Supporting Restaurant Expansion Through Smart, Local Marketing Efforts

Senior Friends Happy HourFour ways to build your customer base in new markets

When a restaurant brand starts expanding outside of its home territory, it’s tough to gain traction. Your business was initially built around your location, suppliers and consumer base. When you expand beyond those, everything changes.

Today I’m going to focus on consumer base. How do you convince a whole new set of consumers to visit your restaurant – ideally often, especially if there’s low awareness of your brand in that area? Whether you’re a regional chain entering a new market or just a single restaurant embarking on your second restaurant in a new location, I have four marketing tips to help make the transition as successful as possible.

  1. Reflect local tastes on your menu

Okay, so this one touches several aspects of your business, not just marketing. Do your research on local tastes. I’m not suggesting you overhaul your menu – rather, I’m recommending that you incorporate flavors that are reflective of the area while staying true to your core offerings.

Smashburger does a great job of this, usually offering at least one menu item that is unique to a particular region, such as the Carolina Chili burger in their South and North Carolina locations.

  1. Engage your existing fans to generate grand opening buzz

We’ve covered grand openings before, but I can’t overstate the importance of generating as much buzz as possible ahead of time around your restaurant’s big day.

You might be surprised to find that even in areas where your restaurant isn’t very well-known, there are often at least a few people who know and love your brand. Do your homework. Find these people and engage them via social media a few weeks before you open. Offer them coupons or invitations in exchange for helping you champion your brand on social channels. If you can find a fan who is a local influencer, such as a blogger or reporter, even better!

  1. Ingrain your restaurant in the local culture

If you are an established regional chain moving outside of your territory, this one can be difficult.

Let’s say you’re a well-known Pennsylvania classic – how do you make people in Indiana feel like your restaurant has a place in their daily lives? The answer is to get local. Find out what matters to the local community, and make your restaurant a part of that. Sponsor little league teams. Host fundraising events. Cheer on your new state’s premier sports teams. It won’t happen overnight, but in time your restaurant will feel like it was part of the community all along.

  1. Pump extra marketing funds into the new location 8-12 weeks post-opening

Even for restaurants who have a successful grand opening, it’s common to see the honeymoon period end 2-3 months later. At this point, many restaurants experience a dip in sales. This is a good time to pump a few extra dollars into that market. Radio sponsorships, social promotions or traffic-driving display advertising on Waze are all great ways to continue raising awareness levels in the new area.

Now, there are certainly no guarantees when a restaurant expands outside of its original territory, but these four tips will help put you on the path to success.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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The Potential of Voice-enabled Devices for Restaurant Marketers

Communication with voice assistant in a smart home

How devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo are changing the game for marketers.

Burger King has been getting a lot of press recently for their newest ad attempting to hijack Google Home devices. Now, as with anything buzzworthy there are those that liked it and those that hated it.

What I want to highlight instead is that this showed a new level of understanding of the current technology and consumer behavior climate. While it didn’t please all consumers, it definitely triggered a discussion of how brands can better integrate themselves into the Internet of Things (AKA IoT), specifically, voice-controlled devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo.

According to an eMarketer report from February 2017, while the U.S. consumer ownership of voice-enabled devices is still only about 10% between Amazon and Google Home – there is a 63% awareness of both products.

Additionally, we know from Amazon Echo’s huge holiday sales surge that there is increasing demand for these devices – in fact, eMarketer forecasts that by 2020 there will be 7 million Echoes shipped alone. I think it’s safe to say that you could easily double that to account for Google Home devices to get to 14 million voice-enabled devices sold and activated within the next three years. While still a relatively small percentage of the population, the growth rate is not to be ignored.

But how does that tie back to restaurant marketing? Well, just like how the advent of the smartphone changed how marketers needed to engage with their consumers in a mobile-first environment; Google Home and Amazon Echo require marketers to adapt again and start to think about how to engage through listening and responding with contextually relevant information.

Specifically, restaurants should take a page from Burger King and start to think about how they can better leverage this shift in consumer behavior – albeit with less of a controversial splash.

For starters, getting your online ordering ecosystem integrated with simple voice commands seems like a no-brainer. When you think about it, it is a behavior that is not so far-fetched from how we used to order food over the phone. And it also leans nicely into the convenience factor that typically drives online ordering in the first place. Being a first-mover restaurant brand in this area will certainly help to attract that younger Millennial audience that all restauranteurs are looking to hook, as well as provide another reason for your loyalists to ‘call’ on your restaurant again.

