Komosion affiliate Anna Jones began her career in the United States working with established brands like General Motors and Hasbro for the William Morris Agency. Upon arriving in Australia, she joined Red Rooster to run its marketing function and ultimately reframed the business, recognising that it had been focused on the wrong competitors and the wrong primary marketplace opportunity …
John: Today I’m at Luna Park in Sydney where I’m joined by Anna Jones. Anna is a sole trader who specialises in helping businesses make the cultural shift that’s required for business transformation. She also works with established brands to help them uncover unmet customer needs. Anna built her marketing expertise up first in the US and then in Australia. She worked with some massive brands including General Motors on projects investigating for instance the future of transportation. Anna joined Red Rooster upon arriving in Australia and as we’ll hear she helped the brand for four years get back to its roots. Roast chicken. She also recently worked at Guzman y Gomez where she was the chief marketing officer and her priorities were brand purpose and vision and customer experience. Today the ten-year-old Mexican fast food chain now turns over more than one hundred and fifty million dollars a year. So today we’re going to talk about how Anna leverages her experience to help brands become more aware of their customer’s needs. Anna, welcome to Customers Matter. As I’ve just mentioned you started your career in the US, can you tell us a bit about your experience there and how that shaped the work you do today.
Anna: When I went to Los Angeles I started working at a company called the William Morris Agency which is the oldest talent agency in the world so everyone from Marilyn Monroe through to now Lady Gaga and Martin Scorsese were our clients and we worked with corporate clients to get them to use entertainers to do story telling for their brand. And it was there where I started to work with some of the big retailers in the US like William Sonoma and Hasbro and General Motors and it’s really where I started to get back to what- what my passion has always been which has been retail and that customer journey.
John: And tell me a bit about the work with the likes of General Motors and Hasbro, what specifically did you do and how did that sort of part of your career unfold?
Anna: Yeah so with General Motors was my main client when I was there and this is over ten years ago right so it was in the very beginning of brands being involved in entertainers and now it seems like it’s everywhere but at the time it was really new. And I came in right when we were working on a partnership with the Transformers movie so the first Transformers movie that came out, all of the cars in it were General Motors cars and we helped take- what we did in a nutshell was we helped brands understand how they could leverage their core business to their benefit in the news entertainment to help tell their story so for General Motors they had cars right, it’s what they – that’s what they sell and when we did partnerships with movies we worked what we call- we call upstream so we did the partnership with the director and the producers and directors and producers want cars for their movie ‘cause they want to blow them up and they want to crash them and they’re very expensive, so for them to be able to get cars for free was a huge line off their budget so they could get better talent, they could get better effects and for General Motors they would way rather give cars away than they would have to spend promotional support which is what would happen if you did the partnership with the studio. We did partnerships like that with Transformers, it was the cars worthy you know obviously the characters it was a phenomenal promotion and I also worked with General Motors on their green technology so they were at the time launching hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and the entertainment industry has always been one that really embraces climate change and the need to really shift what we’re doing as a species and it was using influencers to help raise awareness for their green initiatives.
John: And you mentioned Hasbro as well…
Anna: Yeah so Hasbro was interesting. They, at the time, were just a toy manufacturer and what we got them to understand was that they weren’t just a toy manufacturer they were an IP company so they created some of the best franchises in the world. And Transformers so, it was quite a partnership between General Motors and Hasbro. Transformers back in 2006 was a completely dead brand, it was one that I remember as a kid and loved as a kid but it was sitting on a shelf and they weren’t making any money off it. So getting them to look at the properties that they had and say it’s not just a toy it’s an entertainment property and if you reinvent these properties at a time when the kids who grew up loving it now have their own kids and want to go back and relive those memories with their children um it can be a huge success.
John: It’s kind of got some parallels with Lego almost doesn’t it really?
Anna: Yeah actually I knew the guys that did the Lego deal and Lego was- no one, you know for years no one would buy Lego, Lego movie, they didn’t see it, they didn’t believe in it, they didn’t understand it because Lego’s not something that has a story. Like, Transformers, GI Joe, clearly have a story but Lego is just an inanimate object. And so it really took some visionary directors to go in to it and obviously it was incredibly successful.
John: So I think I know the answer to this question but obviously there was an Australian in your life somehow.
John: Can you tell us how you come to be from New York to LA and now in Sydney, how did that all happen?
Anna: So I met an Aussie boy in Los Angeles and brought me back to Australia so moved to Perth actually in 2011 and spent three years there and then have been in Sydney now for three years.
