Barry Westrum, the Dairy Queen system’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, explains how the brand continues to stand out in an increasingly crowded industry.
For the past 75 years, the Dairy Queen® system has solidified its position as a leader in the increasingly popular limited service restaurant industry. It’s become a tradition that’s passed down from one generation to the next—families and friends frequently gather at their local DQ® restaurant for a Blizzard® Treat or signature frozen treat. It’s rare for a brand to create that kind of lasting relationship with its consumers. But according to American Dairy Queen Corporation’s executive vice president of marketing, Barry Westrum, it’s what sets the brand apart from the rest.
That customer loyalty isn’t wavering—the brand is continuing to grow its DQ Grill & Chill® model, which opens the door for the Dairy Queen system to dominate in both the food and frozen treat categories. 1851 Franchise recently spoke to Westrum to learn more about the Dairy Queen system’s unique relationship with its fans as well as what’s next for the brand and the restaurant franchising industry as a whole.
How does the Dairy Queen brand continue to stand out in an increasingly crowded industry?
The one thing that we have that gives us a towering advantage over our competitors is an emotional connection with our fans. It’s even evident in our tag line—we serve Fan Food, not fast food. All of our research suggests that consumers don’t see their relationships with us as transactional. There’s a real emotional connection there—they’re rooting for us just like we’re rooting for them.
That relationship is then something that’s passed down from generation to generation. And if we continue to tap into that in the way we produce our advertising, the way we train our staff and the way we make products for our fans, then we’ll continue to succeed. It comes down to the fact that fans are treated differently than customers. That’s essential for both marketing campaigns and brand positioning in general. We’re going to continue to leverage that special relationship we have with our fans going forward because it’s what makes the Dairy Queen system truly unique.
As the Dairy Queen brand continues to grow the DQ Grill & Chill model, how will it position itself in the market?
The DQ Grill & Chill model will definitely continue to be a flagship for the brand. It represents the best of who we are and what we do—it’s a modern, contemporary expression of the Dairy Queen brand. And because we’re already established in some markets, introducing the DQ Grill & Chill concept gives us an incredible advantage. This model can compete with any major chain in terms of the quality of food and service that it offers, and there’s no doubt that it’ll be front and center with everything we do going forward. Even now as we create new advertising campaigns, the DQ Grill & Chill model is the central focus of how we present the brand’s future.
Beyond traditional advertising campaigns, how is the Dairy Queen system engaging consumers through marketing?
Social media plays a major role in our marketing efforts. We have a community management team that monitors and engages our fans in a way that’s helpful, whether that’s responding to their comments and questions or encouraging or managing their conversations. We find that our brand is much more social than any other quick service restaurant brand—the Dairy Queen name is mentioned on social media once every 10 seconds, which is down from once every 18 seconds a little over a year ago.
We also utilize targeted digital and mobile marketing efforts. For example, we roll out promotions for frozen treats when the weather is hotter than normal, and we emphasize our food during the colder winter months. We tap into all the tools we have available in order to continue building a relationship with our fans. We focus on their specific, recent transactions and then give them a reason to come back and visit us tomorrow.
What is the future of restaurant franchise marketing?
There’s no question that the influence of data is strong. We know more and more about our customers’ behavior and patterns, both when they’re in an out of a Dairy Queen restaurant. We work to connect that data with restaurants in our system so that we actually know what their behavior is when they visit their local DQ restaurant. At the end of the day, we want to know what they order and when. We’re really just getting started with this process in the QSR industry—it’s absolutely essential that the lines of communication are open between POS systems at different locations.
Brands are also able to make their marketing efforts more efficient when there’s a one-to-one relationship instead of the old school method of simply targeting 18 to 29-year-olds with a single TV spot. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for traditional advertising—the medium is just different. Consumers are spending more than 10 hours on their smartphones every day, and they’re watching videos. So the future of restaurant franchise marketing definitely allows for traditional advertising, as long as there’s an individual connection involved too.