media gathering.

Seyferth, a digital marketing vet who has held executive positions at Domino’s, General Mills, Kraft, Coors, Gatorade, and Ford Motor Company, was six weeks into his role as CMO of Marco’s Pizza since leaving AT&T AdWorks. He turned to his fellow MMS panelists.

“Look at this,” Seyferth said. “That’s one of our problems — awareness.”

In Seyferth’s estimation, Marco’s Pizza is one of the largest pizza chains that no one knows (at least when it comes to media executives in the Northeast, where the chain has no physical presence).

But in just over a month on the job, he plans to start making some noise by shaking up the relatively bare bones digital operations.

Marco’s Pizza was founded in 1978 in Toledo, Ohio by Italian born, Pasquale “Pat” Giammarco. And for the first 25 years, it didn’t venture far beyond five states in the Midwest.

Still, by the time Giammarco was ready to expand in 2002, Marco’s Pizza had 89 stores. At that time, Giammarco connected with Jack Butorac, who had found himself bored by retirement after handling operations at casual dining chains such as Chi-Chi’s, Fuddrucker’s, and Tumbleweed Southwest Grill.

“Jack was looking to get back in the business after retiring,” Seyferth said. “He finally found a product that was very consistent that needed to go national. So ended up buying Marco’s Pizza. He was impressed that Marco’s was the only pizza chain that was created by an Italian-born founder among the top 25 brands in the category.

“We’re now the fastest growing pizza chains in the nation,”Seyferth added. “We’re not in the northeast and that’s why many of you have not heard of Marco’s Pizza – but you will.”

 

 

GeoMarketing: When you asked the audience how many people have used the Domino’s mobile app, there were about two dozen hands that shot up — considerably more than when you asked how many people here have heard of Marco’s. How do you view the competitive challenge from Domino’s and the opportunity to generate visits and sales via mobile?

Steve Seyferth: Domino’s is killing it. This industry — the pizza category — is $40 billion. We’re $500 million of it and we’re going to be hitting a billion soon. 1,500 stores by 2020. But we’re on the run. Marco’s was just ranked in the top three by consumers as America’s Favorite Pizza Chain through Market Force Information surveys.

Domino’s owns 20 percent of the pizza category, $9 billion. They have a lot more money than we have to spend right now. But they’ve really moved forward in terms of technology, even as their product is just okay. I liken it to being the McDonald’s of the pizza world, where they’ve become acceptable across the country.

What has Domino’s done right in digital?

They’ve made it fun the for the consumer and their app now represents 60 percent of their orders.

We have two point-of-sale systems that are a bit clunky. The opportunity to grow the app side of the business is going to be wonderful. Right now, we’re just about 25 percent online ordering.

How expansive is the Marco’s Pizza chain?

Right now, we have 817 Marco’s Pizza stores across 34 states – soon to be 38. We’re also planning to expand to India, The Bahamas, and Puerto Rico. We’re growing rapidly.

In terms of digital, it represents the great promise ahead of us. We’ve approached digital from a pretty basic standpoint up to now. We’re still a young brand.

Marco’s Pepperoni Magnifico pizza and “Cheezybread.”

We’ll do some spot television when we reach a certain threshold during different times of the year. But we’re not taking as much advantage of the digital landscape – at least not as much as we need to.

Still, we’ve got some neat things happening in our social media marketing. The opportunity ahead is tremendous, as we look for ways to connect with consumers within the 5-mile radius of the locations we’re opening up. That’s where geotargeting and geofencing will start to be come important for us. It’s all part of a cross-screen evolution I’m bringing to the Marco’s family.

Is having a branded app important for Marco’s Pizza?

It is. We don’t have one yet, as we’ve been going through our whole point-of-sale strategy. While we’re in the mid-20s in terms of online consumer exchange, we know we can improve that. The ability of an app to drive social media is something we’re tackling hard.

As you roll out new locations, discovery via digital channels is even more crucial. Google just started to include restaurant menu items in search results and on Google Maps. Does that hold any interest for Marco’s Pizza?

That’s definitely of interest and something that we’ll seriously consider ultimately. As we move into our app system, we’ll look to align all our discoverable content across all screens and platforms. Obviously, everyone in this space needs to be where the consumer is. So, when someone is looking for a great pizza, we want to be able to connect with them no matter what screen they’re in front of.

How do you consider challenge of taking a brand that has such an ingrained local identity and affiliation with a region like the Midwest to a national audience?

It’s true, Marco’s Pizza has established a very loyal following in the Midwest. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to maintain that fine balance of being a neighborhood place and a national brand.

Local is the biggest word for us, because of the Italian heritage Marco’s embodies. So we have to be true to our roots. And that means not changing the product – we’ve never changed the sauce, for example, which is something that many brands that go national from local tend to do.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.