We are excited to be back with another All-Star guest. Episode 3 features a conversation with Liz Vanzura. Liz is a passionate and award-winning leader in hospitality and lifestyle marketing and has served in both client-side as well as agency-side C-suite marketing roles. Her storied career in the marketing field makes her the perfect guest to walk us through the challenge of getting your marketing messages from the leadership level down to the frontlines, where your employees are interacting directly with your customers.
Currently Liz is developing a new concept for a leading Burmese restaurant chain and catering operation, Rangoon Ruby Restaurants, to grow and expand its presence within and beyond the Bay area. Her specialties are in content marketing, public relations & new product/business development. From Superbowl spots to social media content, Liz has collaborated with top creative & strategic minds to help launch or grow iconic brands including Wahlburgers, Truly Sparked & Sparkling, Cadillac, VW and HUMMER to name a few! Liz earned a Cannes Grand Prix, Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year and was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement. Her accomplishments include the successful worldwide launch of the VW New Beetle & HUMMER brands as well as the renaissance of the Cadillac brand.
Jon Gaul: Welcome to the Brand InnerActions podcast. I’m Jon Gaul and I’m excited to be your guide as we go behind the scenes with some of the brands you know and love. This podcast will explore the moment of truth for these brands, the customer conversation. We journey inside the minds of the brand architects to learn how companies are rethinking human to human interactions and mobilizing their employees to be brand ambassadors. I’ve had my boots on the ground with frontline employees and have seen firsthand how company communication impacts the ability of teams to deliver a strong, consistent message to their customers. We’re excited to be back with another all-star guest. On today’s show, I sit down with Liz Vanzura. Liz is a passionate and award winning leader in hospitality and lifestyle marketing and has served in both client side as well as agency side C-suite marketing roles. Liz has collaborated with top creative and strategic minds to help launch or grow iconic brands such as Wahlburgers, Truly Spiked & Sparkling, Cadillac, VW and Hummer to name a few. Currently, Liz is developing a new concept for a leading Burmese restaurant chain and catering operation, Rangoon Ruby Restaurants, to grow and expand its presence within and beyond the Bay Area. Liz’s storied career in the marketing field makes her the perfect guest to walk us through the challenge of getting your marketing messages from the C-suite down to the front-lines. She offers practical advice on how to break down silos, utilize technology and digital tools to establish regular communication, gather feedback, and collaborate with your internal teams so that everyone in your organization is aligned around your brand story. And now, lets journey inside the mind of Liz Vanzura. As a CMO, what do you feel is the biggest challenge in aligning your marketing strategy with employees?
Liz Vanzura: As a Chief Marketing Officer, one of the biggest challenges we always face is making sure that everybody on the team, the entire team, not just the marketing department, but all the other departments in an organization are all in alignment on the messaging that we’re trying to get to our guests. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges as we work out all of our brand alignment strategy. We work on all of our messages and then we want to make sure that that gets all the way to the guests through our servers in the restaurant business or in the case of the automotive business to our frontline sales teams. And that has always been one of the biggest challenges.
Jon Gaul: I’ve seen the impact of not having every department on the same page and it can drastically dilute the marketing message. What are the best practices that you found in the automotive industry or restaurant industry in ensuring that the marketing message is received down the ladder?
Liz Vanzura: Some of the best practices that I’ve seen in both the auto industry and then also in the restaurant business is that, as we talked about, the messages from the marketing department cannot stay at the senior leadership level. They need to get to the front lines, to the servers, to the folks that are interacting with our guests on a daily basis. One of the techniques that was used in the auto business that was incredibly effective was using dealer councils or sales councils to help. First of all, they were chosen by the sales teams as representatives. They knew what was happening so they could give two way communication with us and the corporate staff on what was happening on the frontlines so that we could respond to those with intelligent marketing programs. So they were incredibly important and incredibly effective at that and involved in the process from the very beginning. So that was a very effective tool for us, bouncing off ideas and input into the process. In addition to that, another form of communication we found was always video and using social media to communicate. We would ask our frontlines in the case of the restaurant business to sign up for our email blast, signup on our social channels so you can see what’s happening and what we’re communicating to our guests. So our servers stay informed, our cooks stay informed, general managers in the restaurants know what’s happening. So they know what the guests are seeing and experiencing so they can explain it and help embellish the message directly to our guests when they come in.
Jon Gaul: Disseminating the marketing strategy to the front lines through the dealer council sounds like a great idea. How did the dealer council reinforce the marketing strategy?
