CMO Rob Lynch discusses his love of brand management, the dynamic vision that drew him to Arby’s, and the three questions he always asks when attempting to craft a solution
In a day and age where smartphones are ubiquitous and shopping malls are dying out at the hands of online shopping, QSRs were an early innovation for instant gratification. For decades, people from around the world have had the ability to purchase affordably priced meals in a minimal amount of time and as such have watched that luxury morph into a staple of daily life.
Whether one finds themselves in a rush or having hunger pangs past the hours when any other type of eatery remains open, consumers will always find options aplenty across the spectrum of cuisines. This creates a unique kind of pressure for marketers of these brands to produce relevant, fresh ideas for their products almost as fast as their cooks can serve them up.
Although it has long held a rightful claim on the niche market of roast beef sandwiches, the leadership at Arby’s understands that QSR giants Burger King and McDonalds are much more than the Whopper and Big Mac, respectively. To that end, the man responsible for “We Have the Meats,” Rob Lynch, shares how he and his team have worked to grow, transform, and lead the brand to greater revenues and successes.
Brand Management and a Broad View of the Business World
In earning both his bachelor’s degree and MBA from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School’s 3-2 full-time MBA program, Rob had the opportunity to intern and work at Procter & Gamble and concentrate on brand management and consulting. It was there that he gained what he referred to as a “broad view of the business world.”
“Brand management isn’t just about marketing – brand management has a lot to do with figuring out complex business problems and solving them with the help of cross-functional partners and teams. I got fully immersed in that experience while I was at Procter and really fell in love with the idea of, effectively, running a business at such a junior point in my career.”
He also described an understanding of some particularities of marketing that he’s carried with him along the way.
“From a marketing perspective, brand management is obviously a big part of the job in marketing, but I think what I fell in love with there was the way that marketing is almost like psychology. It’s really about figuring out what makes people tick and finding opportunities to ignite an affinity for what you’re selling with a certain group of people. I just fell in love with the whole intellectual and academic component of that.”
More than Roast Beef
After applying much of what he learned in seven years as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble to subsequent roles at Heinz and as VP of Marketing at Taco Bell, Rob brought his passion, knowledge, and talent to Arby’s in 2013, won over by new CEO Paul Brown’s bold vision to lead the company forward.
“When I originally got approached by Arby’s, I was really happy at Taco Bell. I had a ton of respect and admiration for CMO Brian Niccol, as well as Greg Creed, who was the CEO, and David Novak, who was the Yum Brands CEO. All three of them had taken a personal interest in my development and were great leaders who I was learning a lot from. I had no desire to go anywhere, but then I got a call about this Arby’s job. I originally informed them that I wasn’t interested, but then they said ‘let us at least send you the job description and a little bit about the new CEO and what he’s trying to do.’”
“When they sent me the information on Paul, that he’d been the President of Hilton Hotels and decided to come here, that suggested to me that he must see something to be making the move to go to Arby’s. It just so happened that I was scheduled to be back on the east coast for vacation with my family at the time Paul and the team had wanted to meet with me and I said ‘what’s the worst that can happen if I spend an extra half day with these folks and just meet Paul and if nothing else, network, meet these great people, and see what they’re doing.’ So I came here to Arby’s in Atlanta on the way to the east coast for vacation and I sat down with Paul and his leadership team and frankly I was blown away. I was blown away by the work that they had done in a very short period of time. Paul had only been there about four months and had already laid out his vision for where he wanted to take the company, which was in a direction that leveraged the historical success that the brand had had, but taking it to a different place.”
Taking into account the leadership, the scope of the role, and the opportunity to come to a 50 year-old brand that had fallen out of the QSR conversation but had a large footprint and high brand awareness all coalesced into something Rob referred to as “kind of a marketer’s dream” and those talks he took a flyer on having brought him to a role where he has helped to rekindle customer engagement in a variety of ways.
“Arby’s, when I got here, was one of the oldest brands in the category, meaning that the customers that were coming in were (on average) the second oldest from a customer base standpoint. That was the result of a strategy that was focused on getting current customers to come more as opposed to going out and doing the heavy lifting of bringing in new customers. When you actually dig into the data, the older heavy fast-food consumers have a frequency of about 170 times per year. The younger heavy fast-food consumers, maybe between 20 to 30 years old, have a frequency of about 230 times per year. So just by shifting demographics in a one for one tradeoff, you’re going to pick up about 40% business build just due to frequency. If you grow old with your customers, you’re going to die with them. That’s not exactly the warmest statement, but that’s the truth.”
