QSR Innovators: Bojangles CMO Jackie Woodward

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It takes more than a bit of – let’s call it confidence – to launch a major product with a one-sentence press release. But that is what QSR chain Bojangles did earlier this year. That cheekiness is in line with the brand’s personality, which is “a little crazy and fun,” according to Jackie Woodward, the company’s chief marketing officer.

It takes more than a bit of – let’s call it confidence – to launch a major product with a one-sentence press release. But that is what QSR chain Bojangles did earlier this year. To introduce its own entry into the increasingly crowded fried chicken sandwich field in May, Bojangles simply issued a one-sentence teaser proclaiming, “It’s So Cluckin’ Good.”

That cheekiness is in line with the brand’s personality, which is “a little crazy and fun,” according to Jackie Woodward, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Our slogan is, “It’s ‘Bo’ Time,’ and there is a little southern sass about Bojangles,” she says. 

In addition to its chicken sandwich launch, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company has big plans for the future. The brand has announced some grand expansion plans, including moving into new markets in Texas, Ohio, and New York. The company has also invested heavily in sports marketing, with sponsorships with NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals with Clemson University quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and University of North Carolin-Chapel Hill quarterback Sam Howell. The company also launched a themed meal box that raised more than $800,000 for Folds of Honor, a nonprofit that provides educational scholarships to families of fallen or wounded soldiers. 

“There are more than five million active military servicemen and -women in the Bojangles footprint,” Woodward says of the connection to veterans. “We have many near restaurants near bases. It made sense for us to ladder all of that up to a system-wide activity.” 

In the following Q&A, Woodward talks about the audacious sandwich launch, the company’s plans for the future, and how it was perfectly positioned to thrive in a pandemic. 

Why launch the sandwich with a one-line press release?

We really wanted to pique people’s interest and curiosity. We’re known for our fried chicken. We needed to make sure we were creating curiosity and interest. It seemed like the right way to go. Our consumer engagement around the launch bore that out. We have increased our social following across all of our channels significantly. We are very pleased with the publicity and buzz around this launch. There’s a feeling that Bojangles is up to something, and our customers love that about us. We also know we attracted new customers. All of those are good markers that they enjoyed the campaign and the sandwich. 

Does the world need another chicken sandwich?

Our food has a flavor and a boldness and a zest that is unmatched in the industry. Our customers love us for that, and they are loyal to us because of the food and the taste of our food. We are unapologetically bold. And so is our chicken sandwich. This sandwich is more beloved by our customers than any other chicken sandwich on the market, and we are proud to bring it to them. 

Still, it’s a crowded category and a crowded market. How do you stand out? 

First and foremost it’s about the food. We say we’re QSR because we have a drive-thru window, but we’re more of a fast-casual restaurant because all of our food is handmade. The chicken is hand-breaded, our biscuits are made from scratch. The quality of our food is our calling card. We stand out first and foremost with our food and the flavor of our food. And then we stand out by doing things like one-sentence press releases.

With that launch behind you, what are you doing now?

Now we have rolled into tailgating season. Tailgating is so meaningful in our business and because football, in particular, is just a major point of passion for our consumers. It always starts with what is over interest of our consumers, and football tops the list. We also have an item called the Big Bo Box, which is really a box where you can get 8, 12 or 20 pieces of chicken, two fixin’s and a half gallon of tea.This year, we have more than a dozen college football-themed Bo Boxes in and around our markets. You can imagine the school spirit that comes when you bring your themed big bo box to the tailgate.

How did your brand manage the pandemic shutdown?

We pivoted much more quickly than the industry. We used our size to our advantage. We had a golden moment to be able to capitalize on our Big Bo Boxes and family meals. We had planned to roll out delivery in 2020, so we were able to move on that very quickly. We have now launched an app for order ahead. We hear from our customers that having the ability to order ahead and curbside pickup is something they love. Since our food is handmade sometimes it takes a little longer, and for that busy mom who wants to pick up dinner, but is rushing home from work, to be able to order ahead is a real benefit. 

What will the post-COVID QSR world look like?

I think off-premise is here to say. Delivery is also here to stay. All of these new ways for customers to access our food have accelerated and we will never go back. We are very focused on making sure we have all of those channels available for our customers all the time. We launched our app in June, and we’re working to grow that consumer base. We are rolling out curbside pickup, and we’re in the middle of 2022 planning. Our founders wanted this brand to be fun and have a personality. We will be bringing that to life through our products and through sponsorships and bringing a smile to people and surprise and delight every day. 

And it looks like you’ve got big expansion plans. 

This ownership team has been in place for two-and-a-half years. We thrived in COVID. We are now poised to really grow and expand. Both for existing franchisees and new franchisees, it’s exciting. As we like to say, “It’s Bo Time.”

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