Creative Marketing Pro Dwayne Chambers' "Internal agency" approach pays dividends
When it comes to what he thinks about marketing data, Dwayne Chambers doesn’t mince words.
“Simply having massive amounts of information and data is useless unless you have the tools and smart people who can translate facts into actionable truth,” says Chambers, CMO for Checkers & Rally’s. Actionable truth, he says, is what leads to learning and continuing to improve.
Chambers arrived at Checkers & Rally’s in the summer of 2019 with a rich history in restaurant marketing with brands that include Sonic Drive-In, Red Robin, P.F. Chang’s, Krispy Kreme, Noodles & Company, and Fuddruckers and Koo Koo Roo. After more than three decades in marketing leadership, he understands how to create and implement strategic brand-building efforts that produce sales growth.
Under his leadership at Checkers & Rally’s during Covid-19, the in-house marketing team quickly adapted to capitalize on the brand’s famous double drive-thrus and played a pivotal role in the brand finishing 2020 in a strong financial position.
Over the course of his career, Chambers has found an internal agency approach to marketing has allowed brands he’s been with to be “nimbler, faster, more effective, and way more efficient.” At Checkers & Rally’s the in-house marketing team consists of a creative team, field marketing team, consumer insights team, guest engagement team, e-commerce team, brand development team, and R&D team.
One of the marketing moves he and his team rolled out in 2020 include a new social media push centered around the brand’s Famous Seasoned Fries. “We were recognized as having the #1 most craveable fries in the restaurant industry,” he says. “We registered Black FRYday, adopted every FRYday, and pushed engaging content to celebrate 52 individual FRYdays.”
Then there was the brand’s unique promotion with Michael Vaters, a nationally recognized monster truck driver, who agreed to wrap his truck as the “Mother Cruncher” to promote the brand’s new Mother Cruncher chicken sandwich. Customers were encouraged to name things from 2020 that frustrated them that they would like to “crunch.” Some of the top Covid-related frustrations were toilet paper shortages, virtual schools, overeating, video chats, and being quarantined at home—plus a couple of non-Covid items such as hurricanes and killer bees. The crunching took place at Vaters’ farm in Pennsylvania and the campaign was a social media hit.
Marketing for Checkers & Rally’s more than 800 units is off to a quick start in 2021 with the launch of a new TV ad campaign, part of an effort to hone their marketing to better reach key demographics. Stay tuned for more creative, results-oriented marketing campaigns from Chambers and team in 2021.
Describe your role as CMO. It starts with aligning the company objectives, the consumer desires, and the brand’s DNA. There is a delicate balance of inspiration and just plain heavy lifting. The driving force is a sense of service to the brand, the company, our franchisees, and our teams.
What’s the most challenging part of being a CMO today? Digging through massive amounts of information and data in an effort to find truth, rather than just an aggregation of facts.
How has Covid-19 affected the way you have led your brand’s marketing efforts? We are fortunate to have a drive-thru only concept that works exceptionally well in today’s environment. The initiatives and objectives we set in motion in 2019, such as investments in delivery and menu innovations, ended up being exactly what we needed in 2020. As a result, we met our plans and financial goals, which has allowed us to fast forward things that may have been planned for later.
What are the 3 most important keys to being an effective CMO leader today? 1) Ability to truly understand how the brand is different and go that way as fast as possible. 2) Deciphering truth from an endless string of facts. 3) Assembling the right people and empowering them to do things you could never do alone.
How do you prepare a marketing plan and execute the strategies? I am blessed to work with a great executive leadership team, so it starts there. We align ourselves on our shared objectives, and then the “marketing plan” becomes just a way to support the bigger company objectives and strategies. From there we collaborate across the organization to see how marketing ideas and strategies engage our guests, inspire our team members, and can help bring that plan to life.
How do you measure marketing results and effectiveness? Individual projects and initiatives have key performance indicators, but we also look at the bigger picture. The most important question we want to answer is not how, what, who, or even how much. The most important question is “why.” If we can understand “why,” we have a real opportunity for success that comes from constant learning and consistent improvement.
Discuss your core consumer marketing strategies and objectives. We have found that our guests really respond when we do the basics well. We have a solid menu, great offerings, and great value. We have gone back to the basic elements that made the brand successful for more than 30 years: serving better food, faster, and more conveniently. Our best marketing plan is to support and encourage our operators and their teams.
How do you go about creating a customer-centric marketing and brand philosophy? We are hyper-focused on our core purpose of “rewarding the hardworking and often underestimated” in our communities. We embrace communities that other concepts overlook. We champion hardworking people who spend their day serving people who work hard. As a result, our strategies are about understanding those folks and finding ways to serve them better.
