The management team of a locally-owned fast-casual restaurant reached out to us. Their focus was on salads and wraps for the business lunch crowd in Rittenhouse Square. A large national chain, Sweetgreen, had opened up nearby. They were seeing a significant dip in daily sales.
They needed a marketing edge, and a way to communicate their value to potential customers. As a small restaurant, they did not have the advertising resources to compete. They were going to be rolled over by the sweetgreen juggernaut. We had met one of the restaurant investors via another Yelp project we are actively working on in the same neighborhood, and he recommended the team meet with us.
The investor was a sommelier and owned his own wine-related store. He was deeply impressed with how we had knocked a whole point off the Yelp score of a competing wine company. He was looking for something similar in this project, as well.
At first, we declined. Sweetgreen is a national chain and that it was unlikely we could do significant damage to their Yelp rating. The sommelier persisted, having seen a dramatic increase in business after working with us.
While we couldn’t compete with sweetgreen’s marketing budget, we could do some guerilla marketing. We could do was to communicate our client’s message through both negative and positive Yelp reviews on the local sweetgreen’s Yelp page. This would give our client some needed breathing room, as well as the start of a campaign strategy to completely regain its customer base.
What Does YelPhilly Do?
What we do is very simple, we send in people to your competitor’s business. They buy something, they often take a picture, then a few days later they post a review of their experience. The reviews are almost always negative. To comply with Yelp’s rules, we don’t pay them to write negative reviews. We only reimburse them for the product they purchased. They are free to write whatever they want.
Is This Illegal?
We are asked this questions in the first five minutes of every meeting we take. Let’s take these subject on. We are not manipulating Yelp scores with fake reviews. We use real people with real complaints about the business. They write their own reviews and post them under their own accounts. Multiple lawyers have reviewed our practices, and each has come to the same conclusion: in no way do we violate Yelp’s terms of service, which means Yelp cannot remove our reviews. In over 6 years of business, only .07% of our negative Yelp reviews have been removed.
How we Insure Negative Reviews
We don’t pressure our reviews to write negative reviews. We just hire people who love writing negative reviews. We also do plenty of research before we send our people into the lion’s den, so to speak.
- Is there a particular item or service that typically gets bad reviews?
- Is there a company policy that people don’t like?
- Is there an employee who can be instigated into bad behavior?
Once we have the groundwork, we send our reviewers in to experience the worst possible –but completely honest and verifiable– experience your competitor has to offer.
Targeting Sweetgreen’s Weaknesses
An in-depth review of Sweetgreen’s Rittenhouse yelp review showed several weaknesses that could be exploited.
- Several people found a foreign object in their food.
- Sweetgreen does not accept cash, only credit cards.
- They occasionally run out of bread after the lunch rush
We also staked out the restaurant to see if we could find any other exploitable behaviors or conditions.
- Employees who smoked did so next to a dumpster. What a great photo-op!
In this project, we sent in four of our yelp reviewers. From March to June of 2017, they went in and enjoyed all the worst of sweetgreen. Plastic in food, staff sitting on dumpsters, and the inability to pay with cash (honestly, what kind of restaurant doesn’t let you pay with cold hard American dollars?)
The reviews were scathing. Over a period of 6 months, our client saw the return of over 60% of their client base. Success!