Mark Berinato, VP, Digital Experience of Panera Bread
Mark Berinato
VP, Digital Experience Panera Bread logo

Panera Bread’s Mark Berinato on Mobile NFC and Why Emotion is Central to Customer Experience

Fast-casual café chain Panera Bread has made big technology moves over the past five years to improve the customer experience. One of those moves was to bring on Mark Berinato, a digital design expert with prior roles at digital-tech agencies Sapient and Digitas, to help tackle the next phase of Panera 2.0. Read on to see how he’s testing mobile near field communication (NFC) and the two things he looks for when hiring talent.

Why did you choose to join Panera Bread?

Panera is a brand that has always differentiated itself on experience. Fast-casual is a customer experience concept—think of it: better food, served warmly by associates, in an environment where customers feel at home.  I joined Panera for the opportunity to redefine and further amplify the guest experience in a world in which everyone has a mobile phone, coupled with the fact that their food IQ is much higher and they want food that fits into their lifestyle—but food that is still delicious and craveable. Panera is a brand that has an emotional connection with customers. It feels good to work for a brand that so many people love.

What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how will it change the future of marketing?

My focus has been on service design as the backbone of brand marketing. In that world, we’re seeing two major trends:  personalization and the connection of online/offline worlds.

For personalization, a customer now expects you to know who they are, where they are in the world and what they value, and then orchestrate the service experience around them. For us, the objective is relevance.  Restaurants have historically been one dimensional and linear. One menu, to go or dine in, not a lot of transparency on where my food comes from or what is in it.  Panera is different.  We can understand our guests’ tastes, needs and idiosyncrasies and build an experience just for them. It’s one thing to know if a guest usually buys salads and offer them another salad. But we are always trying to further understand why that person bought the salad—for its bold flavor, its high protein content or that they needed a portable option? Panera will then tailor the communication, storytelling, menu and the user experience to that individual personally. Ultimately, we want to use technology to help people eat the way they want to eat.

And now we connect the online world to the physical café. Through emerging tech like Artificial Intelligence and Near Field Communication (NFC), we can make the transaction totally frictionless and more importantly, we can recognize you, greet you and provide an individualized service experience. That is the future of marketing.

What are you working on now that is innovative?

We’re focused right now on using technology to increase convenience for guests who are on the go. We want to be able to provide access to good food people love but also redefine convenience. My needs can be very different in the morning than someone else, as I have to get my girls dressed and dropped off at school, need to get a coffee and maybe something to eat, take a conference call on the way into work and jump into a meeting when I arrive. So how can we make breakfast easier for people?

For starters, we're building a complete mobile ecosystem to solve for convenience in the morning. Let's say you love the Mediterranean Egg White Breakfast Wrap with extra avocado. You can reorder via Voice at home and in the car. We'll send you a push notification with a link to re-order at just the right time.

Panera Bread Mobile Ordering
Panera Bread Mobile Ordering

We’re even focused on new ways to combine mobile NFC with grab-and-go to create a totally seamless experience in the cafe. As an example, we’re testing out a new “Panera Tap” technology for hot coffee, where guests can skip the register or kiosk altogether. All our guests will need to do is open the Panera app and tap an NFC display to purchase a grab-and-go coffee via mobile payment. We're also looking to integrate ordering into the apps customers already have. It's about seamlessly integrating into daily life. And for me, that tech helps me spend a bit more time with my girls.

What big learning moments have you experienced during your career?

For me, it was the moment I realized the importance of emotion as central to customer experience. My grandfather used to visit Panera nearly every morning for a coffee and pastry with his group of friends. The World War II generation. They sat around a big table, swapped stories of the latest town news or of the War, refilled their coffee, and pulled pieces off their bear claws. As time went on, the group became smaller, but the stories of each other became bigger. Looking back, I realized that Panera was a place where they felt like they belonged, they weren’t rushed, they knew the associate, how many kids she had and where she grew up. It was a warm experience. I spent a long time in my career trying to optimize design, but in the end, that’s not what matters most—you have to understand why people choose to engage directly with a brand and the emotional benefit that your service can provide.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?

I look for people who, first, have a bias towards action. They aren’t afraid to push ahead even if they don’t have all the information. Secondly, I look for people who know how to edit, they know that it takes rounds of refinement to make something amazing. I work with members of my team to understand what they want their story to be at Panera and we work backward to what opportunities make sense. We spend a lot of time focused on the upfront pitch and developing storytelling skills. If you can’t pitch the idea and move people to care, the world probably doesn’t need you to build it.

What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?

Clear definition of the brand purpose.  Without it, you can’t make anything great.

Bonus Questions

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Talk to five new people every week.

If you weren’t in marketing, what would you be doing? High School Art Teacher

What book would you most recommend to fellow marketers? The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore