Strategy At Work: How PR & Marketing pushed an F&B Start Up from Zero to $1 million in its First Year

In my daily work, I help retail and F&B brands strategise and execute marketing plans. While the macro objectives are longer term and require patience, I believe that the deeper micro/tactical work is just as important to allow a brand to get to a certain point. A lot of factors come into play, and while not every F&B brand will be successful, I know and can attribute serious revenue to the power of knowing and implementing a solid Influencer PR strategy. Here’s how I used it to take Hajime Tonkatsu & Ramen, a Japanese F&B brand from Zero to $1 million in its first year.

Have a Story First

Every F&B brand has a story, and our job is to find it and be able to tell it in a coherent manner. The mechanics are simple, and it almost always boils down to a mix of three things:

Product – Is it a special ingredient? Is there a Technique they are deploying? Identify the Magic.

Person – Is this a chef-driven place? If so, what’s his/her story? Identify a struggle.

Packaging – Is there something about the place? Perhaps there’s something in the details of the eatery? Identify a Point of Envy

For Hajime, it was a combination of Product and Person. The Chef in question had the reputation of being Singapore’s First Tonkatsu Chef with 25 years of experience, and the product was hand crafted by a chef that was perfectionist in his nature, meaning air-flown pork from Japan and sauces made from scratch everyday.

Be in the Micro-details

My next step was to sit down and really get into the details of the product. This meant that I had to understand the core product inside and out, from preparation in the kitchen all the way to method of consumption. In this portion of the process, I went to eat tons of competitor dishes to understand what made my client’s food so outstanding and different.

It is key in this stage to truly go into the minutae. Where’s the pork from? What’s the cost of the breading? Is there a difference if you went 5 seconds longer in the fryer? Why is this sauce used for only this product but not for the other one? The team at Hajime, to their credit, were supremely patient with me, and that really allowed me to build their story up.

Positioning Determines Influencers

I had all this information in my notebook and head. Now I needed to really figure out where Hajime sat in all this. Here’s a restaurant that offered a crafted product with great pride at a reasonable price. Its Tonkatsu could beat higher-end restaurants, but the restaurant itself is not posh and comes across as ultra approachable. It also had an ace up its sleeve, in the form of a chef, something that all the other competitors did not have.

With that knowledge, I went through an entire bunch of Influencers to weed out those that wouldn’t send the right message. To me, audience size was only one factor. What the brand needed were influencers who shared quality eats on a regular basis, on both Instagram and long-form writing. That meant the they ate and endorsed good restaurants that weren’t necessarily cheap, but definitely good and worth the price of entry.

It’s important to note here, that I didn’t choose to go with numbers. Instead of the usual marketer’s pick of going for influencers with 100K followers, we were picking around 30-50 micro to mid sized influencers with 6000-60000 followers that fit our market and were authentic in their exposition and transparent in their communication. Yes, it’s a lot more work that just paying the biggest bloggers to come, but this is why they call it Earned Media, right?

Engage Individually

The difficult part is actually out of the way. The next part of the process is more tedious than anything: Inviting everyone, one by one, for tasting sessions.

This image above was just a small part number of email and messages sat down and personalised emails/Instagram DMs to every single influencer (Clouds & DIRT!), making sure to mention if I had met them before hand or if I appreciated certain things about their feed. The important thing here is to be honest, genuine and really put in the effort to do your research on the people that were being invited. If the pitch is good, around 6 to 8 out of every 10 invited will respond positively. However, be ready for some dropouts on the actual day of the tasting.

During tastings, I often took the role of friend, waiter and host. Together with the Hajime team, we ensured that the influencers that did show up were comfortable. We repeated this same process multiple times over multiple months, often working will late before ending our dinner tastings.

Results?

Besides scoring multiple blog reviews on popular sites, we received outwardly positive feedback on Instagram and Facebook with regard to the product. We also realised that the photo quality and engagement on our Instagram location tag shot up exponentially, and it was flooded with great picture posts that had high engagement. 

On the revenue end, we also received plenty of feedback from customers that they were led in by positive Instagram or blog reviews. A good 20% of revenue from the first year, or approximately $200,000, came from blog and Instagram followers of influencers. Likes don’t put money in the cash register, but awareness of a clearly crafted, honest message does.

Remember: It Never Ends

In its first year, the product quality and outsized attention combined to give F&B start-up Hajime Tonkatsu & Ramen some great returns. However, new competitors will always surface, and with them comes new challenges for the incumbent.

Further success would depend on it leveraging love from its existing audience base, and growing it’s fame with publicity of new products in its R&D pipeline. The battle for the consumer’s heart and mind never ends, but Hajime’s case study proves that repeatable, sustained, high quality influencer engagement can bring verifiable revenue to a F&B business that would have otherwise needed a longer runway to reach its revenue goals.

Want to know more about this particular case study? Or perhaps punt some ideas on Marketing and PR? Reach out to me kenneth.lee.rj@gmail.com , and we can chat over coffee!

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