Sandwich chain Jimmy John's has long been known for its "freaky fast" delivery — most subs are made in under 30 seconds, and at the consumers' door within 20 minutes — but the brand's latest campaign, promoting three new menu items, decides to highlight another freaky aspect of its business: the commitment of its employees.
John Shea, who signed on as chief marketer at Jimmy John's in October, recently spoke with Marketing Dive about his decision to put employees front and center for the restaurant marketer's biggest national push to date, along with how the company is thinking about increasingly important channels like mobile and digital ordering.
Shea, who previously worked for 12 years at PepsiCo on brands like Mountain Dew and Gatorade and most recently worked for the consultancy Teneo Sports, is Jimmy John's first CMO since 2007, according to Ad Age, and looks to bring a new level of authenticity to the brand's messaging.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
MARKETING DIVE: You mentioned you last were doing consulting work for Teneo — what made you decide to come back to brand marketing?
JOHN SHEA: I really missed it. I missed building teams, leading a brand — all the aspects of brand management. The upside of consulting is you get to work on a whole variety of different things, which is great, but I kind of missed the operations of taking a brand and building it out.
And the latest "Freaky" campaign is your first marketing push since signing on in October?
SHEA: It is. When I started talking to Jimmy John's, the things I was most interested in were the opportunity for growth. The Jimmy John's brand has been on a very aggressive growth path over the last several years and has been doing very well. From a marketing standpoint and from an operations standpoint, the execution is phenomenal. The quality of the food, the quality of the employees — all that stuff really rang through.
We've talked about being "freaky fast" for the better part of a couple decades, and we are, but there's also a quality side of it. When I first started, the first thing I did was a couple months of training. There was some working in stores. I was traveling around the country meeting with many of our franchisees and working hip-to-hip making sandwiches and just checking out the different markets. My major takeaway from that was, with the employees and the ways that the stores are operated, there's just a freakish obsession with making our customers the perfect sandwich.
So what was the genesis of the campaign? Was it the tour you took at different Jimmy John's restaurants or did the idea come first and the tour then informed your strategy?
SHEA: It really came from the tour that I took and the training working there. I was so impressed at the length our employees go to. There's a lot that goes into it, and a whole side of Jimmy John's that our customers don't know about. We're so fast, our customers spend little time in the stores because, for the most part, we're handing them a sandwich in 30 seconds and they're out the door, or they get delivery.
Not enough consumers know that we use the highest quality, all-natural meats. We hand slice them daily, which is very different from most of our competitors. We're baking our bread every four hours in stores, so it's always fresh. We're sourcing locally purchased, hand-sliced vegetables. For new products, like our Kickin' Ranch Dip, it's made in-store. Our better customers know it and taste it, but I don't think your average customer knows the lengths that we've gone to on the fresh side.
The new campaign is really shedding light on the lengths we that we go for that. Then you look at this history and the equity that the Jimmy John's brand has in the word "freak," most of it related to speed, but there's this whole freaky fresh side of it that is an untold story.
In terms of getting the message out there, what type of media strategy are you taking to make sure customers know about the "Freaky" fresh campaign?
SHEA: This is the first time that Jimmy John's is doing a true national media campaign. We've got more national media running on stations like ESPN and Comedy Central. And we're also leveraging a full 360-degree marketing plan: our out-of-home, in-store, point of sale, point of purchase materials, and then a digital and radio campaign.
So it's fair to say this is Jimmy John's biggest campaign to date?
SHEA: I believe so.
Were there any unique challenges or lessons you learned in the planning and rollout of this campaign, given that it's that much larger?
SHEA: For us — for me — it's really wanting to get this story out about the quality of the food, and in developing this, not losing the freaky fast element.
Delivery is more important than ever to consumers. Typical delivery nowadays is over an hour when you look at some of the third-party deliveries. Jimmy John's is typically 15 minutes — it's a big advantage that we have.
In terms of those third-party delivery services, does Jimmy John's handle most of that stuff in-house or are you partnering with any specific platforms?
SHEA: We handle all of it in-house, from receiving the order to making the food to delivering it to the customer. There are not too many out there that do the full thing.
A lot of folks in the restaurant space are only just catching up to a mobile and digital ordering business now. I'm wondering how you're thinking about those channels and innovating on them to stay ahead?
SHEA: We have major advantages and that [in-house operations] is one of them. The delivery network is the best delivery network in the country. Nobody else can get you food in 15 minutes. Leveraging that, we've got a five-star app that's great for ordering and getting it quickly. We're leveraging a lot of digital media to continue educating consumers in delivery areas. We're trying to play up that strength as well.
Any last thoughts on the new campaign?
SHEA: In the four TV spots we are using real employees — not actors or models — again giving a nod back to the quality of the people that work for us. We're really laser-focused on educating our consumers on the fresh component and the fast component. More than ever, consumers are looking for those qualities.