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The Pasta Evangelists Growth Marketing Formula: Emotion, Retention and Referrals with Finn Lagun, Co-Founder & CMO

Massive Rocket Pasta Evangelists

Finn Lagun | Interview

Finn began his career as a Marketing Assistant for Apartment Group while still studying at the University of Warwick. After graduating he spent a short stint at retailer TJX Europe as an Analyst before then heading up UK marketing for Zipjet, a disruptive laundry startup.

Following on from his successful tenure at Zipjet, Finn then became a Brand Specialist for Amazon — acting as an in-house online marketing consultant for two FMCG vendors. Finn then decided to leave Amazon and try his hand at entrepreneurship: creating Pasta Evangelists back in November 2017.

It’s fair to say that the company has since made its mark. As well its series of A-list backers that includes renowned food critic Giles Coren, the company has also appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den (in an episode that was watched by around 3 million people), launched retail concessions in Harrods and Marks & Spencer, and closed both Series A and Series B funding rounds that were worth a combined £5.2M.

Can you tell us a little more about Pasta Evangelists?

Massive Rocket Pasta Evangelists

Sure! We deliver fresh, incredibly tasty pasta recipe boxes across the UK. If you’ve ever been to Italy then you’ll know that pasta is just a different level taste-wise over there — it’s absolutely amazing. Our end goal is to bring the authentic taste of Italy to people’s homes. Pasta can be really high-end if you do it right, but people often lack the right know-how — our boxes provide them with a foolproof way to make restaurant-quality pasta.

So many people have such a strong connection with pasta. We had a story recently of a guy that was going to fly out to Italy and propose to his partner, but due to COVID, this plan obviously had to be scrapped… So he made one of our boxes, set up a table & chairs outside, in the sun, and proposed al fresco – with one of our pasta dishes! Things like that just make me love my job and reiterate that we can really bring joy to people’s lives.

What makes your pasta different?

Our pasta is nothing like what you will find in the supermarket.

We know there’s a tonne of competition so we differentiate ourselves by setting a ridiculously high bar. Our pasta is genuinely fresh, not the type of “fresh” that can somehow last for 2 – 3 months — and we use no artificial ingredients. 

I’ve taken a real interest in Fever Tree’s meteoric rise. They’ve basically exploded in popularity by saying “two-thirds of your drink is tonic, so why not have the best tonic in the world”? An unwavering commitment to quality will always win you fans, especially if your products don’t break the bank.

Massive Rocket Pasta Evangelists

How do you look back on your experience on Dragons’ Den?

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We knew that it would be really hard, we’d seen the show so we knew what to expect… And I think there are two ways of looking at it. You can either be deterred, or lose confidence, or you can laugh it off, learn something, and appreciate the experience.

I actually found it really surreal — I was speaking to people that I’d been watching on TV when I was younger and we were chatting about my pasta! The episode was a real catalyst for us, a genuine ‘hockey stick’ moment that catapulted our growth going forward. We received our first round of funding shortly after it aired so I think it was a genuinely positive experience overall.

What sort of retention strategies do you use?

The most important thing is to have a great product — 96% of our customers say that they’d order from us again, so we think that we’ve done a pretty good job in this regard.

I’m a massive fan of referral marketing, or as we put it, ‘hands off the wheel’ marketing. Once you set it up, you pretty much just let your customers do the work. Referrals count for about 15 – 20% of our customer acquisition.

In Italy, pasta has connotations with sharing: sharing food, sharing stories, sharing memories, and so on… So we try to encourage our customers to share their experiences. They’re not simply pasta eaters: they’re pasta evangelists.

There are 3 main things that I strongly believe in:

  1. Have an excellent product — we need to ensure that every dish is absolutely fantastic.
  2. Have a purpose behind why you do what you do and generate wider interest.
  3. Inspire emotion. Part of our job is telling the story of Italy and trying to be quite evocative. We ultimately want our food to transport people and give them a sort of escape, making them feel like they’re actually in Italy (if only for a brief moment).

How to prioritise the customer experience? 

Massive Rocket Pasta Evangelists

We’ve created a virtuous circle of pasta. The product is at the centre, but then you need to give customers as many different places where they can purchase it as possible. People shop in different ways and so you need to make it as easy as you can for them to buy your product

Our offerings then vary according to the channel — for instance, we’ve generally noticed that a lot of Ocado users prefer a weekly shop, whereas Harrod’s are more tourist-focused. eCommerce is great because we can collect a lot of data about our customers — whenever a customer makes an order, we ask them to tag their preferences so that we can then categorise them going forward.

If we therefore learn that someone is a vegan, for example, then we’ll make sure that we don’t send them anything about the virtues of wild boar ragu. This data is the bedrock behind our client communications.

How do you make your business more human — how do you have human interactions at scale? 

Massive Rocket Pasta Evangelists

Social media is really important to me. People love to post pictures of their food, but I don’t just want to see images of pasta, I want to hear about the stories behind them and how pasta brings people together. We also make a conscious effort to introduce our team members to our customers. We don’t want to be a faceless brand, we want to show that we are just a bunch of enthusiastic, pasta-mad people trying to bring joy to others. 

But it’s not just enough to say who we are — we also make a big effort to let our personalities come through. Sharing personal stories and having a bit of humour helps, especially here in the UK. If you can let your guard down and make people laugh then you’re usually off to a good start.

Massive Rocket Theory

Genuine Emotion in Marketing

Snappy headlines and swish advertising campaigns are great, but do you know what’s even better? Marketing that resonates and speaks to you at a deeper level. In fact, it’s been proven that emotional marketing campaigns perform twice as well as those that are based purely on rationality.

There’s a reason why the John Lewis Christmas adverts pull in tens of millions of YouTube views each year. Emotion defines the human experience; it’s the most fundamental part of our DNA. As a result, brands that connect with our emotions are far more likely to make a long-lasting impact on our lives 

For Pasta Evangelists, their goal is to bring people together — there’s a strong emotional emphasis on community, sharing, and creating memories over a plate of great pasta. They also try to provide a form of escapism: transporting eaters to Italy with just a single mouthful of their delicious dishes. Their goal isn’t just to give people better food — it’s to make their lives better.

Here are a few examples of successful (and highly emotional) marketing campaigns:

1. You’re more beautiful than you think (Dove)

This 2013 Dove advert made quite a splash when it was released — and rightly so. In it, a forensic artist draws two pictures of the participating women despite having never seen them before in his life. The first sketch is produced based on the women’s own perceptions of themselves, and the second is produced using a stranger’s description.

The results speak for themselves.

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2. The Boy & The Piano — John Lewis

This tear-jerker follows Elton John’s life and career in reverse, tracing all his success, fame, and happiness back to the one childhood Christmas where he was given his first piano. The message here is strong: some gifts are priceless.

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3. ‘Shane’ — Guinness

Guinness was already loved by rugby fans the world over before this advert, but it strengthened its stellar reputation even further once it was released. It chronicles legendary Welsh player Shane Williams’ journey to defying the odds: overcoming others’ doubt and persevering with his own physical shortcomings to become one of the sport’s most iconic players. 

So think about how you can create genuine emotion amongst your customers. You don’t have to make them cry, you don’t have to give them memories that’ll last a lifetime, but having a deeper connection with your customers is beneficial to both parties.

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