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March 18, 2010
Can Catching the Eye of Just One Maven Affect Your Bottom Line?

Over the years, a lot has changed about me: my hair color, where I live, and the jobs I’ve had. Despite these numerous changes, two things have remained true: I’m extraordinarily proud of my Italian roots, and I’m a huge pizza snob. A lot of people will get their pizza anywhere, but not me. In Atlanta, there was only one place for me to go. That was, until I stumbled on Antico Pizza Napoletana.

It's literally no place I could have ever seen myself going -- no fancy building, no noticeable signage, or no flashy television ads. Instead, it’s located in a building you’d miss if you weren’t driving slowly enough, and upon entering the place, there’s nothing special about it.

The word around Atlanta was that this place was the real deal and better than anything you’d ever experienced before.

You eat your pizza family style -- Italian family style, that is -- in the kitchen, using plastic cups and utensils, right off the pizza tray. If that doesn’t convince you you’ve found some place special, they play Italian music while you eat.

Then there’s the pizza, which is, hands down, the best I’ve ever had.

After my fill of fabulous pizza, I struck up a conversation with the pizzeria’s proprietor, Giovanni Di Palma, who kindly added to my food coma by serving me not one, but two cannolis and an espresso to boot. I started to ask him about his restaurant, his roots, and his restaurant’s success. Surely advertising was involved somewhere.

It turns out that Giovanni has not spent one dime on advertising -- no newspaper, TV, radio, or digital ads. Nothing. Compare those efforts to three of Giovanni’s well-known pizza counterparts (you know, the popular brands seen on TV that push everything from buffalo wings to family style Italian meals) that collectively -- according to Nielsen -- spent $2.5 million in advertising in the fourth quarter 2009 alone.

What Giovanni did do, however, was catch the ears, eyes (and mouth) of a blogger who subsequently wound up writing about his place, which created a social media/digital PR phenomenon -- the likes of which is rare and has caught the ear of The Atlanta Journal/Constitution and CNN.com (not to mention people all over Atlanta).

His efforts have been so successful that seats in his kitchen don’t come easy on Friday nights -- so much that he has to lock the doors when his cooks (his third-grade son included) run out of pizza dough. That’s right: closing his doors. Running out of dough. All without the help of advertising. Giovanni attributes all of the success he’s had to social media.

While advertising gurus and social media geeks everywhere can say Giovanni’s business story is the stuff great social media/digital PR case studies are made of, I’d say something else is at work here. Something else that you don’t hear too much about. Something else that is the determining factor behind social media.

A great product? What a novel idea. No fancy ad campaigns, no talking lizards, and no ducks.

There’s no question that social media has played a role in Giovanni’s success in Atlanta, and the subsequent press coverage hasn’t hurt his business either. However, what Giovanni started with -- and what so many organizations these days lose sight of -- was a great product. Many organizations these days are so caught up with Facebook fans and Tweets galore that they’ve lost sight of the most basic fundamentals: outstanding products and services.

Perhaps we haven’t gotten to that tipping point yet. After all, many organizations are still in the embryonic stage of social media -- the listening stage, the “getting-your-feet-wet” stage -- where you are still listening to your consumers and clients and what they have to say to their “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter. My hope is this listening will give way to some organizations going back to the drawing board -- either to improve a product or better their service.

All of this may seem as basic as it gets (and I’m bound to receive a lot of “duh” comments), but from the stories I’ve seen and heard, a lot of organizations are more focused on the social media bandwagon than they are improving their customer service. They are so preoccupied with doing the biggest, coolest ad campaign that they’ve forgotten the 30-second TV spot has come and gone.

And that, folks, is amore

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Nancy Bistritz is the Director of Marketing/Communications for Montreal-based interactive agency Nurun, She works closely with teams in Nurun’s U.S. offices on public relations outreach, and marketing and business development strategies. She is also an integral part of Nurun’s worldwide communications team.

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