Beats Don't Kale Their Vibe: How One Event Put Sweetgreen on the QSR Map

Using Social Data to Understand The Effect of Branded Events on Company Image

Can a salad chain really amass praise and sustain a loyal fan following with lines that stretch around the block? If you’re talking about Sweetgreen, the now seasoned, eight-years-under-its-belt, DC-based salad chain, it seems to be easy as pie (just don’t ask for slice). Investors seem to agree: the chain recently raised more funding—to the tune of 35 million—which should help the brand with expansion plans in the works for Boston.

“[The Boston customer] is educated and socially responsible and really has this expectation of the brands and the companies that they support. The idea of authenticity and transparency and good for you and good for the world at the same time — I think people in Boston really identify with that.” (Boston Eater)

In order to see what consumers were really saying about Sweetgreen, and understand more behind their successful continuity and recognition, we turned to the social data. We asked:

  • In what ways do social users interact with Sweetgreen now that it is a nationally recognized and established brand?
  • Does social data show users engaging with Sweetgreen’s continued branding efforts, such as their Sweetlife event?

Focusing our analysis on 2015 to date, we noticed that levels of sentiment surrounding Sweetgreen conversation on Twitter were extraordinarily high: positive sentiment for the year was a resounding 89%.

So what was driving this positive sentiment, and what does this mean for Sweetgreen and other growing brands?

First we looked to general trends in conversation, noting that top mentions for the year beyond the company’s handle, @sweetgreen, have been @kendricklamar and @sweetlifefest, with the top hashtag being #sweetlife2015, referring to the company’s annual music festival, Sweetlife. We also noticed the top retweet for the year was driven by Sweetgreen’s announcement of the festival on March 3.

Diving into the data to understand the prevalence of @kendricklamar, we found that in addition to being mentioned as a headliner at Sweetlife, Kendrick Lamar discussion spikes around Sweetgreen inspiring a salad from a Kendrick Lamar song, which they called Beets Don’t Kale my Vibe.

This cleverly allusive salad and the timing of its release on April 29, after the announcement of the festival, keeps conversation going about Kendrick Lamar and promotes the upcoming festival.
While there was some negative sentiment during the announcement of the festival, (around a price increase and extending the festival to two days), on the day of the festival, conversation about Sweetgreen saw a 98% increase in volume, with a peak positive sentiment of 94% on the first day of the festival, and an average positive sentiment of 92% over the two days of and the day following the festival.
But what conversations were people having surrounding this specific event? What was the focus within the greater Sweetlife conversation?
Topics of Conversation for Sweetlife2015
We can see people responding to the festival, sharing their experience at the festival and echoing sentiments such as, “What a weekend.” Even better though, we can see discussion regarding the Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO, Jonathan Neman’s “bad” rapping skills and that Kendrick Lamar kicked him off the stage for not knowing the words to “m.A.A.d city.” We can even see conversation resonating which recalls the Kendrik Lamar inspired salad released earlier.
But we didn’t stop there. A crucial aspect in understanding events is understanding the participants, or those who engaged with the discussion of the event. We can use social data to gain better insights into the people with which the festival resonated: seeing that over half of those discussing the festival were under 34. Better yet, we can understand Sweetlife discussants’ other relevant interests using Crimson’s AffinitiesTM tool. The tool works to uncover topics outside of the immediate discussion with which users express interest.
Affinities for Sweetlife 2015
In addition to seeing geographic interests resonate highly (users are 110 times more interested in Washington D.C. and 11 times more interested in Maryland—corresponding to the founding location of Sweetgreen and the location of the festival), we can also see that participants have strong interests in topics relevant to a younger demographic: they are 137 times more interested in high school and more than 1,000 times more interested in Southeastern University. Other top interests include R&B, innovation, advertising, and notably, food trucks which can all correlate to the festival and the organization of this event.
Seeing this, we wondered if the interests of the participants in the festival discussion aligned with Sweetgreen’s overall demographic. By comparing affinities of the yearly Sweetgreen conversation with those post-festival, we saw the interests coincided. The centralized grouping and muted color of the bubbles in the graphic below illustrates an equal level of interest in the topics in the comparison.
Sweetgreen Affinities Comparison year to festival date
We can see that both periods of discussion hit sectors relevant to a younger audience which is interested not only in music, but in innovation and health-conscious dining. Therefore, we can see that the festival appealed to Sweetgreen’s target audience and feeds into their holistic business model and marketing strategy.
Social insights here prove invaluable in illustrating that Sweetgreen, as a seasoned brand, is making efforts that resonate positively with their target audience in discussion of the brand. Innovative endeavors such as extending the Sweetlife festival over two days and making a Kendrick Lamar inspired salad to help promote the festival continue to drive conversation. Perhaps these efforts can illuminate the success behind the brand that has now amassed over 95 million in funds.
To learn more about how H&M and Alexander Wang partnered for fashion event success among their audiences, read our case study here.

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