CMO Q&A: Diana Hovey, Corner Bakery Cafe, Part 2

CMO Q&A: Diana Hovey, Corner Bakery Cafe, Part 2

Note: Part 1 appeared in December's FCMR.

Why is it so important for the marketing department to have a "personal touch" when it comes to helping the brand connect with franchise prospects?

We are bringing in a record number of prospective franchise partners each month for discovery days to learn more about the brand. Many of these individuals are coming from other segments of the industry, including casual dining, QSR, and family dining. By the time we are sitting down with them, they have visited us in multiple markets, have seen the brand in the media and in our and begun to see our many points of differentiation. From our innovative, made-to-order menu offerings to our segment-leading business, it's important to all of us that those first impressions are reflective of the commitment we have to protecting and evolving the brand. Marketing ensures that all brand communication and touch points are consistent and accurately represented. After all, the strength of a brand is in the details.

How does this help your franchise sales and development effort?

All aspects of our business are instrumental in franchise sales. Prospective partners often learn about our brand's franchise opportunities and strong economic model after enjoying a dining experience at one of our cafes, visiting our website, or at an industry conference. Our marketing materials and website not only highlight our ingredient-inspired menu items, but also tell the Corner Bakery Cafe story, providing an in-depth look into our heritage and culture, our experienced executive team, and how our culinary team and menu items are best-in-class. These marketing materials often give franchisees a visual look into the brand, ultimately helping them to experience a even if they do not have one in their home market.

What ways/tools do you rely on to do this?

Marketing pieces are instrumental in showcasing our brand to prospective franchise partners. From menus and POP to television spots and billboards, we provide a taste of the brand both inside and outside our four walls. We share a variety of our marketing elements during our discovery days to show how marketing dollars are invested, and to ensure the prospective franchisee that we have the to effectively support the brand as they break into new markets.

Do today's prospects expect more from the franchise marketing department? What, and how do you provide it?

As we evolve from a predominantly company-owned brand to a 50/50 franchise/company organization, we constantly tap into our franchise partners' vast experience inside and outside the segment and industry. We have worked directly with them to create processes and tools that benefit the brand as a whole. We offer local marketing and sales-building sessions, assist in the development of their marketing plans, and provide them with resources for the execution of the plans, including traditional and non-traditional media resources.

How is technology changing the way franchise marketing is done in terms of one-on-one contact?

Technology is certainly a benefit in communicating with our franchisees and providing them with tools to execute programs locally. We hold quarterly WebEx sessions to share details of upcoming initiatives, and we recently rolled out an online ad builder to allow franchise partners to customize select marketing materials, greatly reducing the lead time required to create local marketing materials. However, we strongly believe that there is nothing better than direct contact and will continue to develop one-on-one relationships with our franchisees.

How are you assisting your existing franchisees with more contact and transparency? What are their immediate needs?

The flow of information is two-way. We have learned from and shared so many of our franchise partners' ideas. This is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of franchising: the ability to partner and think out loud. We continually learn from our franchise partners and appreciate the benefits of sharing ideas and best practices. This is especially important as more groups are opening cafes in new markets and are faced with the challenges of awareness-building and growing their catering business.

How do you work with other internal departments and does technology help?

In today's world, marketing and IT must be joined at the hip. Over the past few years, we've made a significant investment in technology, setting the stage for considerable gains in operational efficiency. As part of our increased investment in technology, we've brought in a new VP of information technology who has become a tremendous partner for me.

How do you manage costs and budgets for the marketing department?

Our marketing budget is a fraction of our competition's expenditures. Fortunately, we are nimble and I like to say that we are "scrappy" in our efforts. We lean heavily on our agency partners for out-of-the-box ideas that are cost-efficient for both our franchise partners and company markets.

Do you see vendors as business partners? Why/why not?

Our vendors are some of our greatest partners. We challenge them to bring new ideas and ways of doing things to our attention so we can continue to provide our guests and franchise partners with the best possible service. It is not unusual for our vendors to use the word "we" when talking about the brand. They truly feel part of the family, embracing that Corner Bakery Cafe is their brand too.

How have marketing strategies/tools changed over the past decade? How have you adapted?

Our consumer is constantly on the go and on their phone. Last year we introduced a completely new website, incorporating a responsive design that delivers a superior user experience whether on desktop, tablet, or Our new website has been very well received, generating a 180 percent increase in visits from mobile devices (and a 296 percent increase from iPhone users alone). Catering is a very big part of our business, representing more than 20 percent of our revenues, and online ordering has been key to the incredible growth we've seen in our With the introduction of our mobile-friendly site and online ordering for to-go guests last year, we've also seen significant growth in our online to-go orders.

As I said, our marketing budget is a fraction of our competition's. Fortunately for us, social media can help level the field for us. We focus on fueling word-of-mouth conversations about the brand. We use listening tools to monitor online conversations and sentiment, engaging whenever appropriate and as quickly as possible. Online community engagement is critical to building our business, and custom programs are designed as core components of every marketing campaign. In addition, we do weekly Twitter chats with our fans where ideas and inspirational thoughts are shared. Most important, we've discovered that our guests just want to share their Corner Bakery experiences. Social media is some of the most influential and cost-effective marketing we do. Looking at just the past month, comments about Corner Bakery Cafe on Twitter and Instagram alone reached more than 7.3 million people, leaving more than 40 million impressions. Now, that's the kind of I love and can afford!

How is your marketing/branding strategy developed, and how does it flow through the system?

We take a "Sandbox" approach. We invite our agency partners to participate in the process. We look to our guests for insights, to our franchisees for input, and inside and outside our segment for inspiration. The plan is presented to the franchise advisory council and shared with the franchise community through a quarterly WebEx.

What advice would you offer to aspiring CMO executives?

Align yourself with a brand that you truly love as a consumer. Lead with your passion. For my whole life, one of my greatest joys has always been bringing people together. I love to host gatherings of friends and family over great As CMO here, my job meets my personal joy. How many people can say that? And I love that Corner Bakery is committed to giving back. In 2008, I joined the Share Our Strength executive team to tour some of the hardest-hit areas of post-Katrina New Orleans, one of the most memorable and emotional experiences I've had in my career. Seeing the floodwater marks left behind on the elementary school walls and crayon drawings of children's storm memories was gut-wrenching. But walking outside, I saw busy children happily planting gardens and enjoying healthy lunches. This was in part due to the tremendous work of Share Our Strength's mission to end childhood hunger in the U.S. In 2008, we joined the first Dine Out for No Kid Hungry, and over the past 6 years our franchisees, our guests, and our team members have raised more than $1.2 million for this great cause. Today, more than 8,500 restaurants across our industry have united to make a difference - one kid, one meal at a time.

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