Ice cream maker Häagen-Dazs is using artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP) to improve sales.
The company, which is part of the $18 billion US food giant General Mills, is working with AI vendor Yext to implement a number of tools that rely on NLP technology to understand the meaning and context behind search queries.
Häagen-Dazs reports that the technology has created a 75% year-on-year increase in website clicks, and a 25% incremental life in seasonal foot traffic in 12 months at sites using the technology.
The tools are being used in three key markets - specifically, 400 franchise outlets in 45 regions across the UK, EU and Latin America. While the company's ice creams are available in many retail environments, Häagen-Dazs is keen to bring more buyers into franchise destinations, where the buyer experience and customer service is better, said Aurelie Lory, brand managing director for these regions.
Using digital enablers to drive sales and organic growth
When Lory first came on board in 2019, there was no consolidated digital vision about how Häagen-Dazs would be branded online. This was a problem because the firm wanted to use digital enablers to drive sales and growth, but also to achieve consistency in how consumers experienced the brand at all stages of the buying journey.
An additional challenge was a lack of technical skills among franchisees, Lory added:
The challenge was to take them on that journey with me to make sure that they understand the customer search journey that leads to them online. So, if you looked up your nearest Häagen-Dazs shop in Europe or Latin America, you could end up finding a picture of a parking lot, or even a salad or burger.
The company also wanted to create a consistent website and page design across all regions, with combined location and reputation management. The company wanted this to be a process that franchise operators could ‘own' rather than it being a top-down process driven by her team. Lory explained:
They are the ones facing consumers, every day, so if anything happens, or if they need to be able to manage their reputation, they can act quickly.
Häagen-Dazs needed a tool that could drive consistency and help franchises with the basics of online marketing at outreach, including mobile messaging. Eventually, Lory decided that an AI approach would be effective, and Yext provided strong references alongside a ‘knowledge graph' that delivered strong analytical capability. Finally, Lory was also impressed by the vendor's curiosity and willingness to customize the product to suit Häagen-Dazs' specific needs.
‘A 236% decrease in phone calls'
The Yext system was implemented 18 months ago, initially to improve business listing management and to help stores to monitor and respond efficiently to reviews over 200 search endpoints. Now, Häagen-Dazs franchisees can respond to reviews quickly, and receive instant notifications of negative feedback, such as reviews with 3 stars or fewer. This engagement has increased the total number of online ice cream shop reviews by 40.
In addition, between July and December 2020, more than 17,000 updates were made to core shop information such as hours and locations. These updates help franchisees by providing accurate information for customers, and the new AI-based marketing solution means updates can be made far more quickly, and at scale.
The updated information also helps stores to rank better in search results, along with 11,000 updates to enhance the company's online content. She said:
Ice cream is highly emotional, so we put a big effort into pictures-seeing a picture of ice cream is definitely not the same as just reading about it. We've seen a +25% incremental lift in foot traffic as a result, which is a very positive KPI for us in light of the global situation in the past couple of years. We've seen a 236% decrease in phone calls to our shops, which we take as a very good metric because it means people are finding the basic information that they need without needing to pick up the phone.
Last but not least, the system also came on-stream in time to help inform diners of changing lockdown restrictions across European and Latin American Häagen-Dazs stores.
Strengthening the value proposition
For Lory, the new technology has had a positive impact on her role:
To me, this technology has really been a way to enhance my mission. My role is all about the consumer, and this has helped the consumer, in terms of what the value proposition is for a Häagen-Dazs shop. To me, that's the biggest achievement of the project.
The next steps for the use of AI and NLP at the brand will centre on rolling out the technology to more Häagen-Dazs locations across the world (it has 900 in total), as well as exploring ideas on making its web presence even more efficient.
We're going to continue to explore how we can appear in things like voice search. We are going to lean in and follow whatever the industry is bringing in terms of tech-enabled marketing. Asking people to use this particular tool required a lot of training, and a lot of effort internally. But now we are there, it's been so worth it.