CMO50 2022 #14: Lara Thom

  • Name Lara Thom
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Guzman Y Gomez
  • Commenced role June 2019
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer and founder
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 32 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector QSR
  • 2021 ranking 6
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Lara Thom isn’t a marketer who just follows the crowd. The CMO of QSR brand, Guzman Y Gomez, says the mantra she’s instilled across her team is to focus on GYG’s business strategy and vision, rather than copying others.

    “Our values have defined a lot of the bravery we have displayed to date and are also a great foundation to guide us through some incredibly brave decisions,” she comments. “When I think about bravery in my team, trust plays a huge part. Trust must also be present on both sides. My team needs to know I have their backs at all times. And I need to trust them to lead.”

    Innovative marketing

    One area Thom wanted to challenge GYG’s approach over the past year was digital guest experience. The ambition was to create an improved GYG mobile app and website enabling customers to easily order from GYG’s highly customisable menu, engage with its loyalty program and exclusive offers, and deliver more convenience and value.

    “We wanted to streamline and enhance our digital customer journey to match the speed and quality of the food served in restaurants, increasing user engagement and ultimately drive sales,” Thom says.

    Keeping guests front of mind, customisation needed to be key throughout the app development because of the fact GYG guests make 2.8 million menu customisations to their orders every week. At the same time, agility and scalability were a must. Promoting GYG’s loyalty program, Gomex, and allowing simple integration of the associated rewards was another key component. The mobile app debuted with a free burrito for every guest upon sign up.

    “The GYG app makes it easier for users to track their points and earn GYG dollars,” Thom says. “Once users have earned their GYG dollars, they can split payments between GYG dollars and other payment methods providing for increased flexibility and customisations. Simple design innovations, such the opening screen customised to say ‘Hola, [name]’ and taking the iconic yellow sticker used on GYG’s food in-restaurant and incorporating into the cart page of the app, emphasise the unique and fun nature of the GYG brand. And it provides a personalised experience for all users.”

    Users can indeed fully customise their ordering experience, from store selection to highly bespoke menu items, how and when they want their food, and a mix of standard payment options as well as loyalty points. Functionality allowing for pickup via drive thru, filtering and searching for restaurants by characteristics, and table service ordering in-store were also incorporated.

    “The result is a new GYG app and ordering site that delivers a fresh look, streamlined ordering process, and exciting new features through a new ordering flow,” Thom says.

    Supporting the new app launch was GYG’s largest ever marketing campaign, encompassing promotion across social, search, digital display, outdoor, BVOD and EDMs. This resulted in record sales and GYG’s app staying within the top three food apps in the country during the campaign period.

    The GYG app now has over 1 million members and has been growing by tens of thousands each week.

    Business smarts

    At time of CMO50 submissions, GYG was opening its 15th drive thru in 12 months in Port Macquarie. Thom says the opening broke every conceivable record in sales, burritos sold and transactions.

    “Port Macquarie really is a summary of our last 12 months. Record breaking,” she says. “As a marketer responsible for sales, comp growth, brand, national marketing, local area marketing, PR, customer service, digital, delivery and data, I am proud to say GYG has achieved our best results ever this year and we have no intention of stopping.”

    With growth, however, comes self-reflection. Over the last six years, Thom has contributed to GYG growing from 40 restaurants to more than 170 and a company valuation of $1 billion.

    “The next part of my own leadership journey at GYG is new to me and it’s exciting,” she says. “Our growth targets and goals are ambitious. And we will achieve them. But GYG requires the best leaders in Australia, if not globally. Much like my own children, GYG is moving from a teenager to adulthood.

    “We have a new senior leadership team in place and it’s my responsibility to embrace and immerse them in all things GYG as well as learn from their exceptional experiences and pass those onto our wider team.”

    To ensure she’s ready, Thom was asked by GYG founder and CEO, Steven Marks, to challenge herself and ask: “Are you good enough to get better?”.

    “The result of this question has transformed my own leadership. It’s helping me step outside my comfort zone to be the best leader not just to my team, but for my peers and the wider GYG business,” Thom says. “I have restructured the GYG marketing function and employed the best talent in our industry to lead creative, strategy, delivery and PR and comms. I am letting go of the detail and anchoring myself in a higher role and purpose, entrusting my team to step up with me.

