Nancy Hampton, chief marketing officer at CiCi's PizzaWith nearly 500 locations in 34 states, CiCi’s Pizza is a formidable brand in the competitive pizza segment and differentiates itself with a value focus that results from its pizza-buffet concept.

However, that does not make the job of the Coppell, Texas-based chain’s chief marketer easier, said Nancy Hampton, who has held that post for nearly four years.

Hampton, whose career also includes senior level marketing experience at Corner Bakery Café and Brinker International, said CiCi’s does not take its buffet leadership for granted, and added that the brand strives to keep competing with all pizza brands on food quality and customer service.

“Luckily for us, being a leader in the pizza-buffet industry, the CiCi’s concept is pretty straightforward and has been well received by our guests and fans,” Hampton said in an email conversation with Clay Dover of Raising Cane’s, a board member of the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group. “However, it is often surprising to people just how many things we make in the restaurant every day. So while our greatest advantage is our value concept, we strive to convey the quality of our food.”

To reinforce CiCi’s positioning with guests every day, Hampton and her marketing department focus on making interactions with guests personal, often through community involvement and the one-to-one marketing enabled by social and digital media.

She spoke with Dover about the importance of connecting with guests, and how that successful marketing would help the brand achieve plans for sales growth and entering new markets.

What led to CiCi’s recent announcement of an expansion plan focused on the Northeast?

We are always looking for expansion opportunities, and CiCi’s announced last year a partnership with a commercial real estate advisory firm with a focus on the Northeast, in areas like Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Buffalo, N.Y.; and New Jersey. We have restaurants performing well in those markets and see strong growth opportunities in the region.

Have you seen increased competition or new competitors with the emergence of fast-casual brands in the pizza segment? How has it changed the way you market your concept?

The sheer number of brands and compression in the pizza segment makes it one of the most competitive segments in the industry. Because of this, we must have a cohesive strategy that allows for no wasted effort. Each medium we employ, from paid advertising and social media to in-store messaging, must work together to reinforce our brand strengths while utilizing the best for of communication for each specific medium. We maintain a consistent message but take advantage of the different ways to say it.