You may also want to move toward ‘quick menus’ – something that is easy for an Alexa or Google to read and tell a consumer as to what the top items are, so they don’t have to feel like they need to open up their computer or mobile phone to check. Thinking forward a bit, these types of integrations will also become critical as systems like Alexa become integrated into the cars themselves, and consumers want to order some dinner on their way home from work.

Ultimately, the potential of voice-enabled devices for restaurant marketers really is boundless at this point, and the door is open for brands to get in there and start doing it right.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Driving Traffic Through a New Daypart – The Afternoon Snack

Burgers with different foodAs lunch traffic suffers, some restaurants are finding relief by updating menus to offer snack items.

Revenue growth – it’s what every restaurant is chasing in the face of the negative same-store sales trends plaguing the industry. At a high level, there are three primary ways that restaurants can generate revenue growth – through expansion, increasing average check value, or simply getting more people through the doors. Clearly, each of these is easier said than done.

Right now, let’s focus on that third revenue growth tactic: ways to increase traffic. One of the best ways to get more customers into your restaurant is finding a consumer need that you’re not yet addressing. Some restaurants are finding success by taking advantage of a rising trend in consumer dining needs – the shift from three square meals to focusing more on snacking.

NPD reports that in the year ending September 2016, restaurant lunch traffic declined 2% while restaurant snack visits increased by 3%. In fact, the afternoon snack outperformed all other dayparts in 2016.

What’s going on, exactly? This trend in snacking is driven primarily by younger generations, or, more accurately, consumers under the age of 35. As they’re not the types to be put in a box, Millennials want to eat when they’re hungry, not when the clock dictates that it’s lunch or dinnertime. Coca-Cola recently conducted a study on the dining habits of millennials and found that 30% eat snacks instead of a meal at least once a day.

So, what does this mean for you and your restaurant? First, this is definitely going to matter the most for limited service restaurants, since snacks typically aren’t a full-on sit-down-and-stay-awhile affair. If that’s you, then it’s time to consider tweaking your menu to provide options for those who are just looking for a snack.

The most common food items purchased as an afternoon snack are burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, chips, ice cream, candy and cookies. These are typically purchased alongside coffee, bottled water, juice or soft drinks. Consider adding smaller versions of your existing menu items, starting with burgers, sandwiches and fries. Pita Pit has seen success doing exactly that with their pita sandwiches. Snack-sized value offers, like a meal deal that includes a cookie or a drink, would also perform well during this time.

Of course, simply updating your menu isn’t enough. Once that’s done, you have to get the word out! Strong offers, like freebies or BOGO deals, are great ways to drive trial of new menu items. Regardless of budget, every restaurant can (and should) make sure their existing customers are aware of the change. Social, email and in-store POP are smart and effective ways to do this without breaking the bank.

Since you’re talking to a younger audience, have some fun with the snacking daypart and build a campaign around your new menu reveal.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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The Benefits of Touting a Good Happy Hour

CelebrationHappy Hour is the key to drawing in consumers and their meticulously allocated dining budgets.

Economic stressors are ever-present, and the fact remains that we are in an age where pennies are counted and budgets are consistently balanced. When consumers finally do decide to venture out for a meal it is either in celebration, or because it is reasonably priced. For the former, it is easy to capitalize on the spend that inherently accompanies celebratory dining, but for the latter, Happy Hour is important because it brings in customers that might not be able to afford normal menu prices.

The Benefits of Happy Hour:

For a restaurant, happy hour is a necessity. Happy hour gives a brand the opportunity to showcase the best of their craft, in smaller portions, at a price that is immensely compelling to consumers. The opportunity to snag a repeat customer is tremendous during a happy hour – consumers feel they are getting a deal while the overall expense to the restaurant is nominal.

Consumers are more likely to experience a variety of offerings during happy hour. The cheap small plate option allows them to try more of the total array of offerings, creating a memorable and lasting impact. By showcasing a wide variety of options during happy hour, consumers are likely to keep the restaurant in their consideration set when they are looking to spend more of their budget on celebration type situations.

Marketing Your Happy Hour:

When it comes to advertising your happy hour, focusing on social media outlets is the most effective method. Happy hour is truly a social occasion and generally occurs during the last couple of hours of the work day through the beginning of the dinner rush – 4-7 or so.

By utilizing social media to convey the message you are playing into the inherent fun of happy hour itself. And speaking from personal experience, the best happy hours in town are usually the ones that are the best-kept secrets of locals. One way to do that is to create a feeling of inclusion by using social media to create organic-looking posts. Ultimately, this adds to the mystique and overall lackadaisical feel apparent in happy hours.

