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Wade AllenVice President of Brand and Digital InnovationChili’s
Personalization is top of mind for brands across industries, but before they can deliver the highly customized experiences they promise, they have to understand the underlying data they have gathered to power their efforts. Wade Allen, vice president of brand and digital innovation at Brinker International-owned restaurant chain Chili’s, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about the data integration challenges the brand encounters, and how integrating existing marketing technology and being open-minded about new tools is helping the company use data effectively.
eMarketer: What are some internal technology challenges you are facing as you keep up with growing customer expectations?
Wade Allen: As a quick-service restaurant, we have the potential to create magical experiences—you tap a button on your phone, and food comes out. In order to deliver that experience, though, there need to be big, underpinning technology systems to process the data. For example, the point-of-sale system has to line up with a [customer relationship management] CRM system and a mobile deployment system.
eMarketer: Can you share more about the types of data issues you’re dealing with?
Allen: Personalization is one issue. It’s about knowing your customers, showing them you know them and showing them that they are valued. But to do that, you have to know who is in your restaurant, how often they come in, whether or not they’re price-sensitive, what they order and what matters to them.
We don’t have all of the data systems in place to measure all of this. We’ve been overhauling our systems, because otherwise the data is just a lot of sizzle without any substance. We don’t want to be blasting everybody the same message if it’s not consistent with their experience.
eMarketer: When you talk about overhauling the systems, what does that mean?
Allen: Before, my team was more about supporting and managing marketing technology. Right now, the team is transitioning to more of an integrated environment. We’ve often brought in multiple technologies that all have value, but were all a little bit siloed.
Now, we’re building connective tissue around all those systems so that data is processed appropriately. Integration is tough, but we are working aggressively to make sure we have the right technology and infrastructure to make [it] possible.
eMarketer: What’s your process for bringing in new technology? How do you make those decisions?
Allen: I wish I had a clear answer, but every time we go down this path of new technology, there’s another disruptive technology that pops up that we should add. Mostly we rely on trial and error. I get 100 emails and 25 phone calls per day about new technology, but I carve about an hour and a half [out of] my day to go through new presentations and take calls from tech providers.
I look at new technology through the lens of improving the customer experience. Often vendors or partners offer new shiny tools, but they don’t actually enhance the guest experience, [so that’s a deal breaker.]
eMarketer: How do you keep your marketing team up to speed on new technology?
Allen: We’re very proactive about going out to industry conferences. I send my team to one to two, sometimes three conferences a year based on our budgets. If someone deals with email marketing technology, I want them at those conferences, learning about new email marketing tools. What’s going on with artificial intelligence? What are vendors up to? Conferences are critical because people then come back and share what’s new.
US paid media ad spending will grow steadily in 2017, on the heels of a strong 2016 boosted by the Rio Olympics and the presidential election. A focus on mobile will fuel growth, pushing total media spend to more than $206 billion this year—a moderate increase of 6.1%.
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