CMO Q&A: Diana Hovey, Corner Bakery Cafe, Part 1
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CMO Q&A: Diana Hovey, Corner Bakery Cafe, Part 1

CMO Q&A: Diana Hovey, Corner Bakery Cafe, Part 1

Diana Hovey says she came to know and love Corner Bakery Cafe over a cup of coffee at a unit in her neighborhood. In October 2006, when the opportunity to be a part of the corporate team came along, she jumped at the chance. She's been chief marketing officer for the Dallas-based brand for 8 years now, at the forefront of shaping the branding and messaging strategy for the bakery-cafe pioneer that she says is the "ultimate neighborhood gathering spot."

Hovey says connecting with guests and giving back to the community are paramount to what the brand believes in and stands for. In fact, understanding the hearts and minds of the consumer has always been the focus of her career, first in public relations and marketing with TGI Fridays and later with Brinker International as vice president of marketing for its Mexican Concepts Division and Romano's Macaroni Grill.

As CMO at Corner Bakery, she makes it a priority to discover the needs and preferences of every neighborhood, offering a consistent experience and an ingredient-inspired menu while creating a feel that fits the personality of the neighborhood. It's a philosophy that has proven effective and is a large part of the brand's franchising program, where the goal is to capitalize on the insights of franchise partners to create unique neighborhood cafes on corners everywhere.

Hovey is active in the National Restaurant Association and is a former chair and current board member of its Marketing Executives Group. She's also been a strong advocate for ending childhood hunger in the U.S., has served on Share Our Strength's "Dine Out for No Kid Hungry" board since 2009, and was recognized with the organization's 2010 Leadership Award.

Describe your role as CMO.

My primary responsibilities are listening, evolving, protecting, and promoting Corner Bakery Cafe. Most important, I look at all decisions from our guests' point of view, making sure that we are not only addressing their needs and desires, but anticipating where they may change. Along with our executive team and franchise partners, I look at every aspect of our brand - from product innovation and cafe design elements to promotions and advertising - to ensure we are constantly evolving, protecting, and building the brand. We started as a small bakery on a corner in downtown Chicago in 1991 and have grown to more than 170 locations throughout 17 states and Washington, D.C., to become one of the largest and most successful bakery cafes in the industry. Our successful growth and $2.3 million AUV comes from constant development.

What's unique about the CMO position at Corner Bakery?

I often say that I have the best job in the company and we have the in the industry. I'm pretty outspoken at times, and I enjoy the fact that our entire executive team enjoys challenging each other. I heard a very insightful comment recently: "Marketers are 'promise makers.' Operators are 'promise keepers.'" This really resonated with me. As marketers, we can make the most beautiful TV spots and we can plan the most exciting media campaigns, but results are completely dependent on a strong partnership with our operators and front-line staff. And that's true for all areas of our business. I am joined at the hip with partners in every area of the business: our franchisees, operations, culinary, finance, IT, and training. Making sure we're all on the same page at the same time is critical to keeping the promise. We work with a comparatively small marketing budget, and having these partnerships ensures we get the most out of our investments.

What's the most challenging part of being a CMO today?

I am an insights-driven person. Whether it's a quantitative tracker study, transactional CRM data, or qualitative feedback gathered from sitting on a living room floor with Millennials, I believe we must peel back layers to fully understand our business. There has never been so much data and so many insights at our fingertips. The challenge of any CMO is to filter the most important insights, creating a succinct message that resonates with the consumer.

What are the 3 most important keys to being an effective CMO leader today?

An open ear, an open mind, and the courage to act decisively. The world we live in is moving faster than ever before. The challenge for any CMO is to take time to listen to new and differing opinions. I'm naturally a very curious person and am constantly seeking opinions from new and different sources. We pride ourselves on not only listening, but most important, on being nimble and acting quickly on insights.

How do you prepare a marketing plan and execute the strategies?

I am very fortunate to work not only with a great team, but also with some of the most talented agencies in the business. We have "Sandbox" meetings several times a year to review current consumer trends and business strategies, and then collaborate to build on each other's ideas. Much like kids building sand castles, we've all come to really look forward to the competitive collaboration that comes alive in these sessions. From these meetings comes much back-and-forth discussion between our agencies as we develop the plan. From there, the key to success is truly all about being joined at the hip with our franchisees, operations, culinary, training, IT, and finance. It's truly a team effort!

How do you measure marketing results and effectiveness?

When it comes to analysis, I have a strong partnership with our finance team and our agencies. I believe every marketing initiative, whenever possible, should be measured on several levels: guest feedback, growth and retention of traffic, margin growth, product mix shift, and lifts in awareness and first-time trial. Additionally, we use social media listening tools that provide rich insights into new product launches and key brand initiatives.

Discuss your core consumer marketing strategies and objectives.

Based on recent Consumer Picks research, "crave-ability" is the number-one attribute that can set a limited-service brand apart. As we explored these findings further, we found that Millennials are especially drawn to brands with crave-able menu items. Within the bakery cafe segment, we lead all other brands for crave-ability. From the first Corner Bakery in 1991 to today, constant innovation and development of crave-able menu items have been core to our success. It's my team's job to make these cravings come alive with "lick-the-screen-delicious" marketing. We recently introduced a new marketing campaign, "Must. Have. NOW." that really embraces our ingredient-inspired menu items and the cravings people have for items like our BBLT (bacon, bacon, local tomato) sandwich, a seasonal favorite that celebrates America's love of thick applewood smoked bacon and local tomatoes at their best. This year, we introduced hot-from-the-griddle buttermilk pancakes to incredible reviews. This new product launch has been very successful and has been supported with our new campaign, reinforcing Corner Bakery Cafe as the place to go for made-to-order breakfasts.

How do you go about creating a "customer-centric" marketing and brand philosophy?

As a brand we have to continue to evolve by looking to our guests for insights, and outside our segment and industry for inspiration. We are much more likely to discover new ideas on a "foodstorming" trip to small, entrepreneurial concepts or at a farmers' market. Fast-casual consumers are well-educated and looking for crave-able, innovative menu items that incorporate fresh ingredients and flavors not found on every street corner. It's our goal to constantly identify these ideas and, as a marketer, I believe we must tell the story of our crave-able food in a compelling and unexpected way.

Describe your marketing team and the role each plays.

We have a brand marketing team (overseeing strategy, creative, production, and media) in Dallas and regional marketing managers in the field who are working with our franchise partners and company operators. I've worked with many marketing teams throughout my career, but I truly believe that I have the best team in the industry. While my team comes from different backgrounds, they share some common traits. They're curious, always seeking out new ideas. They're all very competitive (not necessarily with each other, but with goals we set). They're passionate about the brand and are perfectionists (almost to a fault) on details. Most important, they realize that marketing is just a small part of the equation. Their focus is on helping our franchise partners enter new markets and on staying nimble to take advantage of opportunities.

Next time: Part 2: technology, working with the franchise sales team, budgeting and cost management, marketing strategies and tools, and more. Until then, have a safe and happy New Year.

Published: December 25th, 2014

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