John: And when you arrived in Australia was this sort of an evolution again for your career and what you were doing, I mean obviously you’ve had the excitement of you know working with Hollywood and big brands, so how did Australia unfold for you?
Anna: At that time I was really looking to go client side, I knew that’s where I wanted to be and I was working with Mattel kind of supervising their global Mattel Girls business and when I moved to Perth I was meeting with agencies thinking I would go work in advertising and randomly enough an agency said we want you to come here but we don’t have a role but actually one of our clients does and it’s Red Rooster and they need someone just to fill in for a couple of months as their marketing manager and then you come back and work with us and I thought great. I was a vegan at the time, didn’t eat fast food, but you know took I on and so their marketing manager had left and they were trying to find a new marketing manager and probably about three months into the role I started to see that I thought there was a really good opportunity with Red Rooster if we get it right and they you know I’d had lots of talks with them about kind of where the business should go and they then asked me to stay on.
John: Because as you know a Wakeley born and bred Aussie looking past KFC, McDonalds, Hungry Jacks, Red Rooster that would have looked like a massive challenge, so what did you do, how did you grapple with it and what was the role that and the opportunity that you saw . . .
Anna: . . . Yeah, well the biggest opportunity that I saw was that Red Rooster was sitting in two businesses, one was fast food and one was roast chicken and I remember early on kind of saying you know I think Coles and Woolworths are our biggest competitor and they were like no, no, no, no, no it’s not, it’s not, it’s McDonalds and KFC and okay, so I was like alright, kind of went in, did the whole fast food thing and it just was so obvious to me that it was a dying industry, it was driven on low, low margins, you know cost optimising products and just pricing them as low as you could and it just wasn’t- it wasn’t gonna’ be a recipe for success for that brand. But I needed to- I couldn’t just say trust me, let’s go after Coles and Woolworths, I needed to really prove it. So I did a lot of work understanding the future of the dinner market, you know there was such a changing landscape in dinner and the way Australians and really globally people eat dinner and they cook. And this is something that I saw having come from the US and seen what Whole Foods and companies like that are doing in the US, Tesco in the UK does these amazing kind of ready to eat meals and they were the ones really starting to push into what we would call mid-week dinner. So I sized up the opportunity, I looked at where it sat, I looked at where roast chicken sat in that, I looked at where consumers were buying, and where they weren’t buying it and it was just- I mean the fast food dinner industry was two point eight, two point six billion and the mid-week dinner was thirteen billion so it was clear then where the opportunity was and it was just getting the business to then I guess kind of relook at internally priorities in where we spent our money, to focus on that roast chicken market.
John: So for those people who may not have you know may not be regular Red Rooster customers or have understood the change, what actually happened in practice as a consequence of reframing and understanding that the business had an opportunity competing in a different market place almost.
Anna: Yeah, so a couple of things happened. We tried a bunch of things that didn’t end up working but we tried them anyway. So you know we talk about that take home meal occasion, we tried things like that like you can take home a roast chicken and some coleslaw and some dinner rolls and here’s a recipe that you can turn those into something. So we really pushed the envelope to see could we get into that take home space, we launched delivery which was hugely successful and the biggest delivery product that we would see was just a single roast chicken, it’s what people wanted. We even found there was always a question inside the business about are roast chicken worth $13 or $12.95 and Coles and Woolworths were dropping down to $8.99 – $9.99. And so there was always this question inside the business of do we need to discount roast chicken to compete with Coles and Woolworths. Unfortunately their margins can be a lot smaller than ours because their labour costs are smaller, so we couldn’t afford to do that, but we tried it to see could we get enough volume so we did it and it finally got approval to do it in a test market and what we found was that yes some stores, 300 per cent growth with the $9.99 chicken, some stores didn’t make money off it but the interesting fact we found was that we saw impulse second chicken purchases, which you don’t normally think someone’s gonna’ impulse on a roast chicken. But what was happening was that people take a roast chicken and they take it home and they put it in the fridge and they peel it down and they eat it over a couple of days so when it was cheaper they would buy a second one. So the way that we were able to capitalise on that was two for twenty so we can still protect our margin because we’re getting two chickens, you still get the huge growth ‘cause that’s what people were doing when they were cheaper and then doing things like recipes and here’s how you can add on and here’s how you can use that chicken later on.
John: So in a way you were learning about the customer experience by almost a trial and error prototyping a little bit in a way, piloting some things . . .
