Chili's New Marketing Chief On Wings, Rewards, Virtual Brands

Brinker International promoted Michael Breed to senior vice president of marketing, overseeing all of Chili's brand marketing efforts and its push to expand its emerging virtual brand business. Breed has been with the company for 17 years, working on digital innovation and advanced analytics, including its My Chili's Rewards. He also oversaw the launch of It's Just Wings, the Dallas-based company's first virtual brand.

He tells QSR Land what he's looking forward to in the new role.

QSR Land: It's a strange time for a new role, as people start to tiptoe back to dine-in meals. What's it like?

Michael Breed:
We've got some fun challenges ahead. Of course, we're looking to drive traffic and sales to Chili, but we also really want to build on the strength of the Chili's brand. And we want to better establish It's Just Wings. We've had for a year now as part of the DoorDash channel. The question is now how we build that brand outside of DoorDash, with our own channel presences.

QSR Land: Will you do a different kind of advertising to do that?

For the last few years, we've been evolving Chili's to an all-digital media plan, and it's a robust program. And My Chili's rewards now has close to 9 million active members. Our digital menus are good, and we've got a great partner in DoorDash. So with Its Just Wings, we're just taking that Chili's playbook and leveraging it for the virtual brand.

We're building out our pickup channel with ecommerce, working on the database, and doing targeted and direct marketing and digital marketing to drive traffic to the site. We're looking for ways to activate it from the social and PR standpoint, as well as some experiential initiatives.

QSR Land: Which digital behaviors do you think will be most meaningful going forward?

Off-premise dining and delivery. Guests have experienced this powerful convenience. They've adopted new technology and gotten used to DoorDash. They like the Chili's app and the curbside experience. It's so easy. Guests love it, so that's not going away. But they're also craving in-person experiences as they reconnect with family and friends. And our dining rooms are conducive to that.

QSR Land: Are there any other virtual brands on the drawing board now?

We're always testing. But now that we've hit our first anniversary with It's Just Wings, we realize there is so much opportunity. It's a great price point—and such a great value. And with pickup available at all 1,000 Chili's and Maggiano's, we're excited to keep expanding. We're building a solid loyalty program, like with My Chili's Rewards. 

QSR Land: As your competitors get more adept at digital, is it getting harder to stand out from the crowd? Some people think all these straightforward interfaces seem generic.

Building simple and streamlined digital experiences is hard. And I think that there is something very differentiated about the way Chili's does curbside, with its geolocation in the parking lot. You don't have to call or text. You just show up, and the team member finds you. I also think our food presentation gives us many opportunities to infuse the brand into that digital experience. The way we package burgers and ribs and margaritas to go is something we've been very excited about.

QSR Land: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next six months? What are your success metrics?

Certainly, traffic and sales. But we're also tracking guest sentiment and affinity to the brand at both It's Just Wings and Chili's. We're paying close attention to brand sentiment over time.

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