    “After years as a challenger brand, we are shaping GYG to take the lead in our industry. This is where our culture and values will be integral to success. I am consciously thinking about my leadership on a daily basis ensuring that yes, I am good enough to get better.”

    Data-driven maturity

    Meanwhile, the day-to-day job of delivering continues apace. To help, GYG’s marketers are constantly tapping data-driven insight to fuel new activities and menu innovation.

    “If we have a slow lunch, we use our data and insights to drive media spend in the right places to ensure we have a huge dinner,” Thom says. “The quality of our platforms means we know we can make a considerable impact on sales within a half-hour period.”

    Insights led to GYG’s biggest growth opportunity and success over the last 12 months: GYG brekkie. In November 2021, the QSR launched its first national integrated brekkie campaign.

    “Our approach to the ‘Good Mornings by GYG” campaign was to take the message and deliver it to the right audience, using the right channels and deliberately targeting content that was relevant to the audience,” Thom explains. “We strategically bought paid media across digital, out-of-home digital billboards, national radio, and social media and it worked. We also leveraged our relationships with media across key media outlets to build awareness and drive desirability of the GYG brekkie menu.”

    Momentum grew, resulting in weekly record-breaking sales and transactions. “The momentum was hard to ignore, so we decided to extend the campaign and turn back on in April 2022 with a similar media buy,” Thom continues. “Again, results were outstanding and breakfast sales continue to grow.”

    Campaign success led to developing a new hero product, the Big Brekkie Burrito. In less than six weeks, the Big Brekkie Burrito went from a piece of guest feedback through to culinary testing and recipe development and a real product rolled out across the national network.

    “The results were astounding and still today, GYG brekkie and the big brekkie burrito remain the fastest-growing daypart and menu item for GYG,” Thom says.

    Commercial acumen

    In the six years Thom has been with GYG, its marketing team has achieved comp sales targets every single year. And each year has been bigger and better than the last in terms of revenue and profitability. In addition to comp sales, growth is driven by store openings and Thom’s team is responsible for marketing the opening and subsequent sales in each new local area.

    “The more effective our marketing campaigns are, the more money we earn to spend on more marketing,” Thom says. “It’s a neverending wheel of fortune and my team love the rush and ownership of knowing a product or campaign launch is their responsibility and must generate more sales. As a result of this, we are involved in pricing, COGS, ROI, budgeting to ensure our spend has a positive ROI at all times.

    “GYG’s marketing team are involved in all P&L discussions with restaurants, our Go & Grow sessions internally teach each member of the team about contribution. Financial literacy is the key to our growth.”

    Thom takes huge pride in growing and educating team members at GYG. “We have an empathy and understanding for our restaurant franchisees and corporate operations team, who are on the frontline preparing and making fresh food each day. We see it as our role to make their lives as easy as possible by getting guests in the door so they can provide them with memorable GYG experiences,” she says.

    Leadership impact

    All this reflects the dominant theme of team capability driving the GYG executive leadership team over the last 12 months.

    “We have all had to self-reflect over the past 12 months to ensure we are ready for the next stage of growth in GYG’s journey,” Thom says.

    A number of initiatives to ensure teams are also high performing are proving instrumental. These include ‘Morning Call’, a daily 10-minute virtual meeting across the national team. GYG’s annual summit and restaurant managers theme in 2021 was high performance with a number of guest speakers elaborating on how to deliver it.

    “We approach our business goals as ‘one team’ and while we have a leadership team, there is minimal hierarchy to ensure progress is made and not caught up in too many layers,” Thom says.

    There are also regular engagement surveys with Culture Amp with results and feedback actioned, investments into skills including the ADMA Skills Assessment and individual career plans, and a collaborative culture.

    “As a leader, I am open and transparent with my team at all times. Being open and vulnerable and asking for feedback has been the key to our team’s success,” Thom says. “I share my own 360-degree feedback with my team to ensure they understand my high high-performance goals.”


    Share this article