After weathering the E. coli storm of 2015, Chipotle hasn't just recovered. In the last four years, the brand has charted a course to success that other businesses in the S&P 500 could envy. With stock prices at record highs and a forecast predicting the creation of 140 new stores in 2019, the burrito brand's future is looking bright.

According to Brian Niccol, Chipotle CEO since last March and dubbed CEO of the year by CNN, the brand owes its success to the fact that it's no longer "invisible." While invisibility may have been a desirable reversal after Chipotle's time in the spotlight over food safety issues, it's certainly no way to move a successful brand forward. Niccol determined that the company's future depended on a renewed commitment to its customers' brand experience.

To revamp and revitalize what had become a struggling brand, Chipotle relied on a purposefully designed brand experience that resonated with customers, centered around quality food and the amenities of modern technology. According to research from PwC, customer experience is an important factor for 73% of buyers, and 65% report that a great experience influences their decision more than a great ad.

The rehabilitation of Chipotle supports that data. After all, it was more than advertising that brought the company back from the brink: It was proof that the brand was truly committed to serving "food with integrity," even down to working with the Partnership for Food Safety Education to push for safe food handling and hygiene practices.

If your own brand experience needs a renewal, you can follow these same three steps.

1. Design a brand feeling.

Customers don't only go to Chipotle to satisfy their hunger. The brand's focus on food with integrity emphasizes the quality of the ingredients that go into each meal, meaning that diners can feel good about their selection for their own personal health. 

Rather than stopping there, Chipotle includes information about how the company optimizes processes to minimize its environmental impact. As Jeff Cohn, CEO and founder of brand marketing agency COHN Marketing, points out, "We, in the retail world, must create and enable a customer experience that's worth coming back to. It can't only be about the product. It has to be about the feeling you evoke during those customer interactions." Chipotle has created a product that isn't just delicious -- it's an ethos with which customers can align themselves.

2. Consider data recommendations.

Chipotle wants everyone to feel as if it knows its customers, so the brand uses data and artificial intelligence to help cater to diners' tastes and preferences. For example, at approximately 1,800 of the chain's 2,500 stores in the U.S., an AI voice system suggests items customers might want when they order over the phone. These digital assistant suggestions have contributed to an average check increase of 3.5%

The brand also uses small data sets as a barometer for new menu items. Potential additions are tested at just a few stores before appearing at 80-100 locations (if initial results are positive). Only when the new items pass this second hurdle will they be considered for release on a national scale. This microdata collection enables smart menu strategies in the long term.

3. Maximize mobile CX.

Chipotle's collaboration with peer-to-peer payment app Venmo helped win over Millennials and Gen Z consumers with the combined power of money and emojis. For one week last March, the chain deposited a sum of money between $1 and $500 into the Venmo wallets of 25,000 customers each day, to the delight of surprised recipients.

To further charm these emoji-obsessed demographics, Venmo added a pepper icon to the app, making Chipotle the first restaurant with its own Venmo emoji. According to Mike Stone, SVP of marketing at Airship, "These young adults greatly prefer Venmo over PayPal or old-fashioned cash, and they love emojis. Chipotle is delivering the experience they want and expect."

There's no denying that the burrito space is crowded -- in any city, you can probably find hundreds of options when you're craving a tortilla filled to bursting. Instead of finding a niche, Chipotle has carved out a massive market space for itself that's only getting bigger. For your brand to do the same, you'll have to identify what customers truly want and design a brand experience that exceeds their expectations.

Published on: Sep 15, 2019
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