CMO50 2020 #14: Lara Thom

  • Name Lara Thom
  • Title Global chief marketing officer
  • Company Guzman y Gomez
  • Commenced role June 2019 (joined 2016)
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer / founder
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 14 staff, four direct reports
  • Industry Sector QSR
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Want to be a truly innovative marketer? Then don’t copy anyone, ever, Guzman y Gomez CMO, Lara Thom, says.

    “Don’t look at other brand campaigns and try to do ‘something similar’. Know your brand and what your brand stands for and create from there,” she advised. “We never copy and I think that’s what keeps us unique.”

    Remaining true to GYG’s values has been vital to the way Thom has steered her team towards innovative marketing. These values, in turn are integrally linked to the QSR’s founder, Steven Marks.

    “So much of his personality is embedded in the brand that I often get our most innovative thought starters from something he says in a meeting or when we’re having a discussion,” Thom says. “Not many brands have a CEO/founder who has that level of creativity, innovation and thought leadership.”  

    As a result, Thom says so many things she’s doing at GYG are things her and her team have never done before. “Every single day is a new day, a new advertising platform and martech stack, creative idea or execution or decision-making process,” she says.

    “For me personally, I’ve put 100 per cent trust in data over the last couple of years. While previously I was a very instinctual marketer, data and insights have certainly helped us take GYG to the next level.”

    GYG recently hit $1 billion in total revenue and was named the 2020 QSR Media Multi Site Restaurant of the Year.

    “For a challenger brand focused on reinventing fast food, I’m incredibly proud of the role I’ve played in building this phenomenal brand into what it is today,” Thom says. “It’s genuinely a team effort but one I am incredibly proud to lead.”

    Innovative marketing

    One of the biggest marketing team efforts Thom points over the past year is the ‘Clean’ campaign. This stemmed from a commitment to clean and healthy food that has not only changed the GYG business, but also changed the industry and perceptions of fast food, she says.

    Clean is the new Healthy was GYG’s ambition and kicked off with what Thom describes as a “really good look at the menu”. “We wanted Australian’s to know fast food didn’t have to mean bad food so we decided out menu had to be ‘clean’,” she explains.

    “While we didn’t have a lot of unacceptable additives or added preservatives in our food, we did have to challenge many of our suppliers and partners to create entirely new products for GYG to fit within our strict new Clean guidelines.”

    In conjunction with the founder, Thom led GYG’s 5000 franchisees, restaurant managers and crew through the Clean is the new Healthy menu innovation, strategy and marketing campaign.

    “It wasn’t easy but after three years, we did it. We achieved something no one in our industry has been able to replicate,” she says. “We eliminated and hidden nasty preservatives and additives from our food. Today GYG has no added preservatives, no artificial flavours, no added colours and no unacceptable additives in our food.”

    To recognise this significant milestone, Thom’s team developed the ‘Clean is the New Healthy Campaign’. Created with agency partner, TCM, production was largely completed in-house. A $1.7 million media campaign was then launched across catch-up TV, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, digital display, OOH and radio. Thom says the brand also worked with Nova nationally on a unique partnership to have its founder interrupting other brands’ ads to spread the word about Clean messaging.

    Behind the scenes, Thom led collaboration with GYG’s supply chain to ensure food met the strict Clean guidelines and worked with pricing on a new menu item in conjunction with the finance team.

    GYG’s year-on-year sales growth more than doubled almost immediately and remained at record levels following the campaign, Thom says.

    “The Clean is the New Healthy campaign, anchored by the innovative ‘interrupted’ radio concept, set up GYG to take our success to the next level,” she says. 

    Business smarts

    Agility, insourcing and communication to the wider team have been critical to achieving business growth, Thom continues.  

    “My role is to define GYG’s customer, marketing and sales strategy and comms. This means I have significant input into company’s strategic agenda and organisational change,” she says. “The key to success in my role is to bring our founder’s vision to life using my ability to ‘blow things up’ and to take our franchisees, restaurant managers and crew on the journey to ensure whatever we are doing that day, week or month is communicated across all countries. This supports GYG’s restaurants to deliver.”

    Having brought a lot of marketing capability in-house, Thom’s team can execute campaigns, ideas and content within hours, not months. As a result, when the Federal Government was making announcements around the COVID pandemic and how businesses needed to respond, Thom’s team was fully prepared with messaging for restaurants to action in minutes rather than days.

    But in executing a marketing and sales strategy, vision and goal, emails and long-winded training modules just don’t cut it, Thom says. “We work with millennials who think in 5-second Tik Tok videos so our communications need to be succinct, short and sharp to garner their attention,” she says.

