Returning to the flip side of these doubts, Mizuho said it could “be underestimating new management’s capacity to reinvigorate the brand image through powerful and persistent marketing of its commitment to ingredient quality, a narrative that has only intensified among its core demographic, and one that Chipotle arguably still owns.”
Chipotle clearly agrees with this sentiment.
Chris Brandt, formerly the executive vice president and chief brand officer at Bloomin’ Brands’ Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s, who joined March 20, said in the investor call that he has never seen a brand with more purpose or passion than Chipotle.
“Cultivate a better world isn’t just a slogan on a wall,” he said. “It lives in the hearts of our employees and their pride in serving people responsibly sourced, classically cooked food you feel good about eating. Many consumers feel that same passion as well.”
Brandt’s career also included time at Taco Bell as chief brand and marketing officer. Brandt was at YUM! during some of Taco Bell’s most successful innovations, including the Doritos Locos Tacos and the quesalupa. He also oversaw the Happier Hour daypart push and breakfast, as well as digital initiatives such as the Taco Bell app. So this kind of statement should carry weight: “Our ultimate marketing mission is to make Chipotle not just a food brand, but a purpose-driven lifestyle brand.”
What does he mean by that?
“Chipotle will become a brand that people want to know about, want to be a part of, and want to wear as a badge. I genuinely think that Chipotle can transcend the food category, separate itself from everyone else, and be a category of one, because there are no compromises with Chipotle,” he said.
To get there, Brandt said Chipotle must change its approach and evolve all of its marketing philosophy and tactics. This comes from striking a balance of traffic driving, short-term wins, and long-term growth. Chipotle wants to become culturally relevant and part of the conversation—something Niccol has stressed in the past, even calling the brand “invisible.”
“We need to show people we can have some fun, because when a brand has a purpose, is visible, and is doing a fun thing that is a part of culture, people are more interested in it and want to be a part of. That’s how you become a lifestyle brand,” Brandt said.
Chipotle put together a new advertising campaign in Brandt’s first couple of weeks and “was a noticeable pivot” from past work, with a nod to humor as well as ingredients.
Broader reach and popular programs, with advertising in signature, culturally relevant programs, like the NBA playoffs and season finales of top shows, was a strong strategic push. And Chipotle even sponsored esports organization TSM’s competitive Fortnite team in late May.
Brandt said employees as well as guests are responding to the boosted presence. He relayed a story where an employee told him, “It feels like we’re back on the front foot again,” as proof.
He added: “there’s much, much more to come.” Chipotle is shifting its marketing from a field-based promotional-driven approach to a centralized strategy featuring broader reach with category users. The brand is putting a “stage-gate” process in place with dedicated resources to validate new product and promotional ideas (lessons from a troubled queso launch perhaps?)
Chipotle expects to better promote its mobile and digital ordering and become more engaging on social media. It announced Tuesday an expanded partnership with Postmates to add 300 restaurants to its delivery capabilities and lower the fee.
Brandt said a new tagline is coming this fall as well. Like many of the changes, however, we’re going to have to sit tight before the chips start to really fall.
“Overall we’re going to be a much more agile, innovative, and visible brand that people will talk about,” he said.