Red Door Interactive was hired to build an entirely new site for Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes Restaurants, a chain of all-you-care-to-eat dining experiences that focus on fresh ingredients. We formulated strategies and recommendations of our own, but we wanted to hear directly from the most dedicated fans -- the more than 1.3 million members of the Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes Club Veg, the company's advisory board (the Kitchen Cabinet), and users of the site. Because of their loyal following and passion for the brand, we wanted to build a site for them, by them. So, we sent out surveys and incorporated those results into our design, a step that, in the end, allowed us to validate our entire process from discovery and strategy through design and implementation.
The challenge: Build a state-of-the-art site incorporating social media and more
Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes' online community had been growing strong since Red Door Interactive launched its Facebook and Twitter properties early in 2009. Facebook fans numbered more than 48,000 fans, and Twitter had more than 13,000 followers. We needed to unify that loyal following and grow it within the new site as well as cross-promote contests and monthly menu promotions.
When coming to the new site, we wanted users to see Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes as a fresh, wholesome dining choice -- where food goes straight from "farm to fork." It needed to tell the story of how the company hand-picks its growers for the highest quality ingredients and uses those to create made-from-scratch salads, soups, and baked goods. The content needed to be playful and ever changing. The site needed to allow the users to make it their own, just like in-store where you create your own unique meal and experience. With the opportunity to plan, design, develop, and implement a completely new site from the ground up, it allowed us to create a completely customized experience for users.
- Keep it fresh: Contemporize the site; make it relevant, exciting, interactive, and delicious; and give the users a reason to keep coming back.
- Engage the audience: Implement a blog that allows guests to get inspired, share, communicate, and engage in fresh content. Include a section with fun activities for kids.
- Personalize: Allow users to make this site their own just like the in-store experience.
- Grow Club Veg: Increase customer loyalty and grow memberships through initiatives such as refer-a-friend campaigns.
- Grow the community: Create an environment for the active social community to engage on the site via live Facebook and Twitter feeds.
- Make shopping easy: Develop a complex shopping cart for online gift card purchases that allows users to ship to multiple addresses.
- Improve technology: Develop the site in the latest .NET platform for increased security, stability, and sustainability.
- Increase store traffic: Boost in-store sales via an easy-to-use fundraising-booking tool.
- Localize: Allow users to select their home store, which gets memorized and allows users to receive localized content and special promotions each visit.
- Searchability: Make the site SEO friendly to maximize organic rankings, traffic, and conversions.
- Optimize: Research, plan, select, and install an enterprise-class web analytics tool.
Overall site. Souplantation.com is a completely customizable experience. Users can select their favorite background (mine is the penne pasta as you see above) and home store. Immediately they are served with promotions for their local restaurant such as a brunch call-out, and it remembers their choices each return visit.
For the homepage animation, we used one simple word -- indulge -- to tell seven unique stories about Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes Restaurants. There is a surprise and story behind every letter in the word "indulge." For example, the letter U tells the story of how the company hand-picks its farmers, the letter E highlights its made-from-scratch menu items, and the letter N showcases the salad bar, and so forth.
Fresh Ideas blog. The blog encourages visitors to communicate and discover fresh content. You can comment on blogs, tweet them, or share them to any social community such as Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace. We also included a Facebook fan box and a Twitter stream with live feeds. Users can share what their favorite menu item is or even go as far as recommending a new one. The robust search allows you to find any blog topic, or you can just browse by category or popular tag cloud.
For Sprouts Only section. In this section of the site, designed for kids, you can play an interactive arcade game called Spud-Man, with classic music and all. Downloads in this section include coloring sheets, activity sheets, and a "Travel with Sweetie" picture. Animated screen savers and fresh desktop screens are also available.
Gift card shopping cart. We completely rebuilt the entire cart adding functionality and ease of use.
Join Club Veg form. We optimized the form and functionality to include localization and kept it short and sweet.
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- 220 percent increase in returning visitors
- 17 percent increase in visits
- 20 percent increase in gift card sales (all data compared year over year, March 2010 vs. March 2009)
Social media promotions:
- 400 percent increase in Facebook fans as a result of the April "Pucker Up" contest
Online fundraiser tool
- More than 200 fundraisers booked within the first month of launch, providing more than 100 percent ROI in less than 30 days
Club Veg members
- 70,000 new members subscribed on Souplantation.com in the month of January, resulting in more than 1.3 million members to date
Fresh Ideas blog
- More than 4,000 comments were received within one week in response to a St. Patrick's Day contest called "Eat Your Greens." Prizes included two sets of 10 complimentary meal passes for blog readers and additional prizes for Facebook and Twitter participants.
Test, test, and re-test: We wish we had allowed more time for testing. For this project, we had just over a week for internal testing and a week for client testing to work through any defects. Ideally, we should have planned for two to four weeks just for internal testing.
Reallocate budget: We intended to save time and money by keeping the Flash map on the locations page as is. In hindsight, we wish we had reallocated budget for this to completely rebuild it in .NET using Google Maps for an overall better solution.
Where do we go from here?
Keep it fresh: We will continue to keep the content fresh and relevant to give the users a reason to keep coming back for more.
Grow Club Veg: This will be an even bigger push in 2010 focusing on more acquisition tactics in addition to maintaining customer loyalty.
Optimize: We will continue to evaluate and act on our analytics results to optimize the site.
Rebuild catering: This is our next big enhancement for Souplantation.com. We are really looking forward to this project after seeing such great success from the fundraiser application.
The first 100 days of Souplantation.com were an amazing success. We always knew the fans were loyal to the brand, and now users have a reason to indulge in Souplantation.com and return for seconds and even thirds.
Jeannie Fratoni is creative director and co-founder at Red Door Interactive.
On Twitter? Follow Jeannie at @jeanniefratoni. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
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