If you’ve ever been to an In-and-Out Burger, you know the guilty pleasure of a Double-Double. But have you tried the 4X4? (Four patties, four slices of cheese). Or the Protein Style? (Your favorite burger wrapped in lettuce). If you have, you’re familiar with the secret menu movement, which, when it comes to this particular brand, isn’t much of a secret anymore.
The premise is simple: Allow customers to furtively discover a secret menu—an informal, under-the-radar way of ordering—and watch them become loyal insiders. It’s human nature—everyone wants to feel like they’re special. Everyone wants some unique corner on the truth, as minor as that truth may be.
This is particularly true in the age of social networking where certain demographics feel compelled to share most every experience. Here, in an effort to boost social capital, a unique experience with a brand can become a post-worthy moment, which can spread the inside word like wildfire across likeminded communities.
Consider Panera Bread, for example, which publishes a secret menu for the fitness-crazed and gluten-sensitive crowds, which—you guessed it—is entirely flourless. Inquiring insiders can scan a QR code to access the secret menu on their smartphone (a digitized secret handshake) or are flashed a secret menu card (don’t worry, it won’t self destruct). It’s the modern-day equivalent to the speakeasy peephole.
On a recent NPR Marketplace segment on the topic, Panera menu chief Scott Davis said, “It’s a lot easier to execute, not having to go through the printing of all the collateral materials, and ultimately cluttering up the cafe with too many messages.” Keeping this under the radar also lends to the clandestine appeal—and undoubtedly protects a brand that uniquely depends on all-things flour and yeast.
As a transplanted southerner, I subscribe to Garden & Gun, a beautifully rendered monthly magazine which documents, in its words, “The Soul of the South.” In every issue, the magazine conspicuously promotes the G&G Secret Society, an “exclusive” opportunity to meet up in various southern locales with other subscribers who have paid for the same privilege. Secret? Not so much. (Creepy? You be the judge.)
The key is to spread the word, while maintaining the secret. Or making it feel like a secret, anyway. It’s also important to make it feel authentic and non-exploitative. This is about building trust, which translates to loyalty over time.
What does this all mean for you? As a digital marketer, you should be on the lookout for ways to create an insider movement. Social marketing is a perfect way to tip off your loyalists—and to encourage them to tip off the communities they influence.
The lesson? Sometimes it takes a secret to spread the word.