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Brandon RhotenCMOPapa John's International
When he was vice president of advertising at Wendy’s, Brandon Rhoten made a bold decision to embrace a sassy, aggressive tone in social media, tweaking competitors like McDonald’s for the quality of their food and sending wisecracking responses to consumers on Twitter (and helping them as well: see #nuggsforcarter). Now CMO of Papa John’s International, Rhoten spoke with eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson about why he believes marketers can and should use social media to enact broad changes in brand perception.
eMarketer: What do marketers typically get wrong about the role of social media in changing brand perception?
Brandon Rhoten: The expectation that it happens quickly is the biggest enemy I have to fight. For brands that are good at it, it becomes part of their being as a marketing department. It isn’t some outlying thing that one person does.
When you want to have a voice that’s interesting—not tacky and invisible—it’s a big change. Fundamentally, organizations don’t get this stuff. It scares the hell out of them. But if you break the brand personality and start to see it affect your business positively, the attitude starts shifting dramatically.
eMarketer: Why is it so important to develop a consistent brand voice on social media?
Rhoten: When you have 120,000 employees like we do, you can’t have 120,000 personalities come through. The magic trick is to have a consistent, interesting, reliable brand on all your platforms, but especially on social media, where it’s obvious that you’re a bunch of disparate people in different departments if you do it wrong.
Nobody outside of a company cares that IT controls one thing, operations controls another thing and marketing controls another thing. They see a personality that’s interesting and they want to pay attention to it. And therefore, they want to give that brand their business.
eMarketer: What have you done with Papa John’s social media since you joined the company?
Rhoten: We’re experimenting with a few things. Will an edgier voice work for Papa John’s? Do we have to use offers as a primary means of communication, or can we back off of them even though consumers seem to demand it from our industry?
eMarketer: How long will it take you to answer these questions?
Rhoten: It took two years at Wendy’s to get to the point where we were nailing it [on social media] more often than not. You have to understand your brand voice, why consumers are there and why they want to interact with you. Fundamentally, why should they care about your brand? If you get better at it, they want to interact with you.
But in the first year, people internally and externally were freaked out by what Wendy’s was doing on social media. There were articles about how it was ridiculous and risky. But what’s risky is being boring, because nobody notices you and you become irrelevant.
eMarketer: How do you know what you’re doing is working?
Rhoten: Before we set out trying to change quality perception, we develop a benchmark. Then we do the things we hope will change quality perception, and then we watch to see how the perception shifts. It’s not hard to measure—you just have to figure out what to measure.
If you just look at sales results—if you say, “I sent a tweet yesterday. Did sales change?”—that’s not how consumer relationships work on social platforms. You don’t change someone’s mind instantaneously. It’s a relationship you build and a perception you shift over time. And that’s what you have to measure—how that relationship changes and how that shift in perception happens.
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