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Jollibee Group CMO Dondi Gomez on building winning brands during and beyond the pandemic

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — When its strong business performance, market share gains, and marketing initiatives in the Philippines and around the world regularly make headlines despite the ongoing pandemic, a company must be doing something right. Dondi Gomez, Chief Marketing Officer of the Jollibee Group and concurrent Marketing Head of Jollibee Group’s Philippine business, has helped the homegrown global food company adapt and thrive in the new marketing landscape by successfully evolving the marketing function, consistent with the company’s vision to be one of the top five restaurant companies in the world. 

As the Jollibee Group’s CMO, Dondi founded the Global Marketing Division, instituting best practices in brand development and management, marketing systems and operations excellence, market research, media management, as well as corporate communications for its 18 brands across 34 countries around the world. The brands under the Jollibee Group are Jollibee, Chowking, Mang Inasal, Greenwich, Red Ribbon, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan, Highlands Coffee, Milksha, Smashburger, Yonghe King, Hong Zhuang Yuan, Tortazo; franchises such as Burger King, Panda Express, PHO24, and Yoshinoya in the Philippines, and Dunkin’ in select territories in China.  

Dondi also established the Jollibee Group’s Marketing Academy, a systematic marketing training program that develops marketers at all levels, equipping them with the competencies they need to progress to bigger roles. His commitment to people development has helped marketers in the company thrive in the unprecedented challenges of the last two years. 

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In addition to his Jollibee Group CMO role, Gomez was appointed as concurrent Marketing Head of the Philippines in January 2022, a position that he previously held from 2008 to 2019.  

The Jollibee Group CMO sat down with adobo Magazine to talk about building iconic brands that deliver strong business results and brand equity performance amidst the evolved consumer and competitive landscape during the pandemic and beyond.

The field of marketing has evolved in the past decade — more so in the past two years. How do you foresee the marketing industry moving forward from here?

Digitalization has had the biggest impact on changing consumer mindset and behavior. But despite the changes, the principles of effective marketing are immutable. It is the execution of those marketing principles that must evolve with the changing consumer expectations brought about by digitalization. 

To be specific, we observe that accelerated digitalization has resulted in more demanding consumers. They now have more access to information and options, elevating their taste, value, convenience, and safety preferences and expectations. These necessitate a more cohesive and compelling marketing mix that is consistently executed with excellence across a growing number of communication platforms and purchase channels. Moreover, personalization marketing (or precision brand messages to consumer micro-segments) at scale is vital for brands to stay relevant to consumers and stand out from competition. 

The pandemic has also sped up digital adoption in Asia-Pacific, accelerating several digital trends to the fore, such as the “cookie-less” race or XR tech for example. How does this affect your brand, and how are you coping with these looming digital changes? 

We developed a comprehensive digital marketing transformation roadmap designed to align our brands with the growing demands of the digitally savvy consumer. This roadmap will drive effective and efficient omni-channel precision marketing in all relevant consumer touchpoints — paid, owned, granted, leased, and earned.  It will map out how the marketing function will advance in each of these areas in terms of data analytics, consumer micro-segmentation, branding, communication, conversion, and loyalty. We also started experimenting and testing like never before and will do more of these as new technologies and innovations emerge.   

Beyond investing on digital marketing and technology, we’re also investing in our people. We are committed to developing their digital skills, providing system and process enablers, training support, and creating an environment where Marketing, Digital Technology, and Operations teams benefit from the upskilling and have tighter alignment.  

For us, no matter the changes on digital and the complexity of the marketing landscape, our customers will be at the center of our evolution and our people will remain our biggest competitive advantage.  

Consumer behavior has changed rapidly in the past two years. Halfway into 2022, what are your insights on this new consumer behavior and how has this affected your marketing framework, objectives, and strategies?

Our customers have gone back to dine-in but their need for off-premise food consumption remains. Hence, off-premise channel excellence continues to be a priority in our marketing strategies and plans today.   

In tandem with brand app/website development and off-premise operations excellence initiatives across our brands, we launched new on-the-go products like Jollibee Chicken Sandwich, Mang Inasal Empanada, Burger King Plant-based Whopper, and Milksha Milk Tea. We also launched group meals that are optimized for off-premise consumption, such as Jollibee Burger Steak Platter, Mang Inasal Chicken Family Pack, Chowking Siomai Chaofan Family Platter, Red Ribbon Pastry Pasalubong Pack, among others. 

These marketing pivots are based on the insight that during lockdowns, work-from-home snacking is an under-fulfilled need state, and in-home dining with family provides respite from the anxiety of the pandemic.  As such, hand-held products and group meals generate high demand and consumer delight in delivery and take-out channels, especially when accessed conveniently through frictionless digital technology and consumed out of store with great taste, quality, value, convenience, and safety.  