Anna: Yeah, piloting things, understanding what’s the- how people are buying us, like not just how their buying us but how they’re buying that roast chicken occasion and then looking for the right price point, looking for the right promotions, looking for the right add ons, cleaning up the menu – we needed to have a quality factor in there so we got rid of all the artificial flavours and colours and removed MSG, we talked a lot about the quality of our roast chickens so that people could understand that Coles and Woolworths will have a chicken sit in a plastic bag for eight hours and they will never throw it out, they’ll sell it. Whereas at Red Rooster it was two hours in a warming unit and then we wouldn’t sell it so the freshness was there, the quality of the product was there we just needed to tell that story.
John: So we spoke also – you worked subsequent to that with Guzman y Gomez
John: Can you tell us a bit about your experience there, how did that come about and how did you go about grappling with the customer experience in that brand.
Anna: Yeah. So Red Rooster was just on the customer experience at Red Rooster, obviously we had to look at where we wanted to play and what market we wanted to play in but we also, there was a big project to clean up the customer service, because that was a brand that was neglected, it was in decline and when things are in decline everyone cuts costs and no one invests so it was a big customer service journey that we had to go on with that brand. When I left Red Rooster I actually was like I just don’t want to work in food again, I want a new category, I want to do something different, I’m happy to stay in retail but just don’t want to be in fast food. And someone introduced me to the founder of this Guzman y Gomez and I kind of thought it was a very interesting opportunity, they didn’t have necessarily customer service problems, they weren’t in decline. The challenge at Guzman y Gomez had was that being a founder led business they were doing great but they didn’t understand how to scale. You know what was going to be the differentiating factor, how were they going to talk about themselves in the industry, what was the strategy that was going to drive them forward. So there were a couple of things that they had that really to me felt like it was a brand that had a lot of potential. One was that their food was great. So having worked in fast food for a long time I know how quickly you have to fry things, I know everything comes in precooked and you just- you’re basically, aside from roast chickens of course, but you it is just frying it and serving it out. At Guzman y Gomez everything came in fresh. When I look back of house in the kitchen I’m like where’s your freezer and they’re going oh we don’t have freezers. I said you don’t have freezers, you don’t have microwaves, I’m like this is amazing and you’re still able to have the speed of service that you need. So I thought their product was really good, their experience was good, their store design was good and they had fantastic franchisees as well. So I came into that brand, really my job there was to figure out how they were going to grow and how they were going to scale and I’ve always at my time in Red Rooster and at Guzman y Gomez I’ve always really wanted to clean up the fast food industry, to prove that you could have healthy clean nutritious food and still be profitable and fast. And I think Guzman y Gomez to me was a brand that could do that. So we did a big piece on looking at animal welfare, so we launched free range chicken, we did a big piece of work there, I know that they’re still working on in terms of going to free range pork, hormone free beef, a big piece on being the first preservative free, completely artificial free brand and I think that they’re a brand that can actually pull that off.
John: And how does all that address the challenge of scale that you originally identified, how have they gone about solving that problem?
Anna: It’s a good question and look I think that they’re still obviously working through that. The biggest challenge I think was – this is the type of business that I work with now as a consultant, is often founder led businesses that are now trying to scale and the biggest challenge often times that they have is that they don’t have the resources internally, they don’t have the strategic plan, they don’t know how to scale internally as they scale externally and they often scale too big and fail. Or they don’t put the processes in place but they need and they have other internal you know execution issues. So I think with Guzman y Gomez the shareholders there probably did the right thing which is they hired – they went on a massive hiring spree before they scaled. They hired a CEO, they hired myself, basically a COO, head of property, a CTO, CDO, like every C person you could hire and hired a bunch of people internally, really invested in the business because they knew that as they scaled they needed that expertise in the business and I think for them too it was understanding where the right market will be. You know they looked at is it food courts, is it drive through, launching drive throughs, is it home delivery, is it more regional areas, getting that structure right and that strategy right is what’s so important as a retailer to scale.
John: And I sense from hearing you speak earlier today that you see delivery as a really important part of the future landscape of food in this country?
Anna: Absolutely, I think what we’re seeing in delivery is going to just continue to grow. Delivery is challenging if you don’t have a product that delivers well so French fries, sorry chips don’t deliver well, bread rolls usually don’t deliver well. And roast chickens deliver beautifully, burritos actually deliver beautifully, pizza delivers beautifully. So it’s understanding how you know if you want to go into delivery I mean we’ve all talked about it with different brands, do you start to deconstruct things, do you get to make your own you know you get to put the chips on your burrito bowl so that they don’t get soggy and then obviously every time you deconstruct stuff you’ve got other packaging, it starts to cost more, what’s the right ratio, how much more will people pay for delivery. And the bigger questions, do you do it in house, do you out source it to like a Deliveroo or a Foodora they were all questions and there’s not always a very clear answer about what’s the right way forward for each brand. But I think every fast food industry, every fast food brand should be in delivery in some sense.