At the end of the day, happy hour promotions may seem to be undesirable, but they truly present an opportunity for a restaurant to present a wide array of offerings for consumers to experience. When consumers experience multiple items on a restaurant’s menu, their likelihood to consider the restaurant again is exponentially increased.

A happy hour menu is a gateway to a larger spend from consumers that might not otherwise come into the restaurant. Happy hour is a time to focus on the spirit of the restaurant and to utilize a laidback atmosphere to draw people in. By utilizing social media to advertise it, the spirit of fun and inclusion helps to play to the approachability of the restaurant.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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The Ideal Interrelationship of Restaurant Marketing and Operations

Business Team Meeting Strategy Marketing Cafe ConceptWhen it comes to restaurant management, there’s an inherent disconnect between operations and marketing.

Although their end goals are the same, the different paths they may travel to reach that destination can end up putting both factions on a rocky road. At a basic level, marketing and operations function in a circle.

For promotions, marketing creates a campaign to attract guests; operations executes the campaign and provides feedback/results to marketing. For Limited Time Offers (LTOs), the cycle is reversed with operations creating the LTO that marketing is then tasked with promoting. Considering the cyclical nature of this process, along with the natural overlap and dependence on each other for success, marketing and Operations must see each other as allies, not enemies.

To be completely aligned, operations and marketing should do their very best to understand the challenges faced by the other department. Operations teams are built to innovate and deliver good, scalable, consistent food and dining experiences, while marketing is always looking for something unique to offer new and existing guests.

Operations are tuned in to the here and now (i.e. guest feedback, current food costs, menu mix). Marketing, on the other hand, lives in the future; in a world of “what if?” When the two mindsets work in tandem, magic is possible.

Marketing has access to information that can shape operational decisions in meaningful ways, ultimately creating a better overall experience for consumers. The best marketers can detect trends in areas such as taste preferences, social chatter, and industry growth, and inform operations so that they can quickly adjust menus or server training based on that information.

Furthermore, monitoring should be a collaborative exercise between marketing and operations to ensure that the most important and meaningful metrics are gathered. Flavor partialities, protein penchants, healthy vs. indulgent proclivities, and even basic lunch or dinner preferences, can be measured over time to identify trend shifts and proactively solve potential problems before they occur.

If your restaurant already encourages an open dialogue between operations and marketing, your guests likely recognize that you offer a consistent experience with interesting menu options.

If your Operations and Marketing departments are not in regular communication, it’s time to start opening those lines and building bridges now. A marketing initiative should never leave the department without being vetted for operational feasibility.  Conversely, operations should strive to keep marketing informed of the most current information and feedback, whether negative or positive.

When marketing and operations work together, it not only makes for a more harmonious work environment, but a more satisfying experience for guests.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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The 3 Mistakes You Made With Your Healthy Kids Menu and How Your Restaurant Marketing Can Fix Them

Little girl in restaurantIf your healthy kids’ menu is a flop, here’s how you can fix it.

It’s time to admit that the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell Program isn’t working as well as we had all hoped.

Plenty of national concepts signed up for the program, and many made a sincere effort to address the problem. But a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests that industry efforts in this area have been largely ineffective.

Researchers reported that years after the program’s inception, participating restaurants have made almost no progress reducing calories, saturated fat or sodium.

But why isn’t your restaurant’s healthy kids’ menu working? A few reasons, but we can help you fix it:

  1. Instead of creating new dishes, you tried to fix existing ones.

It’s a lot easier to drop a few ingredients and reduce the portion size in an existing dish than create a new one. The only problem is that when you reduce the fat and seasonings and the size of your dish, you also reduce the flavor and popularity. We recommend designing your new menu items from scratch. It’s better to introduce a new flavor profile than offer an old one with half the flavor.

  1. You surrounded your healthy menu items with unhealthy choices.

Most restaurants have only added a few healthy kids’ dishes to their menus. So when parents and their kids look over the menu, the healthy menu options are either hard to find or, even worse, hard to like. Rather than bury them in the middle of your kids’ menu, lead with the healthy items and call them out with appetizing food photography and descriptions.

  1. You forgot who your audience was.

Most healthy kids’ menu items look like they were designed for nutritionists, not kids. You can change that by getting input not only from your nutritionist but also the moms and dads and kids you need to please. Our experience is kids like colorful food with simple ingredients. They also want it to be fun to look at and eat.

These are just a few of the ways we are helping our clients get their kids’ menu back into shape. What are you doing to improve the popularity of yours? Please write and tell us about it.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Learn Why This Food Is Dominating Restaurant Marketing

Homemade Spicy Shrimp TacosIt’s No Wonder Tacos are Popping Up on Every Menu

Admittedly, Mexican cuisine is not new to fast casual. Not even close. In fact, the burrito is arguably what started the whole thing. But, tacos, specifically, are a hot trend that restaurant brands of all types and sizes are capitalizing on.

