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

After 90 years of slinging its iconic sliders, Atlanta-based fast food chain Krystal is looking for new ways to not just boost brand awareness, but retain relevance with each new generation of customers. Especially as today’s marketing landscape is increasingly fragmented and ever-changing.

To do so, the company has tapped Casey Terrell, former head of digital transformation for Focus Brands, parent company to Carvel, Cinnabon, Schlotzky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and more. Last summer, the restaurant focused its efforts on streaming video and micro-influencers. Under the new CMO, the brand is shifting gears, leaning more heavily into brand partnerships, most recently with rapper 2 Chainz and NFL star Victor Cruz.

Digiday caught up with Terrell to discuss his plans for brand relevancy, tapping into Gen Z and preparing for economic downturn.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Partnerships are important for Krystal this year?

[We’re] really leaning on our 2 Chainz partnership. He’s our head of creative, but he’s more of a business partner. He’s a great partner for us to be able to talk to an audience that we’ve never been able to reach before. He’s got millions and millions of followers on social. He’s got an amazing reach and voice. And so for us, that’s a great partner for us to maintain that relevancy to be able to talk to these segments that we haven’t before. We have our core demographic, targets and fans. We want to make sure that we’re always our fan’s favorite, but how do we always reach new consumer segments, new audiences? We’ve got Victor Cruz in the Northeast, who’s a legendary member of the Giants organization, Super Bowl hero, [and] who is our master franchisee for New York and New Jersey. There’s other conversations that we’re having with some other pretty big names that are coming.

Why are brand partnerships important for Krystal right now?

We saw other brands do this. McDonald’s did a great job with Travis Scott, Megan thee Stallion and some of these other deals we’ve seen. We’re looking for business partners and people that want to grow with us, not just one off activations. 

How does this year’s strategy compare to last year’s?

It’s really more about content. We’re going to update our channels, make sure that TV and out of home are covered, the tech stack makes sense, we’re capturing data and understanding our guests so that we can personalize things and make them fans. But a lot of it’s on the content side. If that content is for certain audiences, how do we personalize it to them as much as possible? The biggest change is leaning in more with our partnerships.  We’re trying to go a little bit younger with our fans. Everybody’s going after Gen Z, but how do we have a message that resonates with them without alienating our current guests? The big change is more on the methodology and how we’re doing media. 

How is Krystal thinking about marketing in 2023 given the impending economic downturn?

We’re a value brand. We’ve been through a few of these cycles. We’ve seen the trade downs over the years. As economic crisis hits, people tend to trade from fast casual or a sit down restaurant and they come more to value [quick service restaurants]. Specifically, on the media marketing budgets, [what] we’re looking at is how do I fill my ecosystem? I think everybody’s trying to do that. We have to be reliant on third party and use them for awareness and eyeballs, but it’s more of a marketplace. If I don’t have a tech stack on my side that makes sense for our guests to be able to get something over here and fill the first party channels, then you’re really relying on someone else. Going into 2023, how do we make that martech stack better? How do we personalize better?

What’s next?

The biggest thing is that we’ve got new franchises. We opened our first franchise location 15 years [ago]. We opened in Puerto Rico. We have Victor Cruz’s stores that are opening, 2 Chainz stores that are opening. Just trying to breathe a lot more life back into [the brand] with new ownership. We want to make sure that people know we’re here and we’re expanding.

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