John: Is it the customer experience that needs to guide the equation do you think ultimately? What’s true north?
Anna: It’s understanding the customer experience yes and the financials behind it. So for example some of Red Rooster’s biggest delivery markets were regional areas and you look at you know say if you take Deliveroo right they can pick up the food and they can deliver it, they can do that wonderfully in the city but in regional areas they can’t and so then you have to have your own drivers and you have to have your own you know app system to manage deliveries and that’s a big cost for businesses to fill that out. So it’s understanding where the demand is going to come from, what are people going to want, if people only want roast chickens you could probably look at a different delivery model than if they want chips because you just can’t deliver them as far. So I think it’s understanding the customer, what the customer demand is going to be and then building your system that’s going to support that.
John: So really interesting career path, really discovering that you know your passion is probably more in the business arena and working obviously with these global brands on global franchises, coming to Australia, really cutting your teeth on some you know dynamic local businesses, one on its knees, the other going from strength to strength. What led you to then become a consultant to move out of being client side and to now be sole trading and working in this new guise and how long ago did that come about?
Anna: I’ve been doing it now for probably eight months maybe. You know I’ve always kind of wanted to do it and I thought about it when I left Red Rooster, I said these types of transformation projects are really hard work and you have to put – like I was at Red Rooster for four years and it was hard every single day and so I always knew that when we got the business transformed I was going to leave and part of me was like I never want to work that hard again and part of me was like well actually you get addicted to that kind of change and that transformation. So when I went to Guzman y Gomez well it was a different transformation, it was still very much a transformation for that brand and I think I knew that I got bored just being a day to day marketer you know if it was just come in and do your Facebook posts and do a couple of campaigns and launch a couple of new products, it just wasn’t interesting to me. And so I kind of always felt like I wanted to just be able to work on those transformation projects with brands and I think being able to do that as a consultant, being able to come in and give them the guidance on where to go and how to structure things but then being able to let them get on with it, is what I really love.
John: And are you at liberty to talk about who you’re working with?
Anna: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m working with another food brand called Soul Origin so they are growing unbelievably. They’ve got 75 stores now across Australia, food court business so sandwiches and salads and very similar to kind of the stuff that I was doing at Guzman y Gomez, very interested in being a healthy, fast food. So still being fast and being convenient but being health as well. So helping them on kind of some of that cultural piece similar – very similar founders led business now scaling – I mean they’ll be over a hundred stores this year, scaling there very fast and figuring out how do you get that culture piece right. I’m also working with a company called Job Getter, which is a recruitment, like a jobs board site. They work with retailers and job seekers to help place them with the right positions. And Ormina Tours, which is a travel brand that does luxury tours through Europe.
John: Nice spread of opportunity of work. And you mentioned and I’d just like to sort of maybe conclude with this, the importance of cultural change, change management to get business transformation outcomes. What would you say are the sort of key learning’s you’ve got about how to ensure that you’re getting that alignment and that you’re managing to get the people in the business to go on the journey that the business itself needs to go on.
Anna: Yeah, I mean I think that that’s what’s key is that it is a journey and you’ve got to go on it together. It’s nice being a consultant because I can come in and facilitate that, as opposed to trying to be the person inside the company spearheading it. ‘Cause I firmly, I truly believe that brand identity comes from internal, it’s what people believe the brand is and if you try to – so often people are like we just need a new tag line, we just need a new campaign or we just want to tell this story, that’s not what you need, you need everyone inside the organisation to believe what the brand is trying to do and whether that be you know change or clean up the fast food industry or change the way job seekers are treated in their job search, it needs to be a fundamental belief that everyone agrees with. So when I go into brands the first thing I do is an internal audit and I say tell me what do you think the brand means. And I interview everyone from the staff all the way up the shareholders and you often find that there’s a lot more alignment than you’d think but people just don’t know how to express that and that you know there could be some differences in what people feel and being able to pull all of that together and come up with a brand identity and then embed that inside the organisation with behaviours and beliefs and you know values, I think it’s where you have to start.
John: So really you truly are an agent for change?
Anna: Yes [laugh]
John: Anna it’s been lovely talking.
Anna: Thank you so much.
John: Thanks very much for taking time to be with us today.
Anna: Yeah thank you for the opportunity.
John: Thank you.