Social Media Influencers & Trends: An Interview with Qdoba’s Isaac Droke


The following is an interview with Qdoba’s Social Media Specialist, Isaac Droke. Isaac has been in the fast casual industry for his entire career working at both Noodles and Co and Qdoba. In this interview, Alex and Isaac discuss influencer marketing and social media trends at scale. To listen to the interview, you can download the podcast on iTunes here: Subscribe on iTunes

Both Noodles and Qdoba have such huge scale, being national and even international companies. How do you manage that real-time customer engagement, staying true to the brand – keeping on those initiatives and making sure that you’re pushing someone toward being an advocate versus the opposite?

At Qdoba, they developed this “Quintessa” brand voice that is kind of what the brand is supposed to be. We tagged this creative agency to help us out and they came up with this persona that we really dug and felt lined up with the brand really, really well. She’s kind of sassy, but she knows what she wants.

They always say that the big line is “Guys want her number and girls kind of want it, too”. So you kind of get into that voice and it definitely takes time. It’s not something that first day they were able to say ‘Hey, here’s the reigns’ and tweet away. You have to really dive into the brand, experience it through some of the new designs that we’re doing in a couple different markets and it really kind of hits home once you look at it.

And so as long as you look at everything through that lens with the mantra of “What would the Quintessa do?” you get in that and you start to live it…daily. We’re using a tool called Sprinkler that we’re using for our social media management. It’s really helpful because it helps pull out influencers.

If there’s someone with a huge following that’s talking about us, it brings that to light and we get text messages and instant alerts saying “Hey, let’s capitalize on that timely opportunity”. So that’s been super helpful. We brought them on soon after I started so I’ve been fully in with that and I’ve really seen the value of that system.

2016 social media trends and influencer marketingAlex: So, “Quintessa” is the social media persona’s name?

Yep, it’s kind of the overarching persona for the whole brand and that of course delves into social media, as well. There’s been a couple other companies, Lululemon started their own brand persona as in “this is the type of person we also want to attract, our type of guest and the type of person that our brand voice should be like”, so we followed that model in a way.

Alex: When you were nailing down the brand voice that now trickles out to social media, is that brand voice tailored to the demographic, the main clientele that you want to bring in, or is it more of a “we’d like to get that client” and “we also want to get people who would respond well to that voice”.  How does that work? I’m curious as to how you guys chose Quintessa.

I think it’s a little bit of both. Obviously you want to speak to the large majority of the people that are already coming to your restaurants, but then you also want to tailor it so it’s more broad and so that you don’t alienate people. So, I think you kind of start with what you have; you know the kind of people that are coming in and hopefully this language speaks to them.

And then you can kind of branch that out to overarching, so that everybody kind of gets a little piece of it, if that makes sense.

Alex: How it is that social media fits into the larger marketing plan? What’s the process of planning content that kind of emulates what you guys are doing from a branding or marketing or advertising standpoint?

Obviously, as every company has, there are key initiatives, whether it’s a new item or whatever the case may be. We just put out our Mango Salsa that’s been a fan favorite for years and years.

So, obviously there’s a lot around that… we tailored the social media calendar to the larger marketing calendar, where if we just put out Mango a couple weeks ago, a lot of our content that we’re doing for the next month or so is going to be targeted around mango. It’s the perfect summer treat, ‘Mango over everything’ is one of our taglines so far.

Being able to bring it into what’s going on in the larger marketing calendar, and then also layering that in under some of the evergreen posts that we do – we’re always going to put up those sexy shots of burritos because we know they do well. Fitting that in when it makes sense – depending on the season and the various holidays.

We love to engage in the holidays that come up. It seems like there’s one every day; ‘National Chocolate Chip Day’ or whatever the case may be. We try to weigh in on that conversation and get the Qdoba voice and brand into people’s minds when they’re checking out that hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, or whatever the case may be.

Alex: Are there any other social media trends that you see emerging that’s going to affect the day-to-day of a social media manager?

Snapchat is definitely honing in on video, but I’m itching to see how the Periscopes of the world work for brands. It’s interesting to see how video plays a part and I know that Facebook just rolled out their Facebook Live feature, so if there’s a way, brands should capitalize on that. Snapchat’s been the best in the “live” space so far. I think it’s the newest trend that brands are moving towards realizing “We need to be in the Snapchat world now”.

I think Instagram is probably number two on that, especially for the food companies to be able to kind of share a journey. But, Snapchat will be the lay of the land here for the next year or so until somebody else figures out something else cool to do. There are a couple brands that are really honed in on Tumblr and we’ve had that conversation within our department and haven’t quite figured out how to best utilize it, but that’s another interesting one as well.

Video is kind of the ‘thing to do’ now and figuring out how to weave that into your brand’s story, whether that’s through Snapchat or some of those live-streaming apps, is going to be big for brands that can figure out how to do it.

Alex: Has Qdoba dabbled in any of the live-streaming apps?

We haven’t yet. We have a kitchen in-house so figuring out how to do some of those recipes, whether it’s making Mango Salsa or showing people how we make our guac, it would be really cool to stream that on Facebook or figure how to do a Snap story about it.

We’ve started a Snapchat here in the last couple months. We haven’t developed it probably as much as everybody would like due to time constraints, but we’ve done a few stories, and have seen good pick-up here for the limited amount of work that we’ve done with it.