In your opinion, how important is it for brands and marketers to create a brand experience for their consumers? What should brands take note of in conceptualizing these experiences, especially in 2022?

With the evolved marketing landscape, customers are looking for a deeper connection with brands beyond awareness and salience. Marketers must create consistent and cohesive branded experiences across multiple communication and purchase touchpoints.

Customer communication must also expand beyond branded messages to more content creator-driven messaging. Traditional media awareness should be coupled with a stronger push for more personalized and data-driven digital marketing, with more efficient conversion rates. 

What makes an effective campaign? Could you share with us your creative process? Can you share with us some case studies or campaigns that you have done that showcase the points on effectiveness and your creative thinking process as shared above?

It is imperative for the creative big idea developed by our agencies to be effective in relevant purchase channels and communication platforms. Apart from big ideas that have disruptive traction across traditional and digital channels, we are also deliberate in developing digital-first and digital-only big ideas that harness the power of co-creation with content creators, influencers, and online communities.

An example of digitally driven and content creator-led campaign is Jollibee UAE’s Spicy Chickenjoy King Bee of the Ring, an influencer-led marketing campaign designed to broaden our market base to non-Filipinos in the UAE. Selected influencers generated awareness and excitement for the hunt for golden tickets in Spicy Chickenjoy buckets; and golden ticket holders would compete in the King Bee of the Ring championship, where the person who consumes the greatest number of Spicy Chickenjoy under three minutes becomes the winner.

 

Working collaboratively with its partner creative agency, Jollibee UAE gave its influencers more control to talk about the brand in their own voices, allowing them to appeal to a different consumer base in the UAE. This resulted in a 70% increase in followers and 80% engagement from the local mainstream market in UAE, the highest recruitment of a non-Filipino audience for Jollibee in the UAE.

What are your thoughts on a collaborative marketing process? Your partner agencies play an important role in ensuring a successful collaboration. Who are these key teams that you work with and how do you ensure a smooth and effective work dynamic?

The best marketing campaigns require strong collaboration between our brand teams and our partners.  Marketing’s goal is to develop programs that move the business lever as much as they push the creative boundaries for impact. It cannot be one or the other. These collaborations happen as early as strategy formulation and campaign brief development. Our brand and digital teams provide business sense-checking, while our creative and media agencies, as well as partner content creators, provide the creative leap. For them to work seamlessly together, we ensure that objectives and evaluation criteria are clear.

Also key to effective collaboration is the psychological safety in the creative process, which enables a diversity in perspective. When teams have the openness and humility to listen, be challenged, and be changed, powerful ideas become tested and improved on, making them even more compelling and effective.

Brand purpose and authenticity have been front and center in campaigns in recent years, how do these tie into your brand story and in creating customer relationships?

Our marketing strategies will always be grounded on our brand purpose. To be authentic, customers must not only see our brand purpose in communication but more importantly, experience the same in our food, restaurant, off-premise purchase channels, and people. This is the compass by which we navigate even during the toughest of times. It’s easy to get disheartened by a setback, but if you have your brand purpose as your north star, you can see that these challenges only present golden opportunities for brilliant marketing, a strong business comeback, and sustained customer relationship through the years.

It’s also more apparent today that what people say about us is more powerful than what we say about ourselves. We leverage on real consumer experiences through scaled word-of-mouth marketing, cultivating digital platforms where consumers can articulate their actual brand experience through product reviews shared in social media. We find that scaled word- of-mouth marketing drives brand authenticity, purpose, and ultimately, conversion and sales.

What marketing trends or projections are you most keen to see materializing this year?

We will see more evolution of the consumer. Micro-segments will have louder, more important voices online, and more consumers will form around communities of interest, passion, and advocacies. Digital public relations will thus be a key driver of awareness, while social online selling platforms will drive more sales conversion. We will see more digital innovations at the restaurant level that elevate the customer experience.

Entrepreneurial speed guided by strong marketing fundamentals and team collaboration will make or break marketing teams and agencies. All of these are as much business change as they are a mindset change.  This makes marketing in a post-pandemic world both challenging and exciting.

To stay up to date with the latest stories from the Jollibee Group, visit this website.

adobo presents Meet the Remarkable Marketers: A CMO Series, where we feature some of the most fearless, agile, and creative brand leaders across Asia. They share inspiration, insights, and key learnings that have shaped their business, from surpassing industry benchmarks and launching effective campaigns, to initiating best practices as they navigated through uncertain times.

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