Marketing Leadership: Checkers' Terri Snyder on the Growing Role of the CMO
Terri Snyder's 30 years of experience in foodservice marketing include stints with Pizza Hut, Domino's, and T.G.I. Friday's. During the past 5 years, she has served as CMO of Checkers Drive-In Restaurants (which also includes Rally's). Under her watch, the nearly 800-unit brand has received some of the restaurant industry's most prestigious awards including "Best Drive-Thru in America" from QSR magazine, and the "Hot! Again" award from Nation's Restaurant News. Since the marketing director and team play a vital role in the ongoing health and prosperity of a brand, we asked her to discuss leadership and development from a marketing perspective.
Describe your role as a franchise CMO.
Serving as a franchise CMO is a broader, more complex, and, I believe, more gratifying role than that of a traditional CMO. It requires significantly more listening, openness, consensus building, and communication. But in return, you have a unique opportunity to develop lasting relationships with amazing business leaders and their families, and to help franchisees build successful businesses that create family legacies.
In what ways do you lead the marketing department at Checkers?
I focus on the following: 1) Hiring and growing the very best talent. 2) Defining a compelling and differentiated brand and revenue growth strategy. 3) Leading marketing executional excellence. 4) Effectively representing marketing and the consumer on the company's executive team to assure strategic and executional alignment across all functional groups. 5) Leading highly effective franchise marketing leadership and communication processes (marketing subcommittee, marketing co-ops, and ongoing marketing communication). 6) Continuously growing to assure that my leadership is challenging and compelling
How has your marketing/branding strategy developed, and how does it flow through the system?
Our marketing strategy was developed with significant input from our executive team, franchise advisory council, and franchise marketing subcommittee based on a deep understanding of brand, consumer, and competitive data. It takes significant planning to communicate, gain alignment for, and fine-tune a brand's marketing strategy in a franchisee system. We talk a lot about the number of "TRPs" (targeted rating points) our messages are receiving among franchisees. Much as it takes a significant number of TRPs for a message to be effective in TV or radio, it takes a significant amount of communication and discussion to gain alignment among an entire franchise community. So our communication and discussion process is robust. Every quarter, we hold a system-wide conference call with the entire franchisee community to review our results and discuss the next quarter's priorities. The last part of that call is dedicated to Q&A, and the entire executive team stays on the line until all questions are answered. In addition, we lead quarterly local market business and co-op meetings to discuss local trends and opportunities. With the launch of each promotional event, we hold a system-wide call to review the promotion in detail. And every week we send a comprehensive communication to the entire system to provide timely updates and information.
What are the three most important keys to being an effective CMO today?
1) Earn the trust and confidence of the CEO, board, franchisees, and executive team. 2) Consistently produce profitable sales results while building a compelling differentiated brand. 3) Be a strategic business leader as well as a functional marketing leader. In today's business environment, successful CMOs do more than just lead the marketing and advertising function. They also support the CEO and management team as broader business strategists as well as business process and cultural leaders.
How do you manage costs and budgets for the marketing department?
Like most franchised brands, our marketing production budget is funded directly from contributions from both franchisees and the company. So strong oversight, transparency, and budget control are critically important. At Checkers, our National Production Fund is managed by a board consisting of three of our most respected franchisees and two corporate representatives including our senior accounting and advertising officers. The board meets quarterly to review the budget line by line and make timely spending decisions.
How are you using different media channels to reach today's franchise prospects?
Our objective is to surround our prospective franchisees with Checkers' sales and profit successes, compelling investment returns, and exciting brand news. To do that, we leverage earned, owned, and paid media. Our biggest successes in generating qualified leads have come from traditional trade publications as well as from non-traditional media like public relations and the right franchise portals. Checkers' franchise marketing and PR efforts, especially the exposure on Fox News and "Undercover Boss," drove a seven-time increase in qualified franchise leads this year.
Do today's franchise prospects expect more from the franchise marketing department?
How do you provide more? Definitely! Today's franchise prospects are seasoned business leaders, many with operations experience in some of America's best restaurant and retail brands. They expect a compelling, well-positioned brand, differentiated products, well-tested and proven promotions, and the support to maximize all of that locally. As Checkers has significantly accelerated new restaurant growth, we've also significantly expanded our field market function. Today, we provide hands-on PR and marketing support for new restaurant openings from pre-opening through the first full year of operations. In addition, our field marketing group works with franchisees and company operators in our 35 active TV co-operatives and our non-TV markets to regionalize and localize our national marketing plan for maximum impact.
How have marketing strategies and tools changed over the past decade, and how have you adapted?
For me, this is the most exciting time to be in marketing. Economic downturns and new technologies drive disruption. And disruption inherently produces opportunities for those nimble enough and forward-thinking enough to seize the opportunity. I am most excited about the opportunity social/digital media affords smaller, fighter brands like Checkers. Traditional media favor the biggest brands in every category; huge media budgets win. But with social/digital media, it's not just about big budgets. Creativity, innovation, and the connective tissue of a brand are what matters most. At Checkers, we continue to accelerate our social/digital investment, focus, and learning.
How do you measure marketing results and effectiveness?
We measure both lag (long-term brand health) and lead (short-term sales and profit) indicators. In the restaurant industry, the key lead indicators of success are sales, traffic, check, and profitability compared with last year's performance. For smaller brands it's difficult to measure all of the longer-term brand health indicators that you want to. Research budgets are just too limited. At Checkers, we focus on social media engagement levels; advertising/brand awareness and brand perception tracking from NPD/Crest; and guest metrics from our operations-led guest satisfaction study.
What's the most challenging part of being a CMO today?
This is clearly the most challenging and prolonged economic downturn in my career. Its impact is broad and deep. The uncertainty of the economy continues to have an impact not only on consumer behavior, but also on franchise investment and corporate decision-making. Hopefully, the presidential election will stabilize the economy, provide investment confidence, and accelerate the recovery.
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