Innovator Interviews: QSR, Shivram Vaideeswaran, CMO,Jamba
Shivram Vaideeswaran was just over a year into his role as Jamba’s CMO when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in early March. During that year, however, he oversaw a massive rebrand that overhauled every aspect of the quick-service brand, including its digital properties, logo and in-store design for its 800-pus locations nationwide — even the company’s name.
Officially announced last June, Jamba’s rebrand included dropping the word “Juice” from the chain’s name as it sought to illustrate that it offers more than just smoothies. The menu was simultaneously streamlined to introduce more plant-based products like almond milk and oat milk. And, to make the brand easier to access at all points, he introduced delivery across the system as well as better online-ordering features.
“This was a fun project as it allowed our team to get creative, highlight the heritage in the brand, but [it also enabled us to figure out] where we want to take Jamba in the future,” says Vaideeswaran.
So by the time many cities and counties began shutting down in mid-March, Vaideeswaran had a game plan on how to help the company act quickly to keep both employees and customers safe. Having already investigated every aspect of the brand through the revamp, he and Jamba quickly pivoted marketing and operations to make necessary changes like curb-side pickup, which the company was able to roll out across its system within 24 hours.
In those early days of the spread of coronavirus, he says Jamba was constantly communicating with franchisees to learn what they are hearing on the ground in their local communities, so that the company could develop with a strategy at both the local and national levels that keeps everyone safe.
Vaideeswaran took what he called a five-pronged framework for how Jamba would approach its response to COVID-19 and lockdowns across the country. He detailed this framework in an April 3 Brand Innovators livecast, noting that it helped his colleagues understand how to work together and helped the company be much more nimble and have better communications with franchisees.
This five-pronged approach included ensuring the safety of Jamba’s employees, families and customers via CDC policies and procedures; figuring out how customers could still access the brand through curb-side pickup, delivery and ordering outside the store; how Jamba could help support people in the communities it operates and on the frontlines; and understanding the “new normal,” which is “finding ways to connect with our guests by leaning in to how they have adapted during the COVID crisis,” Viadeeswaran said.
The last part of the approach -- celebration and understanding how consumers will behave once the worst is past us -- is still unknown. This framework, he said on April 3, was intended to be for six to eight weeks.
Although some locales are beginning to open up, much of the country is still sheltering in place and will be for the foreseeable future. “Once everything opens back up, it’s still going to be very different from where we were before,” said Vaideeswaran. “We have designed safety and distancing signage for all of our locations to help ensure we keep things safe when guests do start coming back inside. Digital ordering continues to grow during this crisis, and delivery, curbside pickup and contactless methods of ordering and payment will be critical to keep team members and guests safe and healthy.”
Brand Innovators caught up with Vaideeswaran last week to see how he and Jamba have adapted to the COVID-19 crisis, his approach to marketing, and to hear more about what he’s done since his arrival in early 2019. He has been working in the quick-serve and fast-casual industries since 2008, when he began his tenure at Taco Bell and worked his way up the ladder from associate brand manager to head of global marketing and communications. He then served in senior marketing roles at Sweet Green and Blaze Pizza before moving to Jamba in 2019.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s talk about your role. What were some of the challenges you’d faced since arriving at Jamba?
Coming to Jamba was incredibly exciting because I had the opportunity to help reinvent an iconic brand with an amazing 30 year history that needed a little bit of love (and modernization) to keep it going strong for another 30 years. Our fans are incredibly passionate about Jamba, but they have also been clear that there were a few areas where we could help them out.
First, we needed to modernize the brand look and feel to be more contemporary – which included our store design, logos, and social. This was a fun project as it allowed our team to get creative, highlight the heritage in the brand, but [it also enabled us to figure out] where we want to take Jamba in the future.
Next, we needed to step our plant-based game up with more options for our guests. We quickly launched several new plant-based smoothies [as a] first step in updating our menu to meet the needs of our fans.
Finally, we needed to bring Jamba’s technology into the 21st century and did so by launching a new e-commerce focused website, new mobile app with online ordering, new loyalty program, and introduced delivery across the system. These changes have enabled our brand to become more visible in the marketplace and accessible to more people.
What marketing methods are you prioritizing during this crisis and why?
The number one call to action from our franchisees was ensuring guests know that many of our locations are still open. With so many different communications from state and local governments at the beginning of the crisis, guests weren’t sure if restaurants were still open, and serving. We went old school here with banners, flags, and signs for stores which played a big role in driving awareness.
Next, we leaned in on our owned digital channels (e-mail, social, web) to focus on the safety measures that we are putting in place in-store and in deliveries. With a big part of our business pivoting online in the past few weeks, social and e-mail have been incredibly important to ensuring our message is seen by all.
And finally, ensuring guests know how they can order Jamba has been critical, so partnering with our 3rd party partners to promote delivery, as well as promoting access through paid media allowed us to share our message more broadly and continue to educate on the many ways to access Jamba.
Building out multi-channel marketing plans on social, email, and in-store allowed us to share information with our guests and franchisees quickly, especially as rules and access change daily.
Many of your customers were people stopping in during their commutes or during the workday for lunch or a snack. How are you trying to reach that group now that most of us are at home?
We are very lucky to have an incredibly loyal guest base that loves our brand. With our 1 million strong loyalty program, we have been able to actively communicate when stores are reopening, the safety procedures that have been put in place, and a variety of ways to access the brand contact-free.
By focusing on our most loyal guests, we’ve been able to keep them engaged with the brand and help provide them easy access to [Jamba] even when schedules and commutes have been disrupted.
Are you looking to bring in any new target customers to replace weekday office-type customers?
With safety being top of mind for many new guests, we have focused our external communications and media on the steps we are taking to keep team members and guests safe, as well as highlighting our easy access through online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery.
What challenges have you faced ramping up curbside pickup and delivery? Were there digital hurdles to overcome?
One of our biggest initiatives over the past 12 months has been accessibility, and making Jamba the most accessible smoothie in America. With that in mind, we have been laser-focused on ensuring we have the right technology and partners in place to make this a reality. We built an all new mobile app last year focused on online ordering, and introduced delivery across the majority of our system which is accessible through our app, and through 3rd party marketplaces.
Throughout the COVID crisis, we’ve worked closely with our operations team to mobilize our current locations with curbside pickup and make-shift drive-thru’s to ensure we are following social distancing practices. It was a team effort to partner with operations on procedures and best practices and with our franchisees on testing and refinement. Adapting quickly has definitely helped the brand evolve almost daily as new rules and regulations come down the line to keep our guests and team members safe.
Maureen Morrison is an editorial and marketing consultant for Brand Innovators based in San Francisco.
This interview is part of our "Innovator Interviews" editorial series.