The best way to copy Wendy's marketing success: don't. Find your own brand voice, sharpen it up, and be willing to get controversial.
— Erika Adams
Last year, it was #NuggsForCarter. This year, it was the mixtape that Wendy’s dropped on Spotify. The fast food giant has clocked in billions of media impressions for its clear and controversial brand positioning across all advertising platforms, and the social media and marketing team behind the brand voice continue to rack up industry recognition for their work.
Speaking at an Advertising Week conference held recently in New York, Wendy’s chief concept and marketing officer, Kurt Kane, explained that Wendy’s marketing success comes from clearing the path for the company’s core social media team, both employed at the brand and at VML (the outside ad agency that works with Wendy’s) to act on their own instincts.
“Nobody approves anything except for the team that’s tweeting or posting, and that’s intentional,” Kane said. “We’ve got people we trust, they know the brand. Everybody gets hyper-grounded on what the brand is so everybody knows the brand inside and out and the voice. If we tried to approve all of these tweets, we’d never get them out.”
Of course, the team doesn’t get it right every time. When that happens, they regroup on the lines that didn’t go over as well and talk through what could have been done better, but Kane explained that it was important to do that regrouping after the fact. Nobody’s pouring over and pre-approving tweets before they’re sent out.
Trust in the Team
Another crucial piece to create the right environment for success: Wendy’s CEO, Todd Penegor, doesn’t lay into the team when something goes wrong.
“One time we went way too far, accidentally, and I popped into his office — it was right on the heels of one that took off in a very positive way and then within 24 hours it flipped back around on us — and one day I was in his office saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to hear a bunch of great news, this all took off,'” Kane said. “The next day I was in his office and I was like, ‘So, this went the other way on us.’ And he had the exact same expression both times: he was like, ‘Ok, well, you guys will deal with it, thanks.’ That’s how much room and flexibility we have and how much confidence he has as a leader to be able to empower this group to go do this work.”
Measuring the Impact
When it comes to measuring the business impact of having a strong brand voice on social media, Kane said that he isn’t watching returns on a day-to-day basis. But still, the team has had an impact. Kane mentioned a Wendy’s pop-up in the U.K. (where the company has no permanent locations yet) that was flooded with people who had become familiar with the brand because of its social media stunts.
As Wendy’s honed its brand voice on social media, more people started talking about Wendy’s social media presence than its broadcast advertising, where Wendy’s spends the majority of its annual marketing budget. In response, Kane and his team retooled the broadcast ads to feature the same controversial voice that brings in those billions of media impressions on Twitter.
“I don’t think there’s a secret to [the success],” Kane said. “I think the heart of it is, fall in love with your brand. Get to know your brand better than anyone else. […] Know your brand positioning, and have a point of view on that positioning.”