What Cafe Rio can teach us about marketing

I love Cafe Rio.  It’s a fast-casual Mexican restaurant.  (Think Chipotle, but ten times better.)  Cafe Rio had me as a brand advocate from the beginning.  And even though the Mexican QSR does have an online presence (Twitter handle @caferio and a frequently updated blog), Cafe Rio won my heart the old-fashioned way.  Why do I find this brand so attractive?

  1. They have a story.  Cafe Rio was founded in Salt Lake City (I discovered the eatery when I was living in Salt Lake City attending graduate school).  According to local lore, two brothers opened the restaurant and earned immediate fame with their pulled pork burritos.  The pulled pork was so delicious because it was slow cooked in Dr. Pepper.  But some family feud drove the two brothers apart, and one of the brothers opened a second, separate restaurant, Costa Vida, with a nearly identical menu, except that the pulled pork is soaked in Mr. Pibb.  Is this story true?  I have no idea.  The details are a little shaky (was Cafe Rio or Costa Vida the original?  I’m not sure.)  Regardless, the back story gives the brand some drama, and helps customers both remember and connect with it.
  2. They have fantastic customer service.  I’ve visited Cafe Rio in Utah, Maryland, and Virginia, and each one is staffed with friendly, professional people.  They say hello when you come in.  They sing a little song when you redeem a free meal (oh, and they give you free meals occasionally.)  They answer your (my) annoying questions about what is and isn’t vegetarian.  It’s clear that the customer service training is an important part of the on-boarding process for new hires.
  3. They have a quality product.  Obviously, I wouldn’t be raving about Cafe Rio if their food was only so-so.  Everything, from their handmade tortillas to their tres leche cake to their mint limeade (insider tip: get a cup of this to go, add rum when you get home, and that’s the best mojito you’ve ever had!), is fresh and delicious.  Additionally, their menu exceeds those of other Mexican QSRs because it features more than the usual rice, beans and meat.  They offer fish tacos, cocoanut rice, and as well as pork, beef and chicken prepared two ways.
  4. They have a distinct, consistent marketing voice.  The voice of the brand is clever and consistent across platforms, from the signs in their stores to their Facebook wall posts.  For example, in their stores, above their shelves of beautifully arranged lemons, limes, and peppers, they have a sign that says “Yes, these are real.”  And their Facebook posts are typically along these lines:

or this

The personality created for their brand is authentic and engaging and invites customers to participate with the brand through contests or just a little chuckle.  They’re  not sales-y, pushy, or — and this is important — over-the-top ironic, which can get old (fast) and typically appeals to an exclusively younger crowd, as opposed to people of all ages.

Notice that two of the four qualities that make Cafe Rio a candidate for brand loyalty have nothing to do with positioning — it’s the product.  The product is the foundation of the marketing strategy, as it must be with all campaigns.

What brands keep you coming back with a killer product and clever marketing?  Tweet me at rikki_rogers.