Describe your marketing team and the role each plays. For the past couple of decades, I have found that building and focusing on an “internal agency” approach has allowed us to be nimbler, faster, more effective, and way more efficient. We have an internal creative team, field marketing team, consumer insights team, guest engagement team, e-commerce team, brand development team, and R&D team. Our primary roles are leading through service; inspiring our guests, team members, and franchisees; and building equity for the company. From there we find the very best external partners to fill the gaps and help us in areas of specific expertise.
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 all in this together. As an organization we have a Guest Value Proposition, an Employee Value Proposition, a Community Value Proposition, and a Franchise Value Proposition. Since we also operate about one-third of the system’s restaurants, we know what it means to be operators. We have the same concerns, the same challenges, and we share the same victories.
How does this help your franchise sales and development effort? I have been amazed at the continued interest from our existing and new franchisees. Our franchise sales group worked through hundreds of prospects, and we approved 40 new franchisees in 2020 in the midst of Covid and at a time when most were predicting the end of the restaurant industry as we know it. Our partnership with the sales and development team is critical to help prospective franchisees not only see the success in the brand, but a true partnership with them.
What ways/tools do you rely on to do this? One thing I have learned about franchisees over the past 32 years is that they don’t just want to hear about success—they want to see it. We work to be very transparent in the business and our efforts so they can see that we have the right vision, the right people, the right tools, the right support, and the right model for them to have the best chance of success.
Do today’s prospects expect more from the franchise marketing department? What, and how do you provide it? I am not sure if it is more or just different. There are some core things they want to make sure are in place: digital efforts, robust e-commerce, strong menu offerings, and solid marketing plans. Interestingly enough, the recent industry changes have caused a significant resurgence in local restaurant marketing (LRM). LRM used to be a staple in the industry, and then it evolved to just having strong social channels and national programs. We are seeing LRM as an increasingly important ingredient to our restaurants’ success and are fortunate to have a full complement of LRM specialists on our team.
How is today’s consumer and marketing data helping you fine-tune your marketing initiatives? I am probably in the minority when I say that simply having “data” is useless and can often send you down a path of destruction. What is important is having the tools and smart people who can translate facts into actionable truth. From there, it is about what you can learn and how you can keep improving.
Describe the evolving role of social media in your brand’s marketing efforts. While built for strong organic social media, the brand hasn’t historically been focused on it until the past year. Recently we were recognized as having the #1 most craveable fries in the entire restaurant industry. Immediately the team registered Black FRYday, we adopted every FRYday, pushed engaging content to celebrate 52 individual FRYdays in 2020, and recently we partnered with a nationally recognized monster truck driver and wrapped his truck as the “Mother Cruncher” in honor of our new Mother Cruncher Chicken Sandwich. We asked guests to tell us what they wanted to crunch based on the things that frustrated them in 2020 and we set up an arena to do just that.
How do you work with other internal departments and does technology help? The past year has certainly brought us together. Our new CEO Frances Allen also championed the importance of our organizational health, which resulted in cross-collaboration and alignment to a level I’d not personally seen before. This has not only aligned the senior staff, but also all of our team members behind the same purpose, objectives, values, and key initiatives.
How do you manage costs and budgets for the marketing department? Because of the diligence of the team, strong sales results of the restaurants, and great partnerships with our vendors and franchisees, we actually came in well under budget for 2020. When the organization is aligned and the teams are focused, it is amazing how you can also focus your resources.
Do you see vendors as business partners? Why/why not? Absolutely. We all have the same objectives, so partnership and transparency are critical for us to have collective success.
How have marketing strategies/tools changed over the past decade? How have you adapted? It is easy for any of us to get excited and distracted by the next shiny thing that promises to give us all the predictive insights and answers. Just put the data in the machine and it will tell you what to do. While I think there are amazing tools out there, none of them can rise to the level of importance of the talented people it takes to ultimately layer on qualitative humanity, intuition, experience, and personal commitment. I look for the right people first and then help empower them with technology—not the other way around.
How is your marketing/branding strategy developed, and how does it flow through the system? In partnership. Marketing isn’t the keeper of all knowledge and strategy. We just completed a process to define our brand DNA that started with some really smart people in marketing but engaged the entire organization: all cross-functional teams, franchisees, vendors, operators, and team members. Together we uncovered strong truths that embraced the brand, aligned with our guests, and inspired our team members. No way to do that alone and be effective.
What advice would you offer to aspiring CMO executives? Find what inspires you, search for truth, and focus on serving others.
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