On National Taco Day in October, the Austin-based restaurant chain Torchy’s Tacos, unlike most other taco chains, did not give away free food. Instead, the business gave one dollar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for every taco sold. While free tacos may have resulted in a bigger sales day for Torchy’s, analyzing customer data told CMO Scott Hudler that having social impact was more important to creating lasting relationships. “Our customers would rather pay full price and have money donated to a charity than get a free taco,” says Hudler.
With plans to expand to around 170 restaurants by 2023, developing a loyal customer base is critical to driving long- term growth for the upstart regional chain, as it is for every company. The challenge for Hudler, however, is that Torchy’s doesn’t have a huge marketing budget to work with, at least not in comparison to larger competitors such as Taco Bell and Chipotle. It isn’t the size of the budget that matters, however. Rather, what matters is how the funds are deployed by the CMO. “If activities are translated successfully, CMOs can change the view of marketing from a cost center to a revenue generator,” says Korn Ferry’s Fleit.
For Hudler, that means being more strategic about what priorities to focus on and more selective in where to take risks and experiment. Hudler’s marketing budget at Torchy’s, for instance, is a small fraction of those at brands where he’s previously worked, like Mars Inc., Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Dunkin Brands. So instead of spending millions on a major spray-and- play television campaign, he compensates with a lot of social media and digital advertising, which is not only cheaper but also where Torchy’s customers spend most of their time.
“Our bandwidth is a lot tighter, so we have to focus on the have-to-dos rather than the nice-to-dos,” says Hudler. “It gives us a different perspective on what we need to do to be effective."
Like Torchy’s, The Times doesn’t have a huge marketing budget either. What The Times does have, however, is excellent name recognition. The combination of a small marketing budget relative to its brand awareness means The Times’ Rubin has to take calculated risks to stand out while not going too far out on a limb to damage the brand’s reputation. “Our brand is a real differentiator, so how we define who we are and what we stand for is really important,” he says. “At the same time, there are billions of permutations of our content that people could be interacting with, and each journey develops a different view for the end user.”
Rubin says effectiveness in his role is creating a narrative thread that makes people “feel the difference” that The Times brings to the news, and creates a demand for them to subscribe because of it. More concretely, that means looking at engagement metrics such as whether readers are coming directly to one of The Times’ properties (e.g., the website, mobile app, Cooking or Crosswords apps, etc.) or from Facebook or another platform. It also means analyzing whether readers are registering and logging in when they get to The Times or reading anonymously, how often readers are coming and how long they stay, and, most importantly, if they end up subscribing.
On that last metric, “The Truth Is Hard” and subsequent marketing campaigns Rubin and his team created can at least claim partial credit; The Times’ subscriber growth is soaring, approaching a record high of almost 5 million paying readers.
For more information, please contact Caren Fleit at firstname.lastname@example.org or Zach Peikon at email@example.com.