Panera Bread announced last month that it was suspending its Pay What You Can campaign in stores because it was getting lost among the restaurants others promotions.
In the spirit of its five Panera Cares Cafes – one of which opened earlier this year in my hometown of Boston – diners could pay what they wanted for one menu item: a turkey chili in a bread bowl that sold for $5.89. Those who paid above the company’s costs would pay for the meals of those who couldn’t afford to pay but could certainly benefit from the hearty meal.
Here are four things we could all learn from this ambitious but unsuccessful program.
1) CAUSE MARKETING PROMOTIONS ARE LIKE ANY OTHER PROMOTION.
They need to be promoted and have an end date that should leave people wanting more. If the sign in the store window always says “SALE!” it won’t be long before consumers start to ignore it.
“We were very capable of raising the level of awareness about food security in short spurts,” explained Panera to the Huffington Post. “But as in-store marketing about the meal was replaced and employees stopped explaining the concept to customers, ‘it seemed to fall into the background.'”
The same is true of another cause marketing campaign: pinups. Depending on the type of business, cashiers can solicit donations for two to six weeks. Any longer and everyone gets burnt out. Employees get sick of asking and customers get sick of being asked.
2) EMPLOYEE PARTICIPATION IS KEY.
Some people think that employees don’t like to ask customers to give. They may not like it but they’re trained to ask questions all the time. “Do you want to sign up for our credit card?” “Did you find everything you needed?” “Do you need any batteries today?” The bigger challenge is that managers inundate employees with too many asks.
At the start of the campaign, employees explained the program and sales averaged above the retail price. Employee efforts were driving the program’s success. But after three weeks sales had dropped to 75 percent of retail. The steam behind this promotion was waning.
3) COMMITMENT TRUMPS FAILURE.
Saying that Pay What You Can failed makes for a good headline – sorry, Panera – but truthfully the company should be praised for its early success and its willingness to explore better alternatives. Panera isn’t giving up on the needy – far from it. They are planning to bring back the program this winter and run it for four to six weeks.
4) THE PAY IT FORWARD MOVEMENT IS THE FUTURE OF CAUSE MARKETING.
I’ve had reservations about Panera’s cause marketing programs, especially its Panera Cares Cafes. But seeing the growth of pay it forward in other areas, I think they may be onto something. Every cause marketer knows that the real opportunity of business giving is not in the company’s checkbook. It’s in the hearts and minds – and wallets – of customers. Programs like Pay What You Can and Care Cafes are conduits and accelerators for giving.
The more ways we can encourage people to give the better.