To keep pace with changing market dynamics, Frances Allen believes that brands must accurately represent the voice of the customer, both internally and across every touchpoint. Since joining Jack in the Box as brand president in 2014, Allen has made it a mission to build the brand and grow the business by drawing on consumer insights and smart analytics. That has allowed Jack to upgrade its entire product line, begin repositioning itself as a higher quality quick-service restaurant (QSR) brand, and, more importantly, appeal to customers of all ages and demographics.
“We have an amazing analytics and insights group,” Allen says. “They continually pull from all kinds of sources, from brand trackers to qualitative research to third-party research to our own ‘Voice of Guest’ program, which keeps us connected with our customers and how they feel about the product and the experience they are getting.”
Allen, who is speaking at the 2017 ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference, May 23 - 26 in San Diego, Calif., provides more perspective on the evolution of the Jack in the Box brand.
Q. You are leading the transformation of the Jack in the Box brand after having done the same at Denny’s in your previous job. When taking on a challenge of this magnitude, what important steps must brands take internally and externally to ensure success?
A. Here are the steps I would encourage brands to take:
1. Do an audit of your brand and its relationship with consumers: Develop a picture and understanding of what got your brand to this point. Why do you exist? What do your most heavy users love about you? Why do they come? What are the core attributes of your brand, good and bad? Are they still relevant? How could/should those core brand attributes be re-interpreted for today’s world? A leopard can’t change its spots, but just as old outfits can be nipped and tucked to look modern, so can brand attributes. How can you amplify those attributes within today’s competitive environment?
2. Create a North Star: The English author Lewis Carroll once opined,“If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you there.” Paint a vision for the brand that people can believe in and drive toward.
3. Be inclusive: Work collaboratively with a cross-section of people, including multiple stakeholders. They need to own the insights and the solution. Let them lay out the roadmap as to how the modern day interpretation of the brand can be achieved. Help the team prioritize. The tendency will be to try to do everything at once. That spells failure. What are some low-hanging fruit that they can get on the success board early? What’s the natural evolution of things?
4. Over-communicate: Share the findings broadly. Make sure everyone in the system is inspired by the vision, understands the roadmap, and knows how their role fits within it.
Once the first step on the roadmap is complete, then you are ready to talk about it externally. And once you’re on the path, stick with it. Constantly read, react, and refine the approach, but don’t lose sight of the destination
Q. Your goal is to make Jack in the Box a higher quality QSR brand by 2020. How will you get buy-in from the C-Suite, employees, and franchisees?
A. We will do that by:
Q. You have been lauded for your ability to transform analytics into breakthrough ideas. How has that skill manifested itself at Jack in the Box in terms of guiding your vision for the brand’s future?
A. I was handed a gift when I arrived at Jack in the Box — an extensive BCG research study that gave us much of the consumer information we needed to complete a comprehensive brand audit and make critical strategic decisions regarding evolving the brand to be more relevant and competitive today. The problem was that it was a series of 20-plus individual projects and overwhelming for the team. My job was to absorb all that information and determine the most important things to focus on first.
We had to create the roadmap I described earlier. Our brand was well regarded for our advertising and our tacos. It was a great start but not for maximizing the connection we wanted to make with the addressable audience. We focused on addressing the opportunity to become a burger destination by upgrading the quality of our burgers, drinks, and fries, given that those are the most important products for our customers when visiting a QSR.
We clearly had some work to do. We started with launching the Buttery Jack burger. The result was unprecedented sales. The next phase was to improve the quality of our whole burger line. Our culinary and marketing team had done some clever product design work to determine that, while everyone focused on the patty for taste improvements, the real determinant of a great tasting burger is the bun.
We upgraded our bun and produce. Making these critical changes allowed us to upgrade nearly 30 products on our menu. Then the key question became how to price and position this significant upgrade? Again, we turned to data and brought in Applied Predictive Technology to help us design a readable test that could isolate the impact of multiple variables. We unleashed our new improved products in January 2016, and the result has been a significant improvement in the perception of our products.
Q. Millennial consumers of diverse ethnic backgrounds are driving American culture. How is Jack in the Box tapping into this key demographic to shape the brand’s marketing and brand-building efforts?
A. One of the things Jack does incredibly well and has for years is enable freedom of choice. Not only do we have a very varied menu, across multiple dayparts, but we make every item available all day. Even more important for our millennial audience is the ability to customize any item anyway they want it. This is an increasingly important attribute for this audience.
As I said earlier, we are well known and appreciated for our advertising. Our brand audit revealed that our advertising was still working incredibly well for Baby Boomers, but it was a little too snarky and sarcastic for Millennials. Adjusting Jack’s persona to be more optimistic and inclusive has helped make us more relevant for this audience.