Once a relatively quiet brand flying under the radar in between potential health safety concerns, Chipotle has recently become a marketing maven. Under its new Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Brandt, the brand has ramped up its national advertising efforts to shine a light on what it stands for and make a splash with innovative, digital-first campaigns.

In a recent conversation I had with Chris, he revealed the brand’s three biggest marketing priorities for the year, along with a few of the ways it’s accomplishing these goals.  

1. Drive menu innovation. “We have a very simple menu,” says Chris. “It’s about going down the line and ordering what you want.” So at the start of the year, Chipotle challenged itself to think beyond that. Just in time to help customers achieve their New Year’s resolutions, the brand launched Lifestyle Bowls-;including the Paleo Salad Bowl, Keto Salad Bowl, and Whole30 Salad Bowl-;all exclusively available through its mobile app and on the Chipotle website for in-store pickup or delivery. Chipotle noticed guests were already ordering these custom, lifestyle-specific bowls at its locations and wanted to make it easier for them to reach their wellness goals. “If we had to do it in the restaurant, it could slow the line down by people trying to figure it out,” Chris explains. “We’d have to train every employee. And that’s a lot more effort.” Instead, the brand found a way to deliver menu innovation while offering the convenience of digital.

2. Drive access through digital. “Loyalty is a gateway to all things digital,” says Chris, explaining Chipotle’s approach to digital. Why? Because the brand knows that customers who use its loyalty application are more likely to place orders online. It also knows that Chipotle is one of the most mentioned brands on Venmo. So when it announced its loyalty program, the popular payment app provided the perfect partnership. To celebrate the launch of Chipotle Rewards, the brand used Venmo payouts to give away up to a quarter of a million dollars, to 25,000 Chipotle fans per day for four days. Not only did the brand gain a lot of buzz for being only the second-ever brand to work with Venmo, but its loyalty app was trending in the Apple App Store and it quickly reached its one millionth Chipotle Rewards member-;a milestone it celebrated by awarding the user with a year’s worth of free food. Today, Chipotle Rewards boasts over five million registered members.

3. Drive difference. “When I was in my in-store training when I first started at the company, one of the things I noticed was that the inside of a Chipotle looks more like a farmer’s market than it does any other restaurant I’ve ever seen,” Chris recalls. Think fresh avocados and chicken sizzling on the grill. So Chris wondered, what if they could show that to everyone in America? Well, they did. As part of its recent “Behind the Foil” advertising campaign, Chipotle gave consumers unprecedented access to its kitchens, employees, and farming partners in an effort to further demonstrate its commitment to transparency and the key ingredients that make it different: fresh, real food. To help tell that story, the brand hired Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris to film documentary-style advertising spots featuring unfiltered testimonials from Chipotle employees talking about what makes the brand’s food different-;everything from the fact that it doesn’t have freezers or can openers to the high standard it holds for food prep. Not only did this campaign help the brand break through, but it also helped make employees feel proud to work at Chipotle. As Chris says, “There’s nothing like being the star of a commercial campaign.” By putting its employees and partners front and center, Chipotle didn’t just talk about its values-;it actually showed them in action. 

So, what can you learn from Chipotle is up to this year?

1)    Innovate or die! Those companies who stagnate will perish as the market changes constantly.

2)    No matter what business you’re in, get digital! Many entrepreneurs think their business doesn’t need to “go digital” because of the industry they’re in. This simply isn’t true. The businesses who will win are those who can truly transform and integrate digital.

3)    Know what makes you unique and tell that story! Whether it’s a product or service line, product feature, employee, history, or something else, you know better than anyone what makes your company unique. Now, it’s time to make sure the world knows. Use social media and online video to get the word out about what makes your business special.

Whether your business is similar to Chipotle’s or very different, it pays to understand what a successful big brand is doing and apply those lessons to your own company.