Liz Vanzura: The dealer councils main job was to solicit feedback from the frontlines, the sales teams and our guests from studies they get from their sales information and make sure that they’re communicating back and forth with us on what’s hot, what’s not, what we should know about, what we should change, what’s working, what’s not working. There’s constant information, so they’re constantly in touch with their sales teams. There constantly in touch with guest relationship centers. Oftentimes, in the car business, there’s customer relationship, phone call centers, email centers, that get direct guest feedback. They’re accessing that. Our teams are accessing that. There’s a guest relationship center and they tell us what’s happening and give us reports from that. And those are the things that are really important to be fed into the marketing team, so that we can be right on top of making sure we understand what our guest’s needs are and being ahead of it in terms of trying to solve their issues and then introduce new programs, whether it’s through product modifications, menu items in the case of the restaurant, or changes to the car vehicles in the case of the auto business.
Jon Gaul: Okay, so you’re leveraging the dealer council to initiate the conversation about the marketing strategy with the frontlines, which I think is a great idea. I absolutely love that. How do you gauge how well that strategy is received?
Liz Vanzura: I think one of the biggest challenges is measurement. I think we struggle as a marketing, kind of profession, in making sure that we have the right measurement, cause there’s so many reports, there are so many tracking studies that are out there, but oftentimes, they’re not necessarily exactly what you’re looking for. In the restaurant business, we have the instant feedback of Yelp and third party kind of guest rating systems, such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, Google, where our guests get to go in and tell us right away if they had a good experience or they didn’t have a good experience and we get that feedback on a daily basis. So we can respond, we can post on social media, we can send out e-coupons, we can work with them to try to improve their experience or get them back in for a second try. So that’s been really effective. It’s often for restaurants, you’ll hear us complain about it, but on the other hand, it keeps us on our toes. It makes sure that we know what’s happening and we get that instant feedback. In the car business, it’s just longer term cycles, J.D. Powers and different measurement tools and tracking studies kind of tell you certain things about guests satisfaction and their journey or how well they appreciated their experience or not. And you get that feedback, in terms of that you can work on, but it’s not as instantaneous. I think that that industry would benefit from more instantaneous guest experience and measurable feedback. So again, it’s not that we don’t have a lot of studies and that we don’t have a lot of information. It’s trying to get the right information and making sure that it’s in actionable ways so that you can really respond and change your business and change your offerings, depending on that feedback.
Jon Gaul: Sounds like there’s a dichotomy between the restaurant and automotive industries, in terms of gathering feedback. In the restaurant industry there’s an abundance of real-time feedback and you need to identify and communicate what is important to the frontlines. Whereas, feedback in the automotive industry isn’t as prevalent. In the restaurant industry ,how do you filter metrics or feedback to the frontlines to ensure that everyone understands the priorities and isn’t impacted by information overload?
Liz Vanzura: Well, one of the things that in the restaurant business is so great, is if you can establish regular communication. We have, like most restaurants, we have weekly calls with our frontline general managers and we go through what our marketing content calendar is for the month, for the quarter, for the year. We’re constantly updating that and we use Zoom, so we use a lot of technologies to kind of stay in touch. We actually use Whatsapp, where we communicate and we can share documents, we can share strategies. So, we are using technology more to do a lot of that communication. But even on Zoom, we can look at each other. If we’re not all in the same location, which you may have multiple units and you’re in a franchise organization or even just all over in the Bay Area, it helps to be able to see people face to face on Zoom. We talk about things, we share information, we will walk through strategies, we’ll get feedback if we’re introducing a new cocktail. One of the restaurant chains I work on now is called Rangoon Ruby. Its a Burmese restaurant chain and we’re always trying to help our guests understand what does Burmese food mean. It’s a combination of Chinese, Indian and Thai flavors. It’s very bold. Were always trying to tell the stories through new cocktails or new menu items that we’re offering. And we can say, for example, right away, hey, we offered a new white elephant cocktail, how did our guests like it? The white elephant is a symbol of peace and prosperity and power in Burma. Did your servers explain that to our guests when they were asking about it and describe the menu items and the ingredients that were in that particular cocktail. And it’s interesting. It’s using technology to help communicate, it’s tracking. We can see through our social channels or our email blasts if our guests responded to it. Did they like it? Do they click on it? Did they find out more about it? We get immediate feedback again through Yelp or through other rating measurements. Then we’re constantly feeding that back into our sales team. Finding out how did it work and then again in the restaurant business, because they have technology like POS or point of sale, you can see immediately did it sell or not, which is obviously the bottom line. So, really good use of technologies and dashboards to kind of see whether a program works or not. In the marketing department, one of our key functions is taking all that data, putting it into actionable insights and then disseminating that out to our teams to make sure they’re educated on what’s worked and what hasn’t worked as were developing that content calendar for the year.
