The Update: How Milk Bar’s digital transformation has led to sustainable growth

The Update: How Milk Bar’s digital transformation has led to sustainable growth

Guests
Christina Tosi, Chef and Owner of Milk Bar
Selin Song, VP of Google Customer Solutions
Brand
Milk Bar
Published
July 2020

In this episode of The Update, VP of Google Customer Solutions Selin Song talks to Christina Tosi, chef and owner of Milk Bar. Christina shares how she pivoted her marketing strategy to invest in e-commerce and capture increased consumer demand for tasty treat delivery.

You can find more resources to drive online sales at our solutions center.

0:03

The beauty of digital advertising for us

0:05

specifically through the pandemic

0:06

is in the flexibility

0:08

of when we can pivot.

0:10

In this episode of The Update

0:13

we talked to Christina Tosi from Milk Bar

0:15

about how their digital transformation

0:17

has led to sustainable growth.

0:20

Tell us a little bit about yourself

0:22

and the story behind Milk Bar.

0:26

So, I grew up in the Midwest

0:31

and went to college for electrical engineering and applied mathematics.

0:34

And I ended up somehow moving to New York City

0:36

to go to culinary school and work my way up in

0:37

fine dining restaurants.

0:40

And along the way I realised

0:42

that with my love of baking cookies

0:44

and being a formally trained pastry chef,

0:48

that there was still sort of like a lot of grey area in between.

0:51

And so I decided to create my own destiny

0:54

and I opened Milk Bar in November of 2008.

0:57

And my vision was to create a quirky American style bakery

1:00

that served cookies, cakes, pies and ice cream

1:04

where we could just show up in the world and show up in people's lives on our terms.

1:07

So prior to the pandemic,

1:10

what was your company strategy and goals for 2020?

1:12

Prior to the pandemic

1:15

our goals

1:16

from a company standpoint

1:19

were to continue to think about Milk Bar

0:23

as revenue streams for the three channels we exist in.

1:26

One is our brick and mortar channel,

1:29

which is the channel that I originally opened Milk bar with.

1:31

It consisted of 18 store fronts

1:34

across the United States.

1:37

It was continuing to invest in our online or e-comm business,

1:40

which I call our care package business.

1:46

And to launch and grow into grocery through our consumer packaged goods line.

1:50

So, tell us more about those differences after COVID-19 hit.

1:54

When the pandemic hit in the US

1:57

it very much gave us an invitation

2:01

into the more intimate part of people's lives

2:04

because people were trying to find ways to celebrate from home.

2:07

Employers were trying to find ways to reward their employees

2:09

to say thank you for showing up to work today.

2:11

People were trying to figure out how to engage with one another

2:15

even though they couldn't celebrate or share that moment together.

2:19

We became the conduit for that online which became a really interesting opportunity.

2:24

How has your shift to e-commerce changed the revenue makeup of your business?

2:28

You know, it's interesting. Because of the pandemic there are...

2:32

we have less stores open and therefore less opportunity

2:34

to garner the revenue that we're accustomed to

2:36

coming in from brick and mortar.

2:40

Which means that we're naturally making a shift and we're pivoting to more

2:42

sales online.

2:47

And you know that is challenging us to look at

2:49

the ways in which our business interacts

2:51

from operations and fulfilment on down.

2:54

With the majority of your bakeries closed during the pandemic,

2:58

how has digital been an area of growth for your business?

3:01

What we've actually done is taken

3:05

some of the resource that we would put into stores

3:08

from an advertising and real life standpoint,

3:09

and we've pivoted them online.

3:12

So we have more ads that exist online

3:15

and we have a keener eye and a deeper focus

3:18

when it comes to the customisation of those ads online

3:20

to educate our customers about

3:22

how and when we can be there for them in real life,

3:25

how and when they can get their strawberry shortcake cake

3:29

in time for their given celebration, and so on and so forth.

3:32

We've actually doubled or tripled down

3:37

on our online ad space because of our limitations

3:39

at our closed stores and so on.

3:44

What role did digital advertising, and Google in particular, play

3:46

kind of as you made the shift?

3:49

We use a lot of

3:51

Google analytics to look and understand

3:53

which search terms people

3:55

are looking for, from a flavour standpoint.

3:59

Which search terms people are looking for, from an occasion standpoint.

4:01

When people come to our site,

4:05

when and where are they spending the most time?

4:07

When do we lose them, if we lose them?

4:09

Are they looking for recipes?

4:11

Is it about the rainbow sprinkle image?

4:15

It's everything visual, and language and product

4:17

that we're studying across the board.

4:22

Can you share a little more about how you use, kind of, digital advertising

4:25

for you to customise your experiences with your consumers?

4:31

What's really, really, really powerful for us from a digital advertising customisation standpoint is

4:36

we are able to create and craft multiple different ads

4:39

in the landscape to see which one actually lands.

4:42

Which one is gaining the most momentum.

4:45

Which one is converting in the most powerful way.

4:47

And you're able to constantly improve

4:49

and pivot and customise from there

4:51

until you've landed on places where you're actually getting

4:54

the most return possible, you know,

4:57

larger and more productive than your wildest dreams.

4:59

What advice would you give business owners

5:03

who are just starting in their digital advertising or e-commerce journey?

5:06

There is so much opportunity and so much

5:09

continued untapped opportunity online

5:11

and the value of continuing

5:14

to double and triple down on our ad space

5:16

and the flexibility with which we can

5:19

shape our ad and the performance of the ad

5:22

is all the more powerful. We are seeing

5:25

you know, record CACs beyond our wildest imagination

5:27

because of our ability to

5:29

be on tone

5:33

and to constantly be shaping our message through ads.

5:37

And the continued reality that our

5:40

community and our customers are spending their time online.

5:45

How will that look and change through the remainder of this year?

5:48

We're not sure but we're really, really, really excited

5:51

about the insane progress that we're seeing in the digital space.

5:56

What's next for Milk Bar, and will that change as your stores reopen?

5:59

Oh Selin, if I had a crystal ball!

6:04

We went into the pandemic with 18 stores,

6:08

five of them have remained open through the pandemic.

6:13

We've grown our digital footprint in a really really, really exciting and energising way

6:15

and we've launched into retail

6:16

through grocery stores.

6:20

We will continue to ask ourselves the question on a daily basis:

6:24

How can we and how do we show up in people's lives?

6:27

My sense is that that will continue to be

6:29

incredibly powerful in the digital space.

6:32

As it relates to stores and in grocery,

6:35

we're going to show up every day and figure it out.

6:38

It's not for the faint of heart,

6:41

but nothing worth doing in life that really matters

6:42

is easy.

6:44

And so we're here for the challenge.