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Chipotle Grabs Data, Creates Brand Loyalists with Cultivate Festival



Laura Michaels

Events are big money—registration fees, vendor fees and sponsorships can bring in incredible revenue and enhance a brand. But Chipotle is also dredging the customer base for a bounty of data.

A couple weeks ago, I rode my bike ride to a downtown park for the annual Chipotle Cultivate event in Minneapolis. It was my first time going so I didn’t know what to expect aside from a crowd of burrito-loving hipsters and some bands. When I arrived, the crowd was on point, but the rest of the event was a maze of lines and pop-up stations designed to create brand awareness or communicate Chipotle’s values.

The pop-ups covered the GMO debate, examined the burrito giant’s history, looked at the differences between factory and free-range farms, and detailed the much-loved guacamole recipe.

Being a cynical type, it all looked like an indoctrination summer camp.

The veritable army of Chipotle staffers kept things moving and the company’s line expertise certainly kept the lines of hundreds moving along. The local craft beer vendors were all there and the great bands offered plenty to do for attendees.

Of course Chipotle got something out of the event too, aside from the warm fuzzy feeling of feeding hipsters craft beer.

Chipotle created a whole lot of brand awareness both from the constant coverage (I guess this blog counts too), event advertising and via signs all over the event. One of my favorites was right in after the entrance that simply said, “No, Chipotle is not owned by McDonalds.” The whole event, of course, also created a social media fire hose of #chipotlecultivate, further increasing the event’s branding initiatives.

Chipotle was also able to communicate its brand values to thousands over the course of an afternoon. It’s hard to measure that impact, but if Chipotle can make the case that free-range pigs are happy and healthy to a few dozen of the teenagers in attendance, they’ve got a well-primed consumer.

But hey, it’s not like the biggest fast-casual burrito slinger out there needs more awareness or more people looking for wandering pigs. What was more valuable was data, and they got a bevvy of information.

Starting before the event, anyone who connected their app to Facebook or Twitter sent all kinds of demographic information directly to Chipotle.

At the event, there was a very informal survey about the use of GMO foods and a grand analysis of new or unique menu items. The non-standard Chipotle fare included tostadas with chorizo, gorditas and the new sofrita meatless option on tacos. It was also a great place to test the market for Chipotle’s new Asian-inspired brand, ShopHouse. An informative Chipotle employee was also nearby to tell my friends and I that two ShopHouse locations were coming to Chicago soon.

And after the event, Chipotle was able to continue its contact with the freshly indoctrinated Cultivate masses, using coupons for free burritos and an Izze soda.

Even if they didn’t make any money on the event (which I’m sure they did) it was a massive success for the data department at Chipotle headquarters. I just wonder when other big concepts will start their own events.

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