CMO of the Week: El Pollo Loco’s Andy Rebhun

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Andy Rebhun, was promoted to chief marketing officer of El Pollo Loco in January, and has been working to keep the brand relevant in culture ever since.

Andy Rebhun, was promoted to chief marketing officer of El Pollo Loco in January, and has been working to keep the brand relevant in culture ever since.

“The vision is continuing to build a brand that our consumers love and admire and giving them the opportunity to recognize that we want to be first choice when they consider dining out for themselves and their families,” says Rebhun. “We want our consumers to feel an emotional connection with the brand because of the way that we prepare our food and because of the way that we're involved and active in the communities in which we serve.”

The Southern California-based fast food chain is focused on making quality food by hand and this approach informs the brand’s marketing. “You'll notice in a lot of our advertising creative, we feature our fire grilled chicken, which has a very special 55 minute cooking process that has been around for many years,” explains Rebhun. “It's something that our consumers really tend to love and appreciate. Food is a huge part of our brand promise. Our sauces are made fresh every single day. We have hand-sliced avocado and mashed guacamole.”

For Hispanic Heritage Month, El Pollo Loco celebrated the history and culture of Mexican and Hispanic cuisine. “Through our Hispanic Heritage Month through our social media channels, we made a concerted effort to really highlight that ingredients are more than just tacos,” explains Rebhun. 

Beyond quality products, the brand is focused on being a part of the communities they serve. For instance, the restaurant chain hires local artists to paint murals in the traditional Los Angeles Hispanic in the community. During Dia de los Muertos, they hired a local artist to recreate Mictlan – a place of rest for spirits until they can return home to visit their families – at their Sunset Blvd. location to celebrate the holiday.

“We've been involved in different types of grants programs to support aspiring chefs, we've done things where we give grants to Hispanic mothers,” says Rebhun. “We're really involved in the communities in which we serve and we really make it a mission to follow through on things that are really closely tied to our brand identity and to our core.”

Prior to his three year stint at El Pollo Loco, Rebhun spent six years at McDonald’s and five at Ford Motor Company refining his skills in branding and marketing. Brand Innovators caught up with Rebhun from his home office in Los Angeles to talk AI, Drone Delivery, Hispanic Mural Art & TikTok Food Inspiration. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How is the QSR experience evolving and what do consumers expect these days?

The biggest piece is accessibility, how can I get my food to me as quickly as possible in a time compressed environment? Everyone is trying to be mindful of all the different things that happen in their day to day lives, whether it be work, family or friends. People have been through the pandemic and realize that food needs to be accessible near me when I want it and how I want it. That's probably the biggest adjustment that restaurant chains have made during the course specifically of the pandemic. 

This not only in restaurants, but grocery retailers, as well as they provide a quicker means of accessibility to the consumers. For us, it's really giving customers the ability to access the food whether it be through our curbside pickup, the drive thru, through delivery or ordering in the restaurant. We really feel like we'd have a very competitive avenue for customers to utilize and consume our food through whatever means the consumer finds necessary.

How is drone delivery going? What other new tech are you embracing?

We're still in a pilot period for drone delivery. It's one of those things that as the testing continues to happen, and the FAA becomes more comfortable with that technology, you'll see the technology emerge even more and more. It gives us an opportunity to have another means of getting our food to our customers quickly. 

There's some novelty that comes with that technology delivery. When we made the announcement it was reminiscent of being in The Fifth Element or The Jetsons, where you see everything floating around. As a marketer, and a fan of the brand, it's very cool to see your brand in that type of position. We're really proud of what we've done with it. You can look to see it being part of our strategy in the future. 

What other new restaurant tech are you using?

The biggest piece is artificial intelligence. We're really looking at different data sets to inform our decision making that we have as a brand. You look at everything from a loyalty program to the things that people clicked on in terms of customer engagement through social media channels. 

It's really about utilizing these data sets to really form and make decisions that sometimes are even more calculated and more precise than the general human mind and human. I see machine learning and data sets continuing to advance, becoming smarter, more precise and really helping inform brands as they make decisions based on what they want to do from a marketing and or innovation perspective. 

How is the brand showing up in culture?

There's a number of different things that we show up in culture. Food is a huge part of everything that we do. In March of this year, shredded beef arepas were a very trendy food item at LA taco trucks and also on TikTok. We tapped into that insight and really made our own. It was a huge cultural phenomenon and iconic launch. It was our most successful launch in our company's 41-year history from a limited time offer perspective. 

The launch was very closely tied with mural art. We have 12 different murals throughout the Los Angeles area where we really try to tap into the last Hispanic mural art around Los Angeles. You'll see a bunch of different murals painted on different sides of buildings. We really showcase Hispanic artists that are featured in a lot of those murals to be impactful in the community. 

Also, we recently announced partnerships with a couple of major Los Angeles sports teams of the LA Kings and LA Galaxy that allows us to bridge a connection with sports. For us to be a part of that conversation is huge.

How are you balancing creativity with the data side of marketing?

The biggest piece is really trying to lean into how we continue to be relevant with the audience that we currently serve, but also tap into a younger audience. Based on the different social platforms that we tend to produce and engage in you'll see different creative show up depending on the medium in which we're launching it. TikTok speaks to a different audience than Instagram, which speaks to different audiences on Facebook with different ages and different demographics. 

We really tried to do a good job understanding what that consumer wants to see. We always evaluate and reevaluate the creative based on the level of engagement we get on different pieces. We're constantly challenging our agencies to continue to be top of consumer mind depending on the medium that the consumer decides to engage in and so we adjust our creative based on different things such as engagement, click through rates, comments and views.

Who is your target audience and how are you reaching them?

We are constantly a centerpiece of family life. If you go to one of our restaurants, you'll notice that family chicken part of our business. We have different types of family offerings that cater to the family demographic fairly substantially. It’s really important for us to provide healthy food at a price point that satisfies what is affordable for a number of families. That's a huge part of our brand mission. 

The other piece is continuing to cast a wider net with the younger millennial audience. Gen Z and millennials really like this whole aspect of customization. It's a huge part of the way people like to order nowadays. 

Can you talk about how your experiences at McDonald's and Ford helped shape you for your current role?

I was really fortunate throughout my career to learn from people who were incredible leaders. They challenged me. They gave me the opportunity to step up and rise to the occasion and really helped mold my career. Being in a position where I could build a team and an agency roster where we have best in class talent and really trying to get brands to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you don't feel like you're being pushed, sometimes if you're safe with some of the decision making, it's not going to be impactful to the brand and to the consumer. 

Over the course of my time that I spent working for McDonald's, I had the ability to learn from some of the best marketers in the world. I was like a sponge at a very early age where I tried to soak up as much as I could from people who had very tenured careers in those organizations and other people were just peers who were very talented. I'm grateful for the experiences and opportunities that those brands afforded to me, because I would definitely not be the individual I am today without them. 

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