Blaze Pizza continues to grow with a personal touch

Imagine you are working the line. Music plays while you prepare food – the same track that echoes in the background every shift.

Then something changes.

Your favorite album lights up and you realize management has paid attention to it. Your mood changes and productivity increases. Customers notice team morale and feel comfortable chatting with staff.

It may seem like a trivial scenario, but the idea behind employees and customers feeling comfortable on a personal level, whether at work or while visiting their favorite pizzeria, is exactly what Blaze Pizza is trying to achieve with his new “Free to Be You”. brand promise, which is being rolled out system-wide.

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The Free Being You initiative is not a campaign; rather, it’s a promise, the company says, of Blaze to consider how much freedom employees and customers have to be themselves.

“It’s the foundation of an all-new customer-centric and team member-centric brand platform,” says Vincent Szwajkowski, CMO of Blaze. “Our internal North Star is going to guide everything we do. It impacts the way we think about marketing campaigns, digital innovation, operations, training… all of these aspects of how we drive the brand forward.

Blaze’s “Free to Be You” movement has been in the works for a year. The company began looking intensively for ways to push the brand forward in the summer of 2021.

Using focus groups, surveys and interviews with franchisees, Blaze identified the functional reasons why customers continually choose to dine there. Elements such as customization, product quality and fresh ingredients stood out. Szwajkowski says a general theme that kept coming up, however, was that people wanted to be valued on an individual level.

“We did more research in three months than the brand had done in its entire existence,” he says. “This idea of ​​individuality kept coming back. I feel like the idea of ​​freedom, especially over choice and customization, has always been part of Blaze. We wanted to double down on that and find ways to get that into that more emotional space, especially with our customers, and I would say actually even more important the team members that work in our restaurants every day. And that then became the strategic impetus for Free Being You’s new brand promise.

Szwajkowski has been with Blaze for about 18 months. Upon arrival, he noticed that some of the brand messaging didn’t seem clear. This, coupled with misaligned marketing and training messages, led Szwajkowski to reimagine how the brand, which had a solid nine-year foundation to build on, could reflect its core values ​​while continuing to go forward. For Szwajkowski, the most important aspect was to bring fresh energy and maintain a level of consistency across all departments.

Szwajkowski and his colleagues concluded that it was necessary to put customers and staff first, and that it was not necessary to achieve this through separate and parallel initiatives. He says they realized they could create moments of joy for employees that translate into moments of joy for guests.

To achieve this, a new emphasis has been placed on the hyper-local connection. “We should work with and support the communities in which we operate,” says Szwajkowski. “This also extends to team members in these communities. If I have children on my team who are part of their school marching band, I want to support them in their efforts. It’s a win-win situation. The community wins and team members feel empowered and supported. »

Ensuring employees feel seen and cared for is no small task. According to a recent Deloitte report, 61% of all employees hide or conceal some aspect of their identity. Szwajkowski says it’s also equally important that customers feel like they can be themselves.

To help implement the changes, Blaze plans to rethink how it can improve operational aspects such as marketing and training. Still, that doesn’t mean scrapping its playbook. Instead, the brand will look at how it can allow workers to bring their own personalities to bear when interacting with customers, which helps customers feel more comfortable. feel individually seen and cared for.

One of the ways the brand is looking to do this is through its new music program. Szwajkowski says that after some internal research, the brand realized some unit staff were plugging in their own digital devices to stream music in favor of what Blaze had chosen to stream system-wide.

So we went through a process of changing our music,” he says.

Blaze put up posters in the back of the house at a few restaurants and asked employees to share what kind of music they wanted to listen to at work.

“We integrated probably over 80% of the songs and suggestions,” he says. “We’re taking a much more collaborative approach and getting great feedback. »

Szwajkowski says this is just a micro-example of the kind of changes his Free to Be You pledge will surface. But it is important in many ways. It allows employees to bring a bit more of their own personality into their workspace, making them more comfortable. It also shows Blaze’s willingness to break away from traditional operational structures in favor of more common collaborative strategies.

“We create these localized connections and that forges human engagement,” he says, adding that these types of strategies make the brand feel less like a corporate entity and more like something organic.

“What works in Dallas, Texas, won’t be the same as what works in restaurants in Chicago, Florida or Southern California,” adds Szwajkowski. “So it’s [the Free to Be You promise] really allowing the brand to stay true to its core, which is “free to be you”… which we will fully embrace, as everyone is aligned to the core values ​​and core promise.

Szwajkowski believes Blaze’s new brand promise will help address current staffing challenges. He says that as the program rolls out (the goal is system-wide by the end of the fourth quarter), the percentage of employees who stay with the company will improve, although he is not naive about the general condition.

“I think you’ll start seeing a change with the existing team members first,” he says. “I don’t think this is a silver bullet that will solve all of our staffing and retention issues in the next 30 days. But I think it will give us the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from other brands, especially brands that are much bigger and have bigger budgets than us.

An additional aspect of the Free to Be You promise is the brand’s partnership with Strayer University. Blaze employees who enroll in a degree program through Strayer University by July 2022 will be eligible to receive up to 50% off tuition for the duration of the program as long as the employee remains enrolled permanently. Strayer will cover the full cost of the 50% discount once they verify that the student is currently employed by Blaze.

During the fourth quarter, Blaze will celebrate its 10th anniversary. During this time, it will incorporate a new visual identity. He says this new brand promise is a way to show that Blaze isn’t idle after a decade and is growing its culture alongside its footprint.

“There’s something really powerful about that promise,” he says. “It’s kind of a rallying cry that we’ve been here for 10 years and are setting the stage for the next 10 years of growth. I’m really optimistic about how this is going to have a really positive impact on the brand and the growth trajectory going forward.