We’ve started to do geo-filtering at all the Qdobas so there’s a Qdoba sponsored filter at every location that you go to. We’ve seen a ton of engagement through there and are starting a contest with Snapchat here in the next month or so. That’ll be excited to boost that up.

Alex: Can you explain what a geo-filter is and how the sponsored version works for our less Snapchat adept listeners?

Here’s how Snapchat geo-filters work: Basically, you send Snapchat the coordinates of all the restaurants and they’ll put up a ‘geo-fence’ for a specific filter. When you’re on Snapchat, and you’re scrolling through all the filters, ‘miles per hour’, ‘time’, all that stuff, there’ll be a Qdoba one that pops up. And whether it’s some of our iconography that we used in some of our brand new restaurants or some designs that our graphic team has done, there’s a different one here every week for the next three months or so.

It’s really a new thing for us, and not sure where it’s going to go, but we’re excited to just have that other level of engagement that we can use. We’ve been promoting it on our other channels so far, and like I said, with that contest here ramping up in the next month or so, hopefully that will drive a lot of engagement with our geo-filters.

It’s been cool to see some of the Snaps that have come in so far, and there’s been a bunch, so we love to see that.

2016 social media trends and influencer marketing fast casual

Alex: In your experience, what makes Snapchat so different than all the other social media platforms?

It’s different and it’s the same. We were able to gain a decent following from some of the influencers that we worked with, which was really the first time that I’d actually used influencers to help boost our mediums.

We did an event with a few influencers back in February for our ‘Qdoba for a Kiss’ campaign. The influencers were huge on Vine and Snapchat, and they sent out a couple snaps that said “Hey, follow Qdoba.Snaps”, and that was a great chance to get our content out there. We capitalized on that with some stuff around the Valentine’s Day promotion.

Using influencers was super helpful in getting our Snapchat account off the ground, but it goes back to your question – it’s that ‘live’, ‘what’s happening right now’ that works on Twitter and on some of the other social media platforms, but you can actually give a behind-the-scenes look to you followers. A lot of people follow celebrities and love to see kind of what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis and I think brands can definitely tap into that and use it as a promotional tool, too.

A lot of the brands will have a Snapchat story and will say “Snap us back for this prize” which helps drive engagement. “Take a screenshot of this picture and add in your own art” for example.

Taco Bell did a Snapchat story with one of their sauce packets that said “Write a message on our sauce packet and send it back”. It’s all those quick ways to engage with people that brands are starting to figure  out.

Alex: What have been a few examples, or maybe one example, of a social media campaign that you are particularly proud of, from your time at Qdoba or Noodles?

Off the top of my mind, it has to be the ‘Qdoba for a Kiss’. It’s something that’s been going on at Qdoba for, gosh, probably five, seven, maybe eight years now. We really figured out how to go for it from all different approaches. Every year they kept changing up the name, ‘Smothered for a Smooch’ for example.

People kind of knew that Qdoba had this thing for Valentine’s Day, but this year we really owned it and came up with the name ‘Qdoba for a Kiss’. It will always be ‘Qdoba for a Kiss’, next year, the year after.

And we figured out how to do it across all channels. We had huge influencers on Instagram also that posted about Qdoba and figured out how to layer it in with their content – a couple dogs that are huge (which was awesome!), but a seamless transition.

We put together an event on MeetUp, for people to come visit us at a restaurant in LA with some of these influencers, and we really saw some cool results from that. A lot of people come just to meet these celebrities on Vine and then end up enjoying Qdoba.

We did a “war room” that Sunday on Valentine’s Day where we were able to engage with people all day long and we really approached it from a good aspect this year and saw huge, huge sales – increased numbers from the years past.  It was one of those things where I was only couple months into the job, but I went into it, pumped just to see the results, and saw the traffic-driving was even better.

Alex: So you guys were basically stowed away in a room, your “war room”, for an entire day, where you just tweeted and responded to people?

Yep. It was a hard sell to my girlfriend that it was on Valentine’s Day, but yeah. We got through it. It was all-day. There were three of us that took shifts and made sure we were on top of it all day, so it was cool to see.

Alex: Do you have any productivity hacks that you use to make you more efficient, aside from maybe Sprinkler?

Setting aside little calendar reminders…At nine o’clock, check Facebook. Going through and setting calendar invites in Sprinklr helps keep me on task.

Going back to the journalism world, I was always the deadline guy. If it needed to be done by Friday at five, I’ll have it to you by Friday at five. But having those deadlines and setting deadlines for yourself that are earlier than maybe your boss or your manager says has been super helpful. I’ve been managing it all through Outlook and also through the social media management tool Sprinklr.

Alex: Last question I always ask all of our guests is, do you have any books (business books, social media, marketing, whatever it is) that you’ve used in your daily life or in your career? Anything that you’ve read recently that you think people should read.

I think this name is not going to shock anybody, but I do follow Gary Vaynerchuk to pretty much everything that he does. He just came out with a new book here recently. But I do read a lot of what he writes. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook (I think that’s what it was called), was one of my favorites and I’m anxious to read his new one as well.

Alex: Isaac, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been a pleasure getting to hear how you guys manage things at Qdoba and it sounds like there’s a lot of different and cool new things coming up here on the horizon for you guys.

To hear more episodes like this about social media and food marketing, you can Subscribe on iTunes.

Blue Bear Creative is a Denver social media agency focused on helping food and beverage brands market to millennials.