And there are a few chief reasons why tacos are such a popular item as both the overarching theme of a menu and simply as a new item.

Versatility: Tacos come in all shapes and sizes. From flour or corn tortillas to naan bread and more, tacos are the ideal vehicle for any number of delicious flavors. And, because they are made to order, they can easily be customized, thus offering easy adds and substitutions for guests without creating an operational nightmare.

Anything Goes: As our palates evolve to include a multitude of international flavors, restaurants struggle to keep up with current trends whilst remaining true to their brand. Tacos are an authentic catch-all where everything is an acceptable interpretation. Brands can easily offer a taco with Mexican, Asian and/or Indian flavors without seeming trite or that they are trying too hard.

No Veto: Because tacos are so customizable and often follow the latest food trends, there’s always something for everyone. This eliminates the ever-powerful veto vote when dining with friends or family. From vegan to carnivorous, Mexican to barbeque, tacos allow everyone to enjoy their meal without infringing on the preferences of others.

A New Go-To: We’ve all been with a significant other or family member when the response to “What you do you feel like eating?” is “I don’t care.” Rather than allowing that statement to send you into a tailspin, allow tacos to be your life raft. The diner trying to make healthy choices and the diner in the mood for something indulgent are both satisfied. Finally, there’s a menu item that can keep the peace.

Innovation: Tacos allow restaurants to flex their culinary muscle without asking your guests to stray too far from their comfort zone. Tacos are a great option for limited time offers, as a mechanism to test new flavor profiles and as a way to attract new guests.

Whether you’re handling restaurant marketing for a Mexican restaurant, a comfort food establishment or an Asian bistro, tacos are a great way to appeal to the masses and try something new while staying within the acceptable range of innovation. After all, who hasn’t thrown a bunch of ingredients together at the end of a shift to create an impromptu taco? You’re already doing it; share it with your guests.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Use Food Innovation to Drive Your Restaurant Marketing

Chef finishing her salad in culinary class

In order to thrive, restaurant leadership should be demanding food innovation.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, restaurant executives are always blame events like elections for soft sales performance. However, Wells Fargo data tells us that consumer spending typically goes up during election years.

I travel quite a bit for work and as part of that travel, I dine out a lot. I can tell you that reservations are still a must, a wait should be expected and full restaurants are the norm. My focus group of one tells me that consumers are still dining out frequently.

So, what is the real problem? The real problem is the approach that drives executives to look for external forces to blame in the first place. They are so focused on making it through another board meeting or another analyst call that their real strategy is survival.

Survival as a strategy is the same as raising prices or cutting costs to drive short-term profits. The irony is that survival as a strategy will inevitably result in the exact opposite of the desired outcome. That’s because when survival is the focus, starting at the top, everyone else in the organization behaves the same way.

The menu innovation department stops innovating and instead delivers incrementally. So we see things like toppings or spice differences on old entrees. Service is no longer memorable. At best it’s forgettable bordering on regrettable. Even procurement does the same thing by beating up long-term vendors for savings instead of demanding higher quality or unique food components.

Finally, marketing has the impossible job of presenting the same old story in some new way. But wait, isn’t it marketing’s job to find or create something differentiated when it’s not that obvious? That answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

That is sometimes where really interesting advertising comes from. However, in a company where survival is the strategy how interesting do you think the advertising will actually be? You guessed it. It will be “safe,” “middle of the fairway” and “unobjectionable”. That’s because surviving is definitely not thriving.

In order to thrive, restaurant leadership should be demanding food innovation. The independents are doing it every day. A no-compromise approach to service and food quality should be table-stakes. Again, independents are doing it because they know their best, and sometimes only, marketing is the last meal experienced.

Marketing needs to be taking risks. If it doesn’t make the organization a little bit uncomfortable, it’s unlikely anyone will pay much attention to it. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing advertising dollars repurposed to driving true menu innovation in the near term.

If you are delivering a superior experience, consumers will find a way to spend money with you.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Use Your Restaurant Marketing to Drive Online Orders

online orders.jpgHow restaurants can drive additional transactions without actually getting butts in seats

While getting butts in seats is a goal of every restaurant, not all consumers are looking for a sit-down dining experience. Luckily, many restaurants now offer online ordering (OLO) as a dining option. Having a great OLO program can not only drive more transactions for your restaurant, but it can also tailor them to changing consumer needs and bring in new customers. Here are a few ways you can improve your restaurant’s OLO program.

