A Conversation With Wendy’s Carl Loredo On The Age Of Fandom + Using AI To Help Reimagine Customer Experience – Forbes

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The most important building blocks for brand success are largely centered around sharpening customer understanding, consistently refreshing the CX, reimagining loyalty and doing whatever can be done to move from transactional relationships with customers to ones truly centered on value. While many talk about these things, few have the goods to walk the walk. Additionally, as marketing continues to emerge more as a service than a way to gain attention for a brand, the need to best meet customers where they are at, in ways they value has never been more important.

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With that in mind, I wanted to talk to someone sitting at the nexus point of many of these key challenges and changes leading brands are facing. Carl Loredo is the Global Chief Marketing Officer of Wendy’s. He is marketing industry veteran having worked at leading brands such as Spotify and Frito Lay. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee Howard: Tell me about the Wendy’s global journey and your role within it.

Carl Loredo: I’m in my fourth year as CMO, serving first as the U.S. CMO until February 2023, when I shifted to Global CMO. My mission as Global CMO is an extension of what it was for the U.S.: to make Wendy’s the most talked-about brand in the world, not by outspending others, but by outplaying them.

We’re doing this by earning our customers’ fandom for the Wendy’s brand, seeing customers as more than transaction data. Sure, data and listening are important steps to take in understanding what moves your customers – our fans. But that’s just the beginning. We take pride in having real, authentic conversations with our customers and acting on human insights we discover. It’s something we’ve gotten pretty good at. Now, our incredibly talented team of marketers is taking our approach to building fandom globally in support of our more than 7,000 Wendy’s restaurants in 32 countries.

Our goal is to show up for our fans as a unified global brand – and it’s working. We dethroned our competition in the U.S., and we’re staying focused on building our success around the world by taking risks, acting fast and making bold moves to disrupt the industry. By truly seeing and hearing our fans while understanding the nuances of each market and culture, we can break through the marketing noise and build Wendy’s brand in every region, every day, in every way that matters to our fans.

Howard: Talk to me about your approach to creating a customer-first mindset and treating them first as friends before “inviting them to lunch.”

Loredo: We’ve earned a reputation from how we connect with our fans – a brand that’s both sassy and charming. But it didn’t happen overnight. Before we were able to invite our fans to Wendy’s for lunch (and breakfast, late-night and every meal in between), we took the time to get to know them – their interests, their passions. We work to build a community around the topics that matter to them, often at the intersection of entertainment and pop culture.

We know powerful marketing is more than slapping our logo on an event or experience. We embrace opportunities to build authentic fandom – like collaborating with longtime Wendy’s fan, GRAMMY-winning rapper, T-Pain, to re-introduce our Strawberry Frosty by reimagining one of his biggest hits. Or by creating the annual (fake) National Roast Day, a tradition where we dish out roasts to fans and other brands.

It’s an approach that leverages – and reinforces – our cultural and social relevance. Fans love how we’re willing to spend quality time with them and share their passions. This strategy gives us permission to take risks and move fast to connect in these communities, on social and across big and emerging cultural stages. Our fans appreciate the essence of Wendy’s as a beloved, culturally relevant brand with a rich history of creative marketing campaigns that speak directly to them. And, by fighting for their fandom every single day, we earn the right to ask our fans to Wendy’s, driving our visits in-restaurant, at the drive-thru and on our digital ordering channels.

Howard: How are you thinking of using AI and other tech to reimagine the Wendy CX?

Loredo: As a challenger brand, pushing boundaries means constantly exploring how technology and innovation build even more connections with consumers. We see industry-leading AI as a means for creating more connections between our brand, customers, and restaurant teams, in ways that are authentic to the Wendy’s brand. Just this year, we partnered with Google Cloud to build a groundbreaking AI solution, Wendy’s FreshAI, designed to transform the drive-thru food ordering experience with greater speed, accuracy, and consistency. With fast, frictionless drive-thru orders, we can help further differentiate Wendy’s from our competitors.

AI is no gimmick. We have plans to continue to expand the use of AI to additional channels, meeting our digital-first customers where and how they want to enjoy Wendy’s with customized marketing messages and increased digital touchpoints. We know our customers crave customized offers and more value on their Wendy’s favorites, so we’re prioritizing digital ordering experiences for our customers with digital menu boards, the Wendy’s app, in-restaurant kiosks and through third-party delivery partners.

Howard: Loyalty is constantly needing to be re-imagined. You mentioned the equation of digital channels and seeing customers as Individual parts of the process. Could you share more about Wendy’s approach to connecting with customers across digital?

Loredo: We were the first hamburger chain to introduce a loyalty program, and since launching Wendy’s Rewards, millions of fans gained access to perks of the program. Today, we use our digital tools and in-app experience to engage our fans in relevant, timely, personalized ways across delivery, drive-thru and in-restaurant.

Our customers’ preferences for digital ordering help our team build more seamless and streamlined ways to build customer loyalty, especially with advancements in AI and through our Wendy’s app. And we’re continuing to invest in our digital customers – they are some of the biggest Wendy’s fans. In fact, they visit three-times as much and spend more than a typical customer at every visit. As marketers, we will continue to treat them as VIPS to keep earning their visits. They’ve embraced digital, so we’ve embraced digital – and the learnings, data, insights, and sales we’ve gained from digital proves that it’s worth it. And as I mentioned, the Wendy’s app plays a key role in building our fan base and fueling growth. Initiatives like Wendy’s Rewards in the U.S. and Canada aim to increase engagement and frequency among our customers.

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