The Changing Role of the Restaurant CMO in 2015

By Brandon Hull, Foodable Industry Expert

What do these five brands Sonic, Panera Bread, The Melt, Chilis, and Domino’s Pizza all have in common? Major consumer-facing technology announcements. That's what. Though the technology roll outs from these five brands are entirely different, each is changing the dining experience.


After reading the most recent restaurant industry headlines, it is evident that the job of the Chief Marketing Officer (or VP of Marketing) has changed. And there’s no going back. There’s even a support group for CMOs of the future.

A role that was once heavily consumed with branding, offers, and creativity, is now evolving to focus on technology, data, and analytics. Gartner, an American IT research firm said two years ago that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on IT than Chief Information Officers. Meanwhile, the proliferation of technology has led to consumers – particularly Millennials – expecting an increasing degree of technology to fuel their dining decisions and experiences.

I talked to Gerry O’Brion, former Vice President of Marketing at Quizno’s and Red Robin, and he put it this way, “It used to be that success in restaurants was about efficiency. Today, success comes from your ability to navigate changing customer preferences, changing competition and the changing marketing tools. The best leaders are looking both inside and outside the restaurant industry for answers and talent.”

So, what will restaurant marketing executives need to prioritize in 2015? There are three things that restaurant CMOs need to consider as we head into the next age of the restaurant industry.

1. Think big

Do you have the guts to think big like Sonic is right now? Their “POPS” initiative may not have caught your attention - but it should. By using cutting-edge technology, Sonic has transformed their customer experience to what is exactly right for their brand.

The lines are blurring between CIO and CMO: between IT and Marketing. Restaurant CMOs in 2015 are going to need to think big about how their brands engage consumers by partnering closely with IT, while also working with operations to ensure the customer experience is next-gen, but not impersonally futuristic.

Thinking big isn’t limited to deploying new technology– obviously– but the opportunity to do so has never been better. A few brands that are clearly thinking big include Chipotle, Sonic, Taco Bell, Panera Bread, Zoë’s Kitchen, Applebee’s, and Firehouse Subs.

2. Get used to asking, “What is the data telling us?”

Ad Age tells us that 71% of marketers plan to implement a big data analytics solution in the next two years. Do you have a line item in your marketing or R&D budget to put a data foundation in place? A multitude of restaurant brands are huddling up to envision how they can attract and engage consumers in new ways. Loyalty programs spring from these sessions, along with mobile apps.However, having a data foundation that those customer-facing programs can be built upon is just as crucial. As Mike Lukianoff of Czar Analytics pointed out recently, “What’s important is the quality of the data and the analytics behind it. Ultimately, you have to be able to use it.”

Randy Lopez, former Vice President at Buca di Beppo and Del Taco, says CMOs will need to embrace a generalist perspective now more than ever. “You need a CEO mindset, really. With the amount of data available, you can’t do the deep dives yourself. You’re going to need to be willing to ask for a specialist's help and focus on the decision-making.”

The restaurant CMO in 2015 and beyond has to take into consideration what the data reveals. Follow the lead of Levy Restaurants, which has hired a former KPMG consultant to lead their new analytics department. Yes, a whole “department” to analyze collected data.

3. Integrate your Point of Sale (POS) and customer marketing


If your POS solution won’t integrate with other marketing vendors you have been working with, or want to work with, it’s time to switch POS  providers at this point. Seriously, there are just too many good and more accommodating options out there.

If one of your marketing vendors won’t allow their data to be used in conjunction with your POS data through a certified third-party application programming interface (API) – let alone if they won’t export it to you regularly – it’s time to craft an RFP for a new vendor. Again, there are just too many vendors with the ability to let their tools interact with other solutions.

The most savvy and successful restaurant CMOs in 2015 and in the future will want all of their digital marketing platforms, tools, and technology to be fully integrated. Just like you’ve always expected your creative marketing campaigns to be integrated with the in-store experience, your data-generating tools have got to be integrated, as well.

So, are you ready for 2015?