The Update: How Milk Bar’s digital transformation has led to sustainable growth
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.
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The beauty of digital advertising for us
specifically through the pandemic
is in the flexibility
of when we can pivot.
On this episode of The Update
we talked to Christina Tosi from Milk Bar
on how their digital transformation
has led to sustainable growth.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
and the story behind Milk Bar.
So I grew up in the Midwest
and went to college for electrical engineering and applied mathematics.
And I ended up somehow moving to New York City
to go to culinary school and work my way up in
fine dining restaurants.
And along the way I realized
that my love of baking cookies
and being a formally trained pastry chef,
that there was still sort of like a lot of gray area in between.
And so I decided to create my own destiny
and I opened Milk Bar in November of 2008.
And my vision was to create a quirky American style bakery
that served cookies, cakes, pies and ice cream
where we could just show up in the world and show up in people's lives on our terms.
So prior to the pandemic,
what was your company strategy and goals for 2020?
Prior to the pandemic
from a company standpoint
were to continue to think about Milk Bar
as the three channels that we exist as revenue stream.
One is our brick and mortar channel,
which is the channel that I originally opened Milk bar with.
It was with 18 store fronts
across the United States.
It was continuing to invest in our online or e-comm business,
which I call our care package business.
And to launch and grow into grocery through our consumer packaged goods line.
So tell us more about those differences after COVID-19 hit.
When the pandemic hit in the US
it very much gave us an invitation
into the more intimate part of people's lives
because people were trying to find ways to celebrate from home.
Employers were trying to find ways to show up for their employees
to say thank you for showing up to work today.
People were trying to figure out how to engage with one another
even though they couldn't celebrate or share that moment together.
We became the conduit for that online which became a really interesting opportunity.
How has your shift to e-commerce changed the revenue makeup of your business?
You know, it's interesting because of the pandemic there are
we have less stores open and therefore less opportunity
to garner the revenue that we're accustomed to
coming in from brick and mortar.
Which means that we're naturally making a shift and we're pivoting to more
And you know that is challenging us to look at
the ways in which our business interacts
from operations and fulfillment on down.
With the majority of your bakeries closed during the pandemic,
how has digital been an area of growth for your business?
What we've actually done is taken
some of the resource that we would put into stores
from an advertising and real life standpoint,
and we've pivoted them online.
So we have more ads that exist online
and we have a keener eye and a deeper focus
to the customization of those ads online
to educate our customers about
how and when we can show up for them in real life,
how and when they can get their strawberry shortcake cake
in time for their given celebration and so on and so forth.
We've actually doubled or tripled down
on our online ad space because of our limitations
at our closed stores and so on.
What role did digital advertising and Google in particular play
kind of as you made the shift?
We use a lot of
Google analytics to look and understand
what our search terms that people
are looking for from a flavor standpoint.
What are search terms that people are looking for from an occasion standpoint.
When people come to our site,
when and where are they spending the most time?
When do we lose them if we lose them.
Are they looking for recipes?
Is it about the rainbow sprinkle image?
It's everything visual and language and product
that we're studying across the board.
Can you share a little more about how you use kind of digital advertising
for you to customize your experiences with your consumers?
What's really really really powerful for us from a digital advertising customization standpoint is
we are able to create and craft multiple different ads
in the landscape to see which one actually lands.
Which one is gaining the most momentum.
Which one is converting in the most powerful way.
And you're able to constantly improve
and pivot and customize from there
until you've landed on places where you're actually getting
the most return possible, you know,
larger and more productive than your wildest dreams.
What advice would you give business owners
who are just starting in their digital advertising or e-commerce journey?
There is so much opportunity and so much
continued untapped opportunity online
and the value of continuing
to double and triple down on our ad space
and the flexibility with which we can
shape our ads in the performance of the ad
is all the more powerful. We are seeing
you know record CACs beyond our wildest imagination
because of our ability to
be on tone
and to constantly be shaping our message through ads.
And the continued reality that our
community and our customers are spending their time online.
How will that look and change through the remainder of this year?
We're not sure but we're really really really excited
about the insane progress that we're seeing in the digital space.
What's next for Milk Bar and will that change as your stores reopen?
Oh Selin, if I had a crystal ball!
We went into the pandemic with 18 stores,
five of them have remained open through the pandemic.
We've grown our digital footprint in a really really really exciting and energizing way
and we've launched into retail
through grocery stores.
We will continue to ask ourselves the question on a daily basis.
How can we and how do we show up in people's lives?
My sense is that that will continue to be
incredibly powerful in the digital space.
As it relates to stores and in grocery,
we're going to show up every day and figure it out.
It's not for the faint of heart,
but nothing worth doing in life that really matters
And so we're here for the challenge.