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How CMO of 90-year-old junk food chain Krystal is pushing to expand brand relevance

After 90 years of slinging its iconic sliders, Atlanta-based junk food chain Krystal wants new methods to not only boost brand awareness, but retain relevance with each new generation of customers. Especially as todays marketing landscape is increasingly fragmented and ever-changing.

To take action, the business has tapped Casey Terrell, former head of digital transformation for Focus Brands, parent company to Carvel, Cinnabon, Schlotzkys, Moes Southwest Grill and much more. Last summer, the restaurant focused its efforts on streaming video and micro-influencers. Beneath the new CMO, the brand is shifting gears, leaning more heavily into brand partnerships, lately with rapper 2 Chainz and NFL star Victor Cruz.

Digiday swept up with Terrell to go over his plans for brand relevancy, experiencing Gen Z and finding your way through economic depression.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Partnerships are essential for Krystal this season?

[Were] really leaning on our 2 Chainz partnership. Hes our head of creative, but hes more of a small business partner. Hes an excellent partner for all of us in order to speak to an audience that weve never had the opportunity to attain before. Hes got untold thousands of followers on social. Hes got an incredible reach and voice. Therefore for all of us, thats an excellent partner for all of us to keep that relevancy in order to speak to these segments that people havent before. We’ve our core demographic, targets and fans. You want to ensure that were always our fans favorite, but just how do we always reach new consumer segments, new audiences? Weve got Victor Cruz in the Northeast, whos a legendary person in the Giants organization, Super Bowl hero, [and] who’s our master franchisee for NY and NJ. Theres other conversations which were having with various other pretty big names which are coming.

Why are brand partnerships very important to Krystal at this time?

We saw other brands do that. McDonalds did an excellent job with Travis Scott, Megan thee Stallion plus some of the other deals weve seen. Were searching for business partners and folks that want to cultivate with us, not only one off activations.

So how exactly does this years strategy compare to last years?

Its really more about content. Were likely to update our channels, be sure that TV and out of home are covered, the tech stack is practical, were capturing data and understanding our guests in order that we are able to personalize things and make sure they are fans. But plenty of its on this content side. If that content is for several audiences, just how do we personalize it in their mind whenever you can?The largest change is leaning in more with this partnerships. Were attempting to go a bit younger with this fans. Everybodys seeking Gen Z, but just how do we have a note that resonates using them without alienating our current guests? The big change is more on the methodology and how were doing media.

How is Krystal considering marketing in 2023 given the impending economic depression?

Were a value brand. Weve experienced many of these cycles. Weve seen the trade downs through the years. As overall economy hits, people have a tendency to trade from fast casual or perhaps a sit back restaurant plus they come more to value [quick service restaurants]. Specifically, on the media marketing budgets, [what] were considering is how do you fill my ecosystem? I believe everybodys attempting to do that. We need to be reliant on alternative party and utilize them for awareness and eyeballs, but its more of a marketplace. EASILY dont have a tech stack on my side which makes sense for the guests in order to get something over here and fill the initial party channels, then youre really counting on someone else. Entering 2023, just how do we make that martech stack better? Just how do we personalize better?

Whats next?

The largest thing is that weve got new franchises. We opened our first franchise location 15 years [ago]. We opened in Puerto Rico. We’ve Victor Cruzs stores which are opening, 2 Chainz stores which are opening. Just attempting to breathe much more life back to [the brand] with new ownership. You want to ensure that people know were here and were expanding.

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