When I saw Jimmy John’s make its first appearance in North Carolina, I was thrilled and began telling everyone I knew that they had to try their sandwiches. Now, I love a good sub, but there’s a reason why this particular sub shop sent me over the moon. I went to college at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, and, if you are up on the history of sandwich purveyors in the United States, you’ll know that this is where the JJ kingdom got its start. These simple subs were a lovely alternative to Sunday night pizza; they were affordable and (as an extra bonus) Jimmy John’s delivered! Many memorable moments were shared over a Jimmy John’s Tom Turkey sub. Oh, the memories.
In thinking about how happy I was to see this familiar shop make its way back into my life, I realized that a good deal of how I felt had little to do with the product—there are plenty of great sandwich shops out there. It had to do with the story; how this restaurant fit into my own story of those college years and the fond memories I have of this time and the people I shared it with. Isn’t that the essence of what content does? Successful content solutions fit my story with a company’s story and we find a connection.
Now, since not everyone is lucky enough to attend EIU—go Panthers!—I was curious as to how Jimmy John’s and its competitors use content solutions to forge connections with their customers. How do they use story to create that warm (think beyond the bread) relationship that leads to loyalty? In addition to Jimmy John’s, I looked at Quiznos, Subway and Jersey Mike’s. Let’s take a bite … err, look, below!
“Freaky” Creative User Content
The baby of the group, Jimmy John’s was founded in 1983 by Jimmy John Liautaud. As a newer company, the sub shop still reflects the personality of its founder and shares his story. A little history about the making — his father gave him the choice between joining the Army and opening a business; he chose to open a business with a loan from his dad and eventually bought his dad out.
Jimmy John’s uses most of the same content channels as its competitors (website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), but it is the only one of the group to use Pinterest. Hashtags are also important, including #freakyfast to talk about its delivery speed and #jimmyjohns, which allows fans to tag their Instagram photos for a chance to appear on one of the company’s Pinterest boards. Other boards feature recipes, party ideas and viral Internet memes.
A two-way conversation with fans pervades Jimmy John’s use of content. For example, on YouTube there is a video of selfies posted with the hashtag #jjselfie and uploaded videos from fans. Jimmy John’s even broke into the television world with an appearance on Food Network star Guy Fieri’s show, Guy’s Big Bites.
One entrepreneur also posted a story he had seen at his local shop on his blog. Simple, humble, friendly seems to be the personality that runs throughout this company’s content. And they certainly don’t shy away from user generated content to add to the sandwich conversation.
Cool Vibe from Hot Subs
Next in line of age is the toasted sub shop Quiznos, founded in 1981 in Denver. After Subway, Quiznos is the country’s second-largest sub shop. Quiznos stands out from the rest in a couple of ways.
One is its YouTube channel, Toasty.TV, which features videos that are silly, tongue-in-cheek and slightly irreverent, for example, House of Thrones or Mad X-Men. Another way Quiznos stands out is in its participation in the Dew Tour action sports tour, sponsored by Quiznos soft drink provider Mountain Dew. Quiznos provides the “social scene” for the Dew Tour through Facebook and Instagram. The touch is very light as far as advertising, and the personality that shines through is quirky, edgy and fun.
Additionally, it is the only one of the group to use Google+, although the reach there is smaller (146 followers vs. 1.4 million on Facebook). What I found really interesting is that each channel has unique content and a distinct personality, but all operate in the same vein of fun, light and cool.
Content and Sandwich Artists
Subway, founded in 1965 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is the largest sub shop chain in the country and, indeed, the largest restaurant chain in the world. You could spend a good deal of time just on the company website, absorbing a variety of content, from news about corporate responsibility and sponsorships to nutrition information to spokesman Jared Fogle’s story.
Freshbuzz is the tab on the website that lets fans connect, through email, Facebook, Twitter and a bilingual YouTube channel. Famous fans share their favorite sandwiches and you can play Jared’s Pants Dance game to help you “get your healthy on.” Want a Subway “baby onezie”? Stop by the SubGear shop.
In general, Subway’s personality in all of their content channels is more mainstream than Quiznos, more family-oriented, more socially responsible. And healthy eating and living is the sun around which all the content revolves. There is an entire tab devoted to nutrition information and heart healthy eating. The pillars of the company’s social responsibility campaign are nutritional leadership, environmental leadership, sustainable sourcing and nourishing the community.
My personal connection, in addition to the shop that is convenient to my drive home from work, is Subway’s sponsorship of a GO FAR (Go Out for a Run) http://www.gofarclub.org/ race that my nephew ran in. The nonprofit encourages kids to become active, eat healthy and set goals for themselves, and Subway is a part of that. Subway also encourages young people in another way with Fresh Artists, which funds young filmmakers, whose videos are posted on the YouTube channel.
The Socially Responsible Submaker
Social responsibility is front and center for the old man of the group, Jersey Mike’s, founded in 1956 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. However, to be fair, the franchise in its present form really took off in 1975, when Peter Cancro, a 17-year-old who had begun working at Mike’s Sub Shop at the age of 14, bought out the owner with the encouragement of his mom and the help of a football coach from his high school. You see Cancro’s touch throughout the company’s website, and a bold banner on the homepage announces that the company donated more than $2.1 million to 105 local charities through their Month of Giving 2014 campaign.
The personality of Jersey Mike’s is definitely more conservative and business-oriented. This is the only company to use LinkedIn, with about 1,600 followers (143,000 on Facebook and 18,500 on Twitter). The Jersey Mike’s YouTube channel also repeats the message of giving prominently. Like Jimmy John’s, the personality of CEO Cancro is evident, and he is proud of the fact that he will still jump behind the counter, where he got his start, to serve customers when needed.
The vibe of this business is much more traditional than Subway or Quiznos, and very tied to place. Adding “Jersey” to the name promotes the authenticity of a real Jersey sub.
So what have I learned about content marketing from my sandwich tour? There are many ways to connect with audience, but it all starts with knowing who you are and who your fans are. That will inform what your content says and where your content lives. With so many options available, it’s even more important than ever to know where your audience is hanging out and how you can authentically join the conversation.
And now I’m hungry for a sub!
Share your favorite sandwich content solution in the comments below! What gets you hungry?
By Sheri Masters