As part of our interview series featuring the most successful digital marketers at industry-leading restaurant chains, we spoke with Jessica Hurwitz, Director of Marketing at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. Affectionately known as Menchie’s, the popular dessert chain was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles and now has more than 500 locations worldwide.
Given the triumph of Menchie’s in a notoriously competitive QSR landscape, we were curious to hear Ms. Hurwitz’s views on marketing within the industry at present as well as her predictions about how current trends in technology are likely to shape the industry’s future.
How did you get into marketing?
I’ve always been into it. I went to school for it, basically. I liked the idea of working in a field that has both creativity and analysis.
Where did you go to school for marketing?
I did my undergraduate at Emerson College and my Master’s at the University of Maryland.
Describe the most gratifying moment in your marketing career thus far.
Before I worked at Menchie’s, I worked at IKEA, where I did local marketing for the local stores in California. We put on some amazing events and one of the most gratifying moments was coming to work, after having published and done all of the planning for the event, and seeing a huge line of people – hundreds of people long – lined up and then going on the security cameras and seeing that people had been lined up since 3am. That was exciting!
What do you believe is the biggest challenge for a marketing director these days?
It depends. If you’re trying to reach people outside of the company, the challenge is the diversified media that you have and giving it all the attention it deserves. Within your company, the challenge is the constraints on budgetary and human resources.
You mentioned the multi-channel nature of things. Can you clarify a little bit what you mean by that?
So many new things come out and you really have to understand who your audience is. That can be an expense in itself.
Also, trying to understand where people’s eyes are going to be is fairly difficult. For instance, ten years ago, SnapChat was the hot new thing and now barely any teenagers are using it. They’re now using TikTok.
There are so many ways to reach people, from the traditional way – which still has some merit – to new technologies that you can’t even imagine.
What do you believe has been the most significant marketing technology change in the past five years?
I think what we’ve seen in terms of what the phone can do is huge. Geofencing was nowhere near where it is now and I don’t think it’s gotten to the capability it can reach. I think that’s one of the biggest changes; maybe a hugely important one. Especially for small, individual locations, there’s a huge opportunity.
That’s the advancement of the Smartphone?
Yeah, the second part of that would be the advancement of the Smartphone. You’re able to use your phone in so many ways.
Originally, what I was thinking about was QR codes. Two years ago nobody was using QR codes and still mostly businesses are, but Smartphones are able to process them. It’s a technology that really does help marketing people. You don’t need to have a product app to get a QR code; you can just use your camera. For a marketing person like me, that’s a big deal.
Would you say this has had an impact on Menchie’s?
It can and it has in certain ways. We’re starting to explore what we can do with push notifications within the app. In terms of geolocation, we’re starting to use it in a different way.
We haven’t really scratched the surface of using a company to do this effectively. Once we do, it will have a huge benefit on the franchisees.
By geofencing, do you mean geofencing for paid advertising purposes? Is that how you think about it?
I meant both, actually; paid advertising and geofencing using our push notifications.
What do you think is the most exciting and potentially impactful marketing tech trend to watch at the moment?
It would probably be all that you can do with the push and the lock screen. I don’t think many people or many companies are doing a lot with it but from what I’ve seen from the capabilities that we do have, I think it may be an emerging trend. It has a really exciting future, especially if we’re able to segment it, and I think we’ll be able to.
It sounds like a lot of what you’re talking about is centered around the app and getting people to download it. Is that a fair way of thinking about it?
The strategy of Menchie’s? Yeah. We know that there is so much competition on social media and it is difficult to compete with influencers and what not. But, if we get directly into the hands of anybody on the device they use the most and at the location where we want them to see notifications, then that would be an incredibly powerful opportunity for us.
How do you see the relevancy of digital versus traditional advertising changing over the next five years?
I was actually just having this conversation last week with a manager who works for me. We were debating whether it is worth it to continue doing certain types of digital ads versus social ads. I think the trend of relying on generalized digital ads as a go-to, as a cheaper method, is out-the-door at this point. The trend is toward focusing on social ads and I think that’s a better thing.
I speak mostly from the perspective of smaller companies like Menchie’s. If you are from a larger company, and you are able to afford it and do all the cookies, generalized digital ads actually have merit. However, for us, we focus on social advertising, which allows us to segment our ads and reach people through newer social media platforms that you might not think about for the food industry (like TikTok).
Given the retail nature of your business, how do you measure the efficacy of your advertising?
We’re still doing clicks. It’s not the best way right now.
Do you still do traditional media?
If we do, it’s mostly direct mail campaigns.
Is there a calculable ROI on that or it’s just kind of historically been there?
Yeah, they do bounce-back coupons related to it. Some areas don’t get direct mail advertising as often so there will be more success in those areas compared to areas that receive a lot of direct mail advertising.
If you could give one piece of advice to digital marketers who are just starting out in the restaurant industry, what would it be?
It would be to get as much information and to sign up for every single piece of competitor email and follow everybody that you can possibly think of in your industry. So, if your industry is frozen foods, follow everybody you can think of who’s in frozen foods. Don’t limit yourself to that, but also follow people in desserts and QSRs so you can really understand what other people are doing.
BrainPickings: Stay tuned for more interviews with successful marketing leaders in the QSR space!