CMO interview: How Guzman Y Gomez is redefining the fast food category through brand purpose

Marketing chief for Mexican fast food chain talks through her plans for the brand as well as how she's shaking up customer experience

According to Guzman Y Gomez CMO, Anna Jones, marketers must strive to own two key areas of business strategy if they’re to truly succeed. The first is brand purpose and vision.

“Marketers are the ones thinking through not just what customers want, but the future of categories and where we can take brands,” the fast food chain’s marketing chief tells CMO. “The business and strategy need to come out of this purpose and view.”

She admits it’s not always an easy thing to do. “Often, businesses that have been running for years are too scared to take a stand in one direction or the other, or there are just too many points of view,” she continues. “But as a marketer, you have to fight for that, otherwise everything you do will be compromised because it’s not going to be clear to consumers who you are as a brand.”

Jones’ other must-own is customer experience. “Yes, everyone in the organisation has to own that, but from a marketing point of view, we’re usually the first ones to see it and it’s important to get that right and stay across it,” she says.

It’s these two priorities that are underpinning Jones’ efforts as CMO at Guzman Y Gomez. They’re also fuelling the brand’s ambitious plans to transform the fast food industry.

Anna Jones
Anna Jones

The 10-year-old, Mexican inspired fast food chain is on a rapid growth trajectory and now turns over about $150 million per year. As well as operating more than 70 stores across Australia, it’s quickly growing its international footprint and has a presence in Tokyo and Singapore.

Jones joined Guzman Y Gomez nearly 12 months ago as its first c-level marketer, riding on a wave of executive-level hires that also included a new CEO for A/NZ (former McDonalds UK chief, Mark Hawthorne), CTO, COO, chief of supply chain and head of property.

“We now have this new layer of leadership and executives in the business, and we all came in at the same time,” she says. “So short-term, a lot of the stuff I was doing was getting things in order, putting processes in place, getting our agencies and the team structure right. From there, I started to drive into what is our purpose and vision as a brand and where we are going to go with our go-to-market plan.”

Long-term, Guzman Y Gomez’s priority is to redefine what fast food is. While co-founder, Steven Marks, and his backers saw the opportunity to do something great, what the business hadn’t done was really nailed how to get there, Jones says.

“We’re going on a journey to prove that fast food can be clean, responsible, nutritious and still be acceptable and affordable,” she says. “We know we can do it, but we want to encourage and inspire other fast food players to make these changes too.”

An ambition to lead change

Jones has always wanted to lead change. She has built up her marketing expertise, first in the US and then in Australia, by working with brands looking to significantly adjust their product offerings and go-to-market approach.

An early opportunity was working with General Motors on projects investigating the future of transportation. Jones also highlights her work on the launch of Chevrolet’s first hybrid electric vehicle, the Volt, another category game-changer.

“It wasn’t about just getting the consumer to understanding automotive differently, but also getting internal teams to understand it differently,” she recalls.

While at talent agency, William Morris, Jones also brokered partnerships between corporate brands and celebrities. It was during this time she and the William Morris team worked with Hasbro on changing its approach from toy manufacturer to IP owner by expanding its brands into new entertainment streams.

The first product line to undergo this extension was Transformers. “At the time, Transformers was a dead brand, now it’s a chain of successful movies and IP,” Jones said. “Hasbro got to understand how to leverage the IP it had. Then the company bought a TV network and created TV shows, gaining revenue streams they never had before.”

Upon arriving in Australia, Jones joined fast food chain, Red Rooster. Initially on a three-month creative agency contract, she saw the opportunity to transform the brand and spent nearly four years with the group. The main goal was to bring the brand back to its core proposition, roast chicken.

“The business had lost its way chasing McDonalds, Burger King, and because of discounting and cross-optimising food on the menu,” she explains.

The first program was removing MSG and colourings from the food menu. Jones also spearheaded a large program with Sumo Salad to improve the sides offered by Red Rooster, and even tried to shift the brand from fried to oven baked chicken. The idea lifted chicken sales by 20 per cent in the pilot store, but ultimately was too hard to implement nationally.

Emphasising customer service

Another major achievement at Red Rooster was implementing the QSR’s first nation-wide customer services program.

For Jones, customer service is so critical to what marketers do day-to-day, as well as brand health, it has to sit in marketing. One of the biggest changes she’s made to her team at Guzman Y Gomez is created customer service as a standalone function. The team is also rolling out a comprehensive program internally.

“Everyone in the marketing team had been taking turns handling feedback, but it wasn’t really seen as a function in the business,” she says. “A big part of this is bringing more visibility to the business and more accountability down to the stores.”

Jones defines customer services on several levels. The first and short-term focus is how to turn an upset customer into a happy one.

