Newly appointed Pokéworks CEO Steve Heeley came into the top spot at the Irvine-based chain with marketing muscle.
He’s the company’s former chief marketing officer, originally joining in March to oversee the brand, digital strategy, product development and customer retention of the fast-growing, fast-casual concept that went from 0 to 60 restaurants in five years by serving its take on the Hawaiian dish poke—chunks of seafood over rice.
The relatively young concept, which started in New York, has historically done most of its marketing through the digital channel, bypassing traditional routes for cost savings and to speak to its target of millennials and Gen Zers.
Some of that strategy has included influencer marketing, although not much on the paid side, Heely said. The company does work with influencers, although not much on the paid side, Heeley said.
“We look to establish relationships with influencers that are fans of our brand and it is a very effective way to reach our core consumers, so we do invest a lot in those relationships with time and resources,” he said.
The company typically looks for influencers that share the company’s ethos, Heeley added, meaning it’s not just food bloggers the chain works with, but could also be fitness influencers or locals in an area where there’s a Pokéworks restaurant.
The company is focused on the micro- or medium-sized influencers, with perhaps a couple thousand followers, rather than the megastars with hundreds of thousands or millions of social media followers.
“That is powerful for us versus finding a national influencer that might do two posts a year,” he said. “It’s much more genuine and authentic. With paid influencers it’s very different. It’s become very commercial and so you do lose some of the authenticity.”