Yum! Brands & Avocados From Mexico: Innovating for the New Normal

Marketing leaders from Yum! Brands and Avocados From Mexico shared the virtual stage at a recent Brand Innovators Livecast, offering insights as to how their respective brands are pivoting as well as how they are using data and creative content to drive growth.

Las Vegas, NV – January 8, 2020: Ivonne Kinser, Head of Digital Marketing, Avocados From Mexico at Brand Innovators CES Mega-Trends at the Four Seasons Hotel

Ashley Travis, KFC Global Director-Digital Strategy for Yum! Brands, led off the day. Travis, who joined Yum! Brands last July after stints at Amazon and Starbucks, says she was thrilled to bring her skills to the company. “The culture is like nothing I’ve ever experienced--it’s so people-centric--and, having worked at companies that are a bit farther along in the digital journey, I could not pass up the opportunity to come to an industry like QSR and build something from the ground up.”

With Yum! Brands’ highly decentralized organizational structure and franchises spread across 144 countries, Travis said her job is often to learn from the teams around the globe that run day-to-day businesses so she can integrate their learnings into company-wide best practices. One example: Yum! Brands Australia uses the Braze platform to map basic CRM journeys. “I wanted to figure out how to leverage that to get customer feedback,” Travis said. “I worked with Braze to identify customers as soon as they purchased and entered them into a 5-star rating system. We saw that our response rate skyrocketed and we got valuable customer insights that impacted multiple parts of the business.”

Another example came from Malaysia, where Travis’ team had been gaining insights as to what their customers were going through during the lockdown. “People are shopping less often and making the food that they have stretch farther. As a result of that insight, our KFC team developed recipes for using leftover fried chicken. We’re just trying to be useful.”

Alignment Key

The biggest challenge in Travis’ role? Getting alignment from all of her stakeholders, she says. “It’s easy to get stuck in your silos. We are trying to work in a more cross-functional manner. The biggest challenge is that we are very decentralized. The positive is that we learn a lot from our teams in-country as they discover new tech, new resources, new partners. But that decentralization can slow down progress too--you can’t find efficiencies, you can’t automate or centralize as well. As a team, we need to be thorough and thoughtful in the recommendations we give to our markets and franchisees.”

Travis repeatedly stressed the importance of being nimble. “Data is the enabler to intelligent change,” she said. “In the absence of data, it’s difficult to prioritize initiatives and focus on the things that have the biggest impact. Coming to Yum! when it is in the beginning stages of doing that, it helps to cut through a lot of opinions when you have a set of data to look at. It’s been really helpful in conversations.”

COVID, Mobile & The New Normal

Since the Coronavirus era began, Travis said, she’s been busier than ever. “Working in the digital space, there is a heightened need around the globe. We have been living and breathing this for months because we are such a global business. It’s never been more important for people to be able to access our brands.”

With an eye towards the new normal that awaits us all, Travis said her job right now is “to create future customers. We have a lot of new customers coming in through our digital channels so we have to have a solid plan for how we build relationships with them and keep them coming back for more.”

Key to it all is Yum! Brands’ mobile strategy in a new landscape where traffic is skyrocketing. “More than 70% of our traffic is coming from mobile right now. People are binge-watching shows and placing orders on mobile devices. From a marketer’s perspective, it’s harder to grab people’s attention. It’s more important to provide easy, seamless experiences.”

Convenience and transparency are of heightened importance, she said. “All of the third-party research I’ve seen suggests that, going forward, the experiences we create with customers now will hold true as our ‘new normal’ sinks in. We have to ask ourselves: How do we continue to ensure that we’re bringing our brand to life?”

Innovation With a Purpose

The Brand Innovators Livecast audience also heard from Ivonne Kinser, Head of Digital Marketing at Avocados From Mexico. Kinser, who has been at the company since its 2014 beginnings in Dallas, helped build its digital marketing practice from the ground up, from SEO to social, CRM to data integration and more.

Kinser pointed to how rapidly her industry changes and said she’s proud of the level of innovation her team has brought to the table. (Fun fact: they were the first in the fresh produce industry to integrate chatbots.) “Innovation with a purpose is leveraging technology to solve problems that everyone has,” she said, adding that her team’s focus is on helping growers accomplish their goals, removing barriers and identifying opportunities to increase business.

The brand is, of course, known widely for its Super Bowl commercials deliciously delivered leading up to and during the biggest guacamole day on the annual calendar. Kinser said the Super Bowl ads have been transformative for the brand, with value that lasts well beyond the big gameweek. “When all the noise fades, people still remember Avocados From Mexico. For about six years, our message recall has allowed us to dominate the conversation and break through the noise.” Kinser points out that Avocados From Mexico has been the most talked-about brand in the Super Bowl, impressive considering it’s a moment where 100 million people are engaging online. She also laughingly adds that the word “GUAC” was the most shared word in social media during the last Super Bowl.

Data and Personalization

In order to fuel further growth, Kinser says, Avocados From Mexico is developing a strong first-party data ecosystem. “We are very collaborative but data inevitably stays in silos unless you have a robust infrastructure and do a lot of thinking around it. The easiest part is to collect the data. But to bring all the pieces of data together and interpret that picture is very challenging.”

At the root of data’s importance, she says? The ability for the brand to up its game in terms of personalizing messages to consumers. “Personalization is so important right now and you cannot do personalization without data. It’s not cheap to do but it’s what we want to have so we don’t have to depend 100% on other data providers.”

When the topic turns to influencer marketing, Kinser says it can be an effective channel but only when done correctly. “At least part of the industry has misused the term and the platforms,” she says. “They’ve kind of put it in a spot where it isn’t the best performance activation or option out there. When you compare the effectiveness of influencer marketing vs. the use of data with CPC and CPM, it’s not very advantageous. However, when it’s well done--when the people are right and they genuinely know your brand--it’s a whole different ball game.”

Inspiring Humanity

On a more sober topic, Kinser says her team is “hanging in there like everyone else” during this shutdown period. “We are finding new ways to do business and be with friends. It’s really remarkable the role that humanity plays. Even though this is a terrible thing to go through, at the core of the tragedy, there are humans doing the best they can to pull humanity through.”

Kinser says she’s been impressed at how the food service industry has come together too. And her customers have been showing gratitude as well. “The word we are seeing most in social conversations is actually THANKS. Marketers at this moment in history have the opportunity to share messages that inspire humanity and move us forward.”

Here’s to that.

To learn more about upcoming Brand Innovators Livecasts, go here.

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