Wendy's CMO: 'All great brands evolve'

Oct. 11, 2012 | by Alicia Kelso

Craig Bahner has only been working at Wendy's since April, but the chief marketing officer has already crossed plenty of items off of his to-do list.

The latest task comes with today's announcement that the Dublin, Ohio-based brand is updating its logo for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The new contemporary logo will be rolled out nationwide in March 2013 on packaging, advertising, crew uniforms, restaurant signage, menu boards and websites. The design features an updated Wendy's cameo and was created by San Francisco-based Tesser, which also conceptualized the company's new restaurant prototypes.

Bahner talked to QSRweb today about the new logo, Wendy's product pipeline, digital initiatives and the competitive quick-service industry.

QSRweb: Why is now the right time to introduce a new logo?

Craig Bahner: We want the most prominent symbol of our brand to reflect the transformation that's currently under way. This is a tangible signal of our brand transformation. We're reinventing our restaurant environment, our advertising and marketing programs and coming up with innovative new products. We're really trying to raise our game and our brand positioning and bring 'A Cut Above' to life.

All great brands evolve. You can't stay the same. Logo-wise, we've stayed the same for a long time and we just felt like it was time to take a look at it. The timing is right because it's such a visible part of our brand identity.

QSRweb: As more QSRs evolve to compete with the fast casual segment, how does Wendy's differentiate and stay ahead of that trend?

CB: Differentiating is consumer driven. Consumers have so many choices today – good choices – much more than in the past. Consumers are saying that fast casual is the experience they want. So it is incumbent upon us to raise our game and we articulate that we deliver a fast casual experience at a QSR price.

We certainly believe we're distinct with our menu and we have a history of innovation. As we reimage, we are also providing a higher level of customer service and trying to delight our customers each and every day. Customers are already seeing it – we have five consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales; we were rated as the top overall chain in this year's Zagat survey; and we have the top ranking for customer satisfaction by the American Customer Service Satisfaction Index.

The bar we're setting is the bar we have to beat. We're not saying we have to beat this competitor; we have to beat ourselves. And we think our efforts are beginning to manifest in the marketplace.

QSRweb: During Investor Day (in June) the company discussed numerous menu ideas in the pipeline, from specialty beverages to flatbreads. Do you have any updates on these ideas?

CB: One idea – the bacon portabella melt cheeseburger – is in the market now. I can't go into specifics about the pipeline but I can tell you that breads are a focus and we think bread carriers are a way to leverage our capability and a way to differentiate. We will also continue to focus on contemporary and fresh ingredients, such as guacamole and acai berries. They're not new ingredients, but they are new in this marketplace.

As for specialty beverages – it's something we're looking at. But the key is we have to play a different game. Coming up with a 'me too' in that space isn't what consumers are asking for. Real innovation takes time.

QSRweb: You also mentioned that Wendy's is going to 'explode' in the digital space. Any updates on your mobile initiatives?

CB: Our focus is on mobile, social (media) and gaming. That has not changed. Our app is one of the top rated apps in the industry because it's so useful. It's not just about locations, you can build a meal with specific calorie counts and then archive that and pull it up anytime. Consumers love that functionality.

We have mobile payments testing in some restaurants and are going into a full market test of mobile payments next month. I can tell you we will be involved with Google Wallet, but that's not the technology we're using for this test.

QSRweb: Why did you decide to test out mobile payments?

CB: We need to be where our consumers are and they are in the digital space. We need to engage with them the way they want to be engaged. If they are paying through their smartphones, we need to let them. Delivering our 'A Cut Above' strategy means all touchpoints, including traditional advertising and mobile payments. We will keep moving fast in the digital space because consumers are engaging with us in that space.

QSRweb: You have two ad campaigns running right now – one that features the character 'Red' and the other that features (late founder Dave Thomas' daughter) Wendy Thomas. Why did you go with two ads and did you worry about confusing consumers with separate messages?

CB: I prefer to think of it as one campaign with two legs, rather than two campaigns. They are working extremely well together and are complementary. Wendy is rekindling the brand's values and connecting consumers to the values this brand was founded on. She gives consumers an ideal to buy into.

Red is about our better offerings, specific products. She's about giving consumers something to buy. This is a strategy we have to reconnect consumers to our brand and really highlight what is different and better about what we're bringing to the market at any given time. Our ad awareness has gone up eight points in the past three months and is on par with brands that spend many times more than we do on media.

QSRweb: Coming from Procter and Gamble and having a fresh perspective on QSRs, what are some of the biggest trends you see in the industry?

CB: The biggest overall trend is consumers are setting a much higher bar. With all of the choices today, consumers are demanding more. They are telling us what type of experience they want and, at Wendy's, we think we can deliver that fast casual experience at QSR prices. As far as the segment, it's fast-paced, there is so much ubiquity of these brands that are on every street corner, it's competitive in nature. It is a very exciting industry.

Read more about marketing and branding initiatives.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Customer Service / Experience , Food & Beverage , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Online / Mobile / Social , Operations Management , Staffing & Training

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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