As Burger King (NYSE: BKC) steers itself to becoming a global brand, John Shaufelberger is at its marketing helm and looking toward Europe. In charge of creating “Super Fans” in every corner of the globe, Burger King’s new senior vice president of global product marketing explains how focusing on customers’ similarities will be the key to the brand’s success abroad.
Briefly describe your role as Senior Vice President of Global Product Marketing.
I basically will lead our product marketing and product innovation team … with identifying menu strategies, menu [caps], and really laying out a three- to five-year menu plan that will fit our brand goals and align with menu directions.
What international project really has your attention right now?
I would probably say it’s going to sound crazy from a food guy, but the one I’m most excited about is actually a piece of equipment we’re working on called our Flexible Fast Broiler, and that is a new broiler. You know, Burger King has [honed] flame broiling. That really is what sets us apart as the quality food leader.
And this new broiler is going to provide not only a whole host of efficiency savings to our operators in our restaurants, but provide all those great chefs and food commercialization experts [with] new innovative food platforms that they can explore thanks to this new piece of equipment, this new flex broiler.
Are there unique marketing challenges for each of BK’s global markets?
Yes … I would say our Super Fan target. Knowing exactly, strategically, whom we’re going after is not limiting, but actually liberating. So, we of course will be the home of the Whopper, and we’re going to be the home of the Whopper in all 11,000 or so restaurants that we’ve got, but we also recognize