Matt Maloney started Grubhub in 2004 with a simple grassroots goal: to connect hungry customers to restaurants. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and the company has over 33.8 million active users and a revenue stream of over $2 billion.
Today, Grubhub is one of the top food ordering apps available — and it’s competitive with giants like McDonald’s and Domino’s. But the company didn’t rise above the competition by playing it safe.
Grubhub’s marketing strategy was led by experimentation, from its unique content to partnerships that keep the brand top-of-mind with customers. Tying it all together is Grubhub’s excellent word-of-mouth program that rewards customers for sharing the app with their friends and family.
Grubhub’s platform-specific content reaches different audience segments
It’s common practice now to target content to a brand’s audience on a specific platform. But once upon a time, long before the digital feud between TikTok and Instagram Reels, Grubhub knew that tailoring content to different platforms would fuel growth.
From the beginning, Grubhub understood social media “rules,” like how Instagram is for visual-first content, and Twitter is a great space to announce anything that’s easily linkable to your website.
We're excited to deliver free Grubhub+ for a year to @BankofAmerica cardholders. This means unlimited $0 delivery fees for 365 days. Eligible @BankofAmerica members can activate the offer at https://t.co/C0V2gqlpUe. Learn more at https://t.co/vBJHhjhhyc pic.twitter.com/0s0SuIaggP
— Grubhub (@Grubhub) August 18, 2022
Grubhub used each platform’s vastly different audiences to deliver the right messaging to the right segment, and they saw success on Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.
Early adoption of Snapchat to reach college students
Grubhub first experimented with platform-specific content back in 2014 with Snapchat (and was even nominated for a Shorty award for their fun marketing campaigns).
As early adopters of Snapchat, they aimed to reach a younger audience — one that was quickly moving away from Facebook and Instagram. Part of that strategy included the #SnapHunt challenge, a scavenger hunt where followers could participate in daily challenges for the chance to win $50.
Grubhub also created a Snapchat advertising strategy aimed specifically at college students, a key audience for the company thanks to their propensity for ordering takeout. In 2017, the company released a Snapchat ad for a quick game called “Food’s Here.” If the person won all three levels of the game, they would win $10 off an order, plus an extra $15 if they downloaded the Grubhub app.
This strategy was a bit out of the box. Most social media ads are about conversions or traffic. But according to Mallorie Rosenbluth, former Head of Social Media, the game-based tactic was all part of an experiment to get more engagement. They wanted college students to interact with the ad, and they wanted that audience to share the message.
Conversations about local food faves on Instagram and TikTok
When it comes to visual content, Grubhub puts the food first. That’s not to say content doesn’t look slightly different, depending on the platform.
On Instagram, Grubhub uses highly editorialized carousels and videos of meals. Not only are these content types the most engaging on the platform, but it’s also in line with the company’s goal to highlight delicious meals from local restaurants to inspire hungry followers to place an order.
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TikTok’s own research shows that most users on the app prefer unpolished content from everyday people. That’s why, on TikTok, Grubhub works with influencers who create videos promoting takeout, food delivery, and their favorite local restaurants in humorous, off-the-cuff ways.
User-generated content leads strategy on all platforms
Grubhub prioritizes user-generated content (UGC) — like influencer marketing — on all its platforms. Rosenbluth said only about 30% of Grubhub’s social media content is created internally.
The rest comes from the Grubhub community and paid influencers. They build their content calendar out at least one month in advance, so they can give direction to influencers, which lets them maintain control over content themation.
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Grubhub’s experiments with partnerships borrowed clout from other popular brands
Partnerships are a powerful way to boost brand awareness with new audiences. When Jess Burns, VP of brand and creative marketing at Grubhub, was looking for a way to provide more value to customers — a common practice at Grubhub, he found partnership to be a “promising way to reach new untapped audiences.”
Grubhub’s partnerships go beyond traditional celebrity endorsements or influencer marketing — and sometimes, they even seem completely random. But high risk often results in high reward, and Grubhub’s risks paid off.
Sliding scale fees fuel growth for both Grubhub and partner restaurants
Grubhub’s business model only works if restaurants are able to use it. So, they offer a partnership program for local restaurants. As of 2022, over 320,000 restaurants have joined the program.
Restaurants pay based on a sliding scale for access to tools like menu support, delivery options, point of sale (POS) support, and a profitability calculator. All of these tools benefit restaurants no matter their size and help expand the restaurant’s reach to new customers.
These resources pay off: 8 out of 10 independent restaurants report a high return on investment (ROI) after becoming a restaurant partner.
Discounts and cross-promotions with megabrands increase visibility for Grubhub
To promote the Grubhub brand, the company partners with huge brands like Amazon, Taco Bell, KFC, and Apple.
For example, Grubhub recently announced a deal with Amazon Prime. Grubhub would waive delivery fees for all Amazon Prime members throughout 2022.
They also regularly partner with streaming services for one-off promotions. For example, on National Waffle Day, Apple TV+ subscribers got a special deal as part of a cross-promotion for the show Severance.
The company also hosts an annual music festival, Sound Bites, with up-and-coming musicians. In the past, they’ve featured Megan Thee Stallion, Anderson Paak, and King Princess, with portions of the proceeds benefiting World Central Kitchen. The partnership has earned them a reputation for connecting with followers in ways beyond food and by being transparent with their values.
Word-of-mouth marketing is the glue that holds Grubhub’s marketing strategy together
Grubhub leans so heavily into word-of-mouth tactics because they know it’s the biggest driver for business growth. They even cited it explicitly in their 2020 Annual Report.
They also know the success of any restaurant largely depends on word-of-mouth. In fact, 88% of diners choose a restaurant based on a friend’s recommendation. So a major part of Grubhub’s marketing plan is their loyalty program, Grubhub Points. It was built as a mobile app experience to provide the most rewards out of any app-based food delivery service. Rewards = more word-of-mouth.
Customers earn points for engaging with the brand in a variety of ways, like placing an online order or recommending a restaurant to a friend. Members can redeem points for future meals or even get 10% cashback.
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