“Every brand has to continuously reinvent to stay relevant and meaningful and have some type of point of market entry strategy to make sure that the new people coming into the category and are going to be your future customers are engaged with your brand and view it as an option. We made a huge undertaking to shift our strategy from going after our current, aging customer group to a younger, higher frequency customer group that could benefit our brand for a longer period of time. That was our first decision. The second decision was finding out what was important to them. When we went out and talked to QSR customers and we asked them what Arby’s stood for in their mind, the same answer came back time and time again: ‘roast beef.’ That was it. It was ‘Arby’s is about roast beef.’ And the reality is that roast beef makes up less than 1% of all QSR occasions, so if our aspiration is to become a top 10 or top 5 QSR, we weren’t going to get there by only selling roast beef sandwiches. The good news is that Arby’s has a lot more to offer than just roast beef. We actually have higher quality and more variety of proteins than almost anyone else out there in the space.”
Framing points of parity with and points of differentiation from QSRs and fast casual restaurants, Rob and his team developed what they call “fast-crafted” foods – delivering high quality options with the convenience and value traditionally associated with QSRs. Bringing that to life in a simple point of communication was actualized in the popular “We Have the Meats” campaign.
Thanks to innovative thinking and a willingness to reach new customers, Arby’s managed to increase its sales in 2014 without spending more on its marketing.
Three Questions to Ask Almost Everyday
Whether it is in solving problems himself or helping to grow young members of his team, Rob has faithfully adhered to the “marketing toolbox” he acquired at Procter & Gamble, specifically the three questions he believes every marketer should ask almost every day.
- Who are we talking to?
- What is important to them?
- How do we reach them in the most efficient and effective way?
Rob described the importance of exporting those skills not just for the edification of the younger marketers at Arby’s, but also with an eye towards protecting the business at the bottom line.
“To get more output, you can go one of two ways. You can either get more people and spend more money or you can make the people and resources you have to work better and more efficiently. We’re not at a point right now where we’re ready to go out and hire 20 or 30% more workforce, so what we have to do is make sure that the folks that we have here are better prepared to do the jobs that we ask of them. I’ve challenged my leadership team to come back to me by the end of 2014 with a plan for how we’re going to implement a ‘Marketing University’ in 2015 that really helps our more junior marketers both in the form of developing specific marketing acumen and cross-functional leadership.”
“We ask a lot of our employees, to work hard, to be professional, and to give not just their work but their passion. And in return, I believe that we owe them development. I believe we owe them two things: the opportunity to get better at what they do and the potential to advance through the organization. We want to develop our people and grow from within and that’s something I’m very focused on here in our marketing function.”
Rob Lynch’s understanding of marketing through the lens of a consumer is a quality that keeps him on his toes and with his ear to the ground. It’s typically a snap decision, choosing to eat a fast-food item, but Rob is firmly invested not just in finding out what you would choose and why, but also in giving you a number of reasons why Arby’s ought to be at the top of your shortlist. Remember: most places have cheeseburgers and nearly all have French fries, but at Arby’s, they have the meats. ♦
Pharrell’s Hat, a 13 Hour Commercial, and #MeatMountain
A significant contributor to the growth and success Arby’s has experienced in the past twelve months has had to do with its social media engagement. Rob elaborated on a few campaigns from just this year that arose thanks to some savvy Twitter usage.
“We’ve been really fortunate to have had a lot of wins in the PR/social media space this year. It started with the Pharrell hat tweet. …Then we heard a lot of customers questioning how good our smokehouse brisket was when we launched it, so we decided to show them with a 13 hour commercial that was essentially just us filming the brisket smoking in a smoker. We ran it on TV for 13 hours, had about 400,000 people come to watch it, and had visitors to our website spend an average of 38 minutes watching. Things like that and the secret menu item we developed, the Meat Mountain, which spawned Meat Mountain challenges that led to us selling about 3,000 of them a day, are representative of the changes that we’ve made here and how we’re reaching our customers.”
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