“Then there’s the aspect of what actually when wrong and how do we fix it,” she says. “How many times do organisations get complaints about something over and over again, and they just think the customer service person needs to make the consumer happy? They don’t think about the fact that maybe something is broken – the food, procedure or recipe that’s causing this issue, for example.”

The third component to customer service is collectively interpreting the trends, feedback and what customers are saying for growth and innovation.

“It’s not that customers will tell you the future of where you need to go, but often you’ll see trends that help guide you about what’s happening,” Jones explains. “That could be an early indicator on sentiment shift, or constant feedback on wanting to customise the product more than you’re allowing.”

An example in Guzman Y Gomez’s case is offering more customisation for the modern consumer. The group has already introduced different spice levels on meat and vegetable offerings because of customer feedback.

“But the broader thing it told us is that customisation is key for our customers,” Jones says. As a result, customisation was a major consideration in rebuilding the brand’s mobile app, and it’s also informing how the online platform evolves.

“It’s not just about fixing the problem, but understanding what the customer is saying and finding programs inside the organisation to listen and action them,” Jones says.

But none of this is something marketing can solely own. “Someone could own customer service, but it’s not just up to them to fix an issue, it has to be a company-wide initiative,” she adds.

Building a brand with purpose

It’s not just internal thinking that’s getting a shake-up at Guzman Y Gomez. Jones says the whole team is aware of the opportunity the brand has to challenge the fast food category itself.

“We want to prove that you can do good, ethical, clean food that’s also convenient. Fast food doesn’t have to be bad food,” Jones says. Guzman Y Gomez also supports a children’s refuse charity called Mission Mexico, further cementing its purpose-led brand image.

“As we go on this route of having 100 per cent clean food, that’s preservative free and that respects animal welfare, all of these things costs money. But we won’t ever compromise on our food. So our business model is constantly top of mind, and how live up to this mission while remaining profitable. If we’re not profitable, we’re not proving anything.”

This makes long-term and strategic marketing vision a must for Guzman Y Gomez. Jones admits customers love the purpose and authenticity, but they’re not necessarily making those decisions in their food in their current life right now.

“But we’re doing it anyway because it’s the right thing to do, and in the long-term, that’s going to get people to love our brand, trust us, and feel our values are aligned,” she says. “If we can get the organisation focused on right KPIs and it helps that we’re moving in the right direction, that helps stem the conversation for long term and not just focusing on short-term wins.”

Collaboration is key to making this happen, Jones says. “In everything, and especially in a smaller organisation like ours, there isn’t one decision that doesn’t at some point touch another department,” she points out.

“Products touches the food team, operations, procedures and finances. Nothing is isolated. And if you put one person on one project and ask them to push it through, you don’t get the breadth of ideas you would if you look at things as a collaborative project and have ideas sharing across teams.”

Marketing mix

Jones says her approach to the marketing mix is also different to what she’s experienced at more traditional fast food chains. As recently as 12 months ago, Guzman Y Gomez hadn’t spent any money on traditional media or above-the-line advertising.

“Traditionally in fast food, you launch a product, do a campaign and you never go dark – you need to be doing campaigns at all times,” she comments. “I quickly realised that’s not right for this brand. I know it isn’t for any brand, but you get sucked in to what the category does and it’s hard to break that.”

The brand is in the market now with its first media campaign off the back of its refreshed app, and Jones says it’s investing heavily in digital. But it’s also building out a content hub on its site featuring longform editorial and educational articles and video.

“We know there is confusion about clean labels and nutrition, and we want to try and help educate people to see through the weeds,” she says. “We’re also taking part in a documentary to showcase our journey as a brand. We are open to being that transparent, and that editorial content is so powerful because it’s real.”

Data is another focus, and Jones recently hired an analytics lead to join her team. “While we have the data, we didn’t have someone looking at the data, understanding it and using it to strengthen our business decisions,” she says.

But while data is important to understanding what’s happening in a business, Jones warns it’s not a tell-all for the future. “It can make you too risk averse, and often limit your views on what’s possible,” she claims.

Staying nimble

As a fast-growing brand, it’s vital teams and approaches remain nimble and innovative, something Jones believes is again driven by the CMO spearheading a clear brand purpose and vision.

“We have to be clear about each goal and purpose and where we want to go as a brand and make sure everyone is aligned behind that,” she says. “But the path to get there will move and shift as we learn things, grow as a brand and as new opportunities come up. For me, it was incredibly important that we nailed what that purpose was.

“And we can’t waiver on purpose – it’s the one thing we have to get right.”

But despite her quest for change, Jones sees the foundations of marketing remaining the same, even if the skills and channel mix are transforming.

“Brand awareness, and getting someone to recommend you to friends and family, are the most powerful things you can have,” she concludes. “But how we go about that is what keeps changing and we have to adapt.”

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