Last September, for the first time, Dairy Queen offered two Blizzards of the Month — its classic Pumpkin Pie Blizzard and the new Apple Pie Blizzard. Rather than introduce its latest creation via traditional marketing, DQ’s agency of record, Barkley, came up with the clever idea to pit the apple capital of the world, Wenatchee, Wash., against the pumpkin capital of the world, Caro, Mich., to see who was most passionate about their favorite Blizzard. The competition was promoted across social channels through online videos, and DQ created a microsite for consumers to vote for their favorite flavor using the hashtag #TeamApple or #TeamPumpkin.
“We expected 80,000 votes for the flavors over the course of the month-long program, but we received 800,000,” recalls Barry Westrum, executive vice president of marketing at American Dairy Queen Corp. “That really showed the passion our fans have for our brand and how we approach marketing a little bit differently. It really struck a chord with our fans. For the record, the Pumpkin Blizzard did win in a tight-fought battle.”
Westrum, a featured speaker for the ANA Brand Masters Conference, Feb. 4 - 6 in Dana Point, Calif., explains his philosophy for transforming an iconic brand like DQ and how he keeps marketing relevant.
Q. You have extensive experience delivering turnaround plans for major brands. What are the guiding principles you follow in any brand transformation?
A. There are two things I think about. First, you have to lead with your brand’s strength. In the case of Dairy Queen, it’s the Blizzard. It’s a fabulous 30-year-old brand that, through all the changing consumer taste profiles, is still America’s No. 1 ice cream treat. Our ability to continue to innovate, in terms of flavor, communication, and service, is key to keeping the brand fresh. In the past five years, the Blizzard brand has grown 20% — a testament to our focus on innovation. Second, you cannot ignore your big brand challenges. In Dairy Queen’s case, we compete in a category that is built on value and convenience, and yet, we have some of the lowest value scores. That’s why we developed “Five Buck Lunch,” which features an entrée, a side, a drink, and a signature Dairy Queen sundae. It has been on our menu since April of 2013, and during that timeframe, we have consistently outperformed the quick-serve restaurant category on same-store sales and transactions. I think it’s because we had the courage to tackle something that inherently had been a problem for a number of years. Courage is also about having the discipline to test your ideas before you launch them so your risk is significantly minimized. Once we had a solid business case for Five Buck Lunch, we were able to launch it nationally with the confidence that our business performance would mirror what we saw in the market test.
Q. This year, Dairy Queen celebrates its 75th anniversary as a brand. Is it important to keep the chain’s storied heritage and values in mind as you build your marketing capabilities for the future?
A. Dairy Queen is one of the oldest and most iconic American brands, so it’s critical that we respect and maintain that heritage. It’s also critical that we ensure the brand is contemporary and relevant for today. That’s why we’re celebrating what we call our “75th Fanniversary.” Throughout the year, we’re going to bring a lot of new news and innovations to our fans to help them celebrate how they use our brand and give them new reasons to visit a store every day. There’s a timeless nature to this brand, whether you’re visiting a Dairy Queen with family, going with a sports team to celebrate a big win, or taking someone on a first date. Our ability to celebrate those special moments with our fans via our communications and marketing will only make the brand more relevant going forward.
Q. For a venerable brand like Dairy Queen, how do you keep campaigns fresh and differentiated in such a competitive marketplace?
A. When you’re outspent 10 to 1 by your largest competitor, you have to be very smart about what you say. We will never outspend anyone, so we challenge ourselves to outthink our competitors every day across our entire innovation spectrum, through news and promotions that are significantly different from the competition. The words we choose, both strategically and executionally, have to be well thought out so that when consumers see a Dairy Queen television commercial, tweet, Facebook post, or banner ad, it registers with them and generates an incremental visit. That’s the only way we can break through the clutter and win in the marketplace.