    “We need to arm our army of GYG crew with the tools, data and knowledge to make it happen.”

    Communication has been the key to success for her style of leadership, Thom adds. “We’ve also created a record-breaking culture within the business that celebrates not just sales but exceptional guest experiences.”  

    Customer-led thinking

    As Thom points out, you can’t fake great customer experience or culture. It comes from the DNA of the business and needs strong accountability and great leadership.

    “Our culture is defined by our values and we live them every day. One of those values is to ‘Make Every Customer Love us’,” she says. “From the moment a staff member is inducted into our business, our brand story is shared, as are our values. From there, each of our teams are held to account in delivering our guests an exceptional customer experience.”

    In addition, GYG’s five-strong customer service team plus every restaurant manager in the network have a direct line into Thom and the company’s CEO, have the final say, and are positioned as the heartbeat of the business, she says.

    Commercial acumen

    Early decisions Thom made for marketing included investing heavily in digital and social channels, to be screen agnostic and to never discount GYG’s product. The latter came in handy during COVID when the group offered its first-ever discount product “when it really mattered”, she says.

    “The one thing I can confidently say is common sense isn’t that common and commercial acumen even less so,” Thom comments. “As the daughter of restaurant owners, I have a great deal of empathy for our franchisees and restaurant managers. Hospitality isn’t easy, it’s long hours and it’s hard work. To run marketing for such a large business but still have a deep felt understanding that our franchisees have invested millions of dollars of their own money and their revenue pays not just mine but my entire team’s salaries and we’re responsible for driving brand awareness, sales and culture in their restaurants, it’s a responsibility we never take for granted.

    “The brand comes first and that’s the marketing part, but the sales and profitability are the result of bold thinking and our effort to stay true to GYG’s values by never compromising.”

    This came to the fore when COVID-19 struck in March 2020. GYG’s main priority was to keep all restaurants open and ensure all staff remained employed with no pay cuts. Thom says unlike most Australian companies, GYG had early learnings around how the pandemic could impact the local market from government decisions and resulting impact on its restaurants in the US, Japan and Singapore.

    “With those insights, we immediately developed a game plan and built out five different scenarios based on various lockdown scenarios the government would implement,” Thom says. “We also lobbied the government to ensure fast food was able to stay open given the shortage of food on supermarket shelves.”


    According to Thom, many marketing teams were at a loss when COVID hit as they tried to decide whether to ‘tone it down’ or take the position of ‘now isn’t the time’.

    “Where our competitors were still scrambling to understand how many people the 4sm rule would accommodate in their dining rooms, we had the communications plans written for each scenario, floor tape ready to purchase and signage printed and ready to go our within 15 minutes of each government announcement as the lockdowns began,” she says.  

    GYG also drew upon one of its core five values to define how it was going to take care of employees and our guests, work which led to the debut of the ‘Got your back’ national campaign. For the first time ever, this saw the brand move from quality and fresh to ‘value’.

    “We knew our guests needed value at this time so we approached our franchisees and asked them if they would support us in reducing the price of our burritos and bowls to $9.90 for a limited time to get our guests through an incredibly tough time. The response was a unanimous yes,” Thom explains.

    In total, 11 national campaigns have been launched by Thom and her team over the last six months involving $5 million in media spend. None were on the drawing board before the pandemic struck, and all were created in-house with creative devised by Thom, GYG’s founder and the marketing team. 

    These included free Delivery on Deliveroo, promoted via national out-of-home and radio advertising, the ‘Still open’ campaign, COVID-relevant messaging on delivery bags nationally, the $9.90 burritos and bowls in-store and via Menulog and supported by digital display, free delivery on multiple aggregator apps, the national launch of Churros toast, a merchandise launch of taco t-shirts, PJs and GYG facemasks and the national launch of $3 tacos. To date, 1 million $3 tacos have been sold.  

    GYG’s national app launch also happened during this time. Thom personally led the user experience journey work and mapping with digital developers to ensure the app would be world class.

    “We didn’t have time to think when COVID hit, it was all hands on deck,” Thom says. “We were busier than we’ve ever been and the team really needed to focus on GYG ‘s success during lockdown. I’ve seen my team produce their best work during COVID - they all stepped up and supported our restaurants exceptionally well.

    “They’ve also had one another’s backs at all stages. If someone was feeling alone or having a hard time in lockdown, they looked after one another. I was so proud of them keeping mental health top of mind. Their hard work resulted in two of my team being promoted during COVID. Everyone stepped up and deserve the recognition for what they achieved.”

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