Jon Gaul: Your point about tying feedback to actionable insights is a great way to ensure that all facets of the organization are leveraging that feedback appropriately. I want to dive deeper into what you said about sales teams. I’m thinking back to my experience as a salesperson where my approach was myopically focused on my numbers and my territory. How have you found success in incorporating the marketing strategy as a key priority for salespeople?
Liz Vanzura: So, as everyone knows, marketing and sales, in most organizations, have to work incredibly close together to be successful. Ones on the front line talking to the guests on a daily basis, selling product on a daily basis. The other one’s trying to figure out what product should be sold and what messaging points should be used to sell that product. So, the two functions go hand in hand. A lot of times with our sales teams, it was giving them data, the right data, telling the story and arming them with what they needed to be successful and working very, very closely, hand in hand with them as much as possible. And again, in this day and age, everybody’s using technology. There isn’t somebody that isn’t on slack or on base camp or some kind of communication technology. There isn’t anyone who isn’t looking at tracking reports of some type, in the auto business, J.D. Power studies, appeals studies, Nielsen reports. Measurement and tracking was so important and being able to decipher which ones were as correlated with sales as possible. Because at the end of the day, if we help you sell, we’re giving you things that sell, if we’re plussing up a check order at the end of the night, that’s what matters. And believe me, the frontline servers, they know if something’s working and people are ordering it, they tell us, and then we can do more of that, or if something isn’t working less of that. So, it’s a lot of trial and error and it’s a lot of test and learns and a lot dependent on measuring and then giving the sales teams the right information. The information that we see working so that they can do their job and get the best results.
Jon Gaul: Giving frontline employees the right information is paramount. And I’ll add that by leveraging the dealer councils, the right people are providing the right information. The fact that the dealer council was peer selected, that then allows you and your team to focus on the messaging with just the council, knowing that they have the ear and attention of their peers. Is that what you found?
Liz Vanzura: Oh yes. I think we got some of the most valuable information from our dealer councils. They knew the guests better than anyone. They were on the frontline talking to them all the time. So, a lot of times our job was to listen to them and interpret what was working, what was not working based on their feedback and then figuring out how to give them more of what was working and less of what wasn’t working and simplifying complicated problems for them. Bringing them promotions that actually worked and actually sold and that delighted our guests and that would increase repeat guests and loyalty. So, working hand in hand and having them as part of the organization was key. There was no way that we could have been successful in the automotive business at Cadillac, Hummer, Volkswagen, any of those brands without them being a huge part of the buy in. They gave us some of the best ideas that we had and we would make them more creative, because that wasn’t their job. Perhaps we put it in a video form, where they might not have thought of that or we might give them better talking points or however we communicated, but their input was critical and working hand in hand and being able to make sure that you’re listening as much as giving was key.
Jon Gaul: I’d like to shift gears to a question specifically about the restaurant industry. How has the digital evolution impacted the need for restaurants to have a strong and repeatable story?
Liz Vanzura: It’s incredibly important. You will hear, in terms of the strong repeatable story, you will get that feedback so quickly on Yelp, on Trip Advisor, through blogs. You will hear the feedback through your website, through your contact center. So it’s really, really important that we’re putting out messages, that we’re clear, that we’re informing our own teams, that our own teams stay ahead of it. So that, that repeatable, loyal guest, gets a repeatable, great experience or otherwise they don’t come back. There’s so many choices. Why should they? It’s using that digital, using that information in a smart way, it’s incredibly important.
Jon Gaul: You’ve worked with established, well known brands as well as newer brands. What are the challenges that you’ve encountered with less established brands?
Liz Vanzura: When you’re starting a new brand from scratch, one of the things that we’re doing at Rangoon Ruby, is we’re kicking off a new initiative with our catering business, which has been really booming in the Bay Area. A lot of tech companies, with their fierce hours, need their lunches and meetings to be very productive. So they need their food to be brought to them, so that they can continue on with their day. Rangoon Ruby has kicked off a new brand called Concierge Catering. Concierge Catering is basically an accumulation of multiple cuisines. You can choose from Peruvian or Indian or Burmese and have a bunch of choices that come from us through this restaurant group that we’re part of. That brand is a brand new brand. So the challenges is: how do you get the name out, how do you make sure people understand what you’re offering, how do you secure emails so that people can stay in touch with you? How do you make sure that the guest experience through our website or through our communication touch points or our menu inserts is smooth. So it’s a big communication challenge. It starts with a clear brand identity, establishing your voice, making sure your logo and all your important brand guidelines are being held up. And then you start to launch. In this day and age, with so many brands and so much bombardment, it’s very difficult to get a new brand out there. You have to do a lot of experiential events, tasting events, nontraditional introductions, reach outs, in addition to face to face or maybe trials. It’s a challenge these days. And then of course, the digital component makes it a lot easier, reaching out through Linkedin or reaching out through Instagram and allowing people to try, or promoting yourself that way through geofencing and boosting of your channels. There’s lots of ways the digital experience has made it a little easier to establish a brand, through websites and being able to microtarget. But, it’s still a big challenge these days and we’ve seen integrated communications working most effectively, where you’re all on message and you do a combination of those channels to make sure that you reach your guests in a way that they like to be reached.
