How the CMO of 90-year-old fast food chain Krystal is pushing to increase brand relevance


After 90 years of launching its iconic sliders, Atlanta-based fast food chain Krystal is looking for new ways to not only build brand awareness, but also maintain relevance with each new generation of customers. Especially since today’s marketing landscape is increasingly fragmented and constantly changing.

To do this, the company tapped Casey Terrell, former head of digital transformation at Focus Brands, parent company of Carvel, Cinnabon, Schlotzky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and many others. Last summer, the restaurant focused its efforts on video streaming and micro-influencers. Under the new CMO, the brand is shifting gears, relying more on brand partnerships, most recently with rapper 2 Chainz and NFL star Victor Cruz.

Digiday sat down with Terrell to discuss his plans for brand relevance, tapping into Gen Z and preparing for the economic downturn.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Partnerships are important to Krystal this year?

[We’re] really leaning on our 2 Chainz partnership. He’s our creative lead, but he’s more of a business partner. It’s a great partner for us to be able to speak to an audience we’ve never been able to reach before. He has millions and millions of social media followers. He has an incredible range and voice. And so for us, it’s a great partner to maintain that relevance to be able to speak to those segments that we didn’t have before. We have our core demographic, our targets and our fans. We want to make sure we’re always our fan favorites, but how do we always reach new consumer segments, new audiences? We have Victor Cruz in the Northeast, who is a legendary member of the Giants organization, Super Bowl hero, [and] who is our master franchisee for New York and New Jersey. There are other conversations we have with other pretty big names coming in.

Why are brand partnerships important to Krystal right now?

We have seen other brands do this. McDonald’s has done a great job with Travis Scott, Megan thee Stallion, and some of these other deals we’ve seen. We are looking for business partners and people who want to grow with us, not just one-time activations.

How does this year’s strategy compare to last year’s?

It’s really more about content. We’re going to update our channels, make sure the TV and the outdoors are covered, the tech stack makes sense, we’re capturing data and understanding our customers so we can personalize things and turn them into fans. But a lot of it is on the content side. If this content is intended for certain audiences, how can we personalize it as much as possible? The biggest change is to look more at our partnerships. We are trying to rejuvenate our fans a bit. Everyone is going after Gen Z, but how do we get a message across that resonates with them without alienating our current guests? The big change is more about the methodology and the way we do media.

How does Krystal envision marketing in 2023 given the impending economic downturn?

We are a valuable brand. We’ve been through a few of those cycles. We have seen the commercial declines over the years. When economic crisis hits, people tend to trade from fast food restaurant or sit down restaurant and they appreciate more [quick service restaurants]. Specifically, on media marketing budgets, [what] we’re looking at how can I populate my ecosystem? I think everyone tries to do that. We have to rely on third parties and use them for awareness and eyeballs, but it’s more of a market. If I don’t have a tech stack on my end that makes sense for our guests to get something here and fill the first party channels, then you’re really relying on someone else. In 2023, how do you improve this martech stack? How to better personalize?

And after?

The most important thing is that we have new franchises. We opened our first franchise 15 years ago [ago]. We opened in Puerto Rico. We have Victor Cruz stores opening, 2 Chainz stores opening. I’m just trying to breathe a lot more life into [the brand] with a new owner. We want to make sure people know we’re here and growing.

How CMO of 90-year-old fast food chain Krystal is pushing to expand brand relevance


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