Get the Word Out

Many restaurants don’t make it well known that you can order their food online. With the change of consumer habits, digitally advertising this offering can provide major benefits. There are two approaches you can take here: increase awareness and drive online sales.

First, make sure people know that you offer online ordering – use search link extensions to talk about online ordering, use standard banner ads, find influencers to blog about their OLO experience with your restaurant and more. The options are pretty endless, but the point is that you need to get the word out that you offer online ordering before people will start ordering online.

Once there is some awareness around your offering, use strategic advertising tactics to drive orders. One of the hardest parts of restaurant marketing is proving that it is working and that your efforts are getting butts in seats. OLO changes that because you can attribute orders to the creative, advertising channel and targeting strategy that helped drive that order.

Set Yourself Up for Success

It is important that consumers can easily order online or else you risk turning people away from your OLO program. Your website should mimic the in-store ordering experience and be easy for everyone to use whether they are digitally savvy or not.

Many restaurants are also turning to mobile apps to improve their OLO experience. In an increasingly mobile world, consumers are already well-versed in using apps. It’s important to remember that your mobile app should provide added value to the consumer (save their order for next time they want to make an order, for example) and not exist just because you think your restaurant needs an app.

Offer Delivery

Even though online ordering provides convenience to consumers, there are some people who are going to be looking for an even higher level of convenience through delivery. Currently, most OLO programs still require the consumer to pick up their order in the restaurant. Offering delivery can set you apart from your competitors, but keep in mind that it’s not a profitable option for all restaurants.

Recently, mobile ordering app developers OLO launched Dispatch, an offering that allows restaurants to take advantage of delivery service without taking on the burden of funding a delivery driver.

With Dispatch, restaurants can run their online ordering program exactly as it is today with the simple addition of a checkbox for delivery at checkout. The user then pays ahead, enters their delivery address, and is shown local delivery service providers. The restaurant wins because they can easily take advantage of delivery service through their current OLO site and the consumer wins because they can take advantage of delivery service from more of their favorite restaurants.

So, if you’re thinking about beginning an online ordering effort, or if you already have a program in place, there’s always room for optimization and improvement. Because, after all, butts in seats still count even if they’re at home.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Drive Lunch Visits via Restaurant Marketing

Lunch.jpg

Restaurants can change the current consumer mindset around lunch to get more guests in-restaurant during the day.

It’s no surprise that casual dining restaurant sales have been suffering for the last few quarters.  However, a number of restaurants are reporting that dinner sales have remained steady and in some cases have increased year over year.  The downfall for sales seems to be coming from the lunch day-part for many Casual Dining Restaurants (CDRs), but can restaurant marketing make a difference?

There are many factors contributing to lower restaurant sales during lunch: consumers have less time to go out and eat lunch, many consumers are trying to save money by packing a lunch regularly, there’s more of a focus on healthy eating.  While it may be a tough road ahead for CDRs, here are some steps for positively impacting your lunch day-part.

Offer Quick Options

Just because your restaurant is in the CDR category doesn’t mean you can’t offer quick options, especially at lunchtime.  Today, many people don’t get a full lunch hour during the workday and can’t go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant.  Give these consumers the option to order online and pick up their order when it’s convenient for them.

While many professionals may not have a lot of time to eat out, it’s nice for them to get out of the office for a few minutes and pick up something quick and easy to eat.  For those who don’t even have time for a quick drive to your restaurant, think about offering delivery or partnering with a delivery service company to meet the needs of even the busiest workers.

Reevaluate Your Menu

Most CDRs have already picked up on the fact that most people don’t want to eat a heavy lunch during the work week.  Make sure your lunch menu focuses on lighter options such as salads and sandwiches.  Also, consider offering smaller portions of some of your popular dinner items.

A double burger and large serving of fries may not be appetizing to someone who will need to go back to the office for 5 more hours, but a single burger with a side salad could suffice for most guests.  Also, forget about apps and drinks as there just isn’t always enough time to fit those in during a lunch hour break.

Offer Significant Lunch Deals

Aside from saving time by not eating out for lunch, many people are also saving money by packing a lunch during the week.  It is obviously going to be very cost efficient to pack leftovers for lunch rather than to go out to eat and restaurants need to keep this in mind when setting lunch prices.

Consider offering a salad and sandwich combo for half the price you would charge at dinner or a bowl of soup for just a few dollars.  While you may not make as much of a profit with these prices, you’ll be more likely to get butts in seats during lunch and help improve the lunchtime deficit.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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