Jon Gaul: I can see how identifying and addressing customer needs with a new brand can be pretty challenging. How does your approach differ for a rebrand?
Liz Vanzura: For a rebrand, one of the things that we’ve found, and this is just something through experience. Rebranding, a lot of times, is driven by a brand’s need to stay relevant, to be fresh, to be current with your guests. A lot of times, you’ll here marketers say, we’ve gotten a little old and dusty, or perhaps we’re only appealing to an older generation. In the auto business that’s a common occurrence. In the case of Cadillac, where our customers were near and dear and loyal, but also aging and we wanted to make sure that we were staying relevant to millennials and to Gen Xers and that the next generation would understand what Cadillac offered. It’s very hard to do that. So, oftentimes, you’ll say, let’s do a rebrand or a refresh. What we’ve found in my experience with rebranding is, it’s very apropos when you have a new product or a new offering that our guests are asking for and you combine it with a new logo or a new image or a new campaign or a refreshment of a service that you’re offering and you combine the two. Just to rebrand and refresh without something that really is being asked for by your guests. It’s wonderful. Marketing agencies will like it. They’ll get to show a brand new logo or something that looks great in terms of the campaign, but it probably won’t result in more sales unless it’s actually offering a need or answering a need that has been driven by your guests. In the case of Cadillac, I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to be able to launch at that time the new Cadillac CTS, which was a midsize affordable Cadillac. Fabulous product! The first time that Cadillac had entered that market. And of course, we had a great response because a lot of people wanted a more affordable Cadillac. We had a product that went with a younger image, a new branding, a refreshment of the product line and brand, that’s been wildly successful and is still successful today. We had a product to match the rebranding. So that’s when it works. And most marketers will tell you that as well. Packaged goods companies see that all the time. If they offer something and they put a new spin on it and it really addresses a need, then they’ll see sales take off.
Jon Gaul: Rebrands sound like a different type of challenge, in the fact that the brand needs to be reestablished for customers, but also reestablished for the frontlines, who are used to telling a consistent story. With that said, I can see how Cadillacs unveiling of the CTS had a positive impact on creating a new customer base while also reenergizing the frontlines. What’s the biggest piece of advice that you have for marketers in aligning their brand story with internal teams?
Liz Vanzura: I think you can never over communicate. So, big pieces of advice that I would have is making sure that you over communicate. We spent so much time in the marketing departments coming up with our campaigns, our new ideas, our social calendars, our strategy, are e-blasts, our loyalty programs, all the things that we work on a daily basis. A lot of incredibly talented people, whether it’s your internal agency or your external partners, you always need great production partners that know how to effecient work. All of that really helps. But I think we spend not enough time making sure that everybody else in the organization understands what we’re trying to do and the why behind the programs. Give them the back stories, the data, the measurable data, show them how you’re gonna measure it and then over communicate it. It’s just so important these days that your sales team is in alignment with you to make sure that your guest relationship centers understand what you’re doing. A lot of times, even our head of HR in the Bay Area, she wants to know what’s happening as well. She can tell new employees about it, get people excited and behind it. I think the things that I’ve seen are not only just measuring things, which you hear that over and over these days, but also motivating and involving everybody in the company on your new initiatives to make sure everybody’s excited about it and it’s executed well.
Jon Gaul: I think that’s very well said. If marketers can effectively measure, motivate, and create a culture of involvement throughout the organization, the messaging will be successfully received internally, which leads to a successfully communicated message externally. Liz, thanks so much for sharing your insights about the automotive and restaurant industries. We really appreciate your time.
Liz Vanzura: Thank you, Jon.
Jon Gaul: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Liz. As you heard in our discussion, digital technology has disrupted the way customers interact with brands. Now more than ever, marketing needs to make sure the brand story they’re telling customers matches the experience they have at the point of purchase. The only way this goal is achieved is by ensuring that your marketing messages travel successfully from the leadership level down to the frontlines. You can connect with Liz on LinkedIn. To learn more about her latest venture Rangoon Ruby Restaurants, visit rangoonruby.com. The Brand InnerActions podcast is brought to you by InnerView Group and hosted by myself, Jon Gaul. To learn more about InnerView or to obtain a transcript, please go to innerviewgroup.com. Make sure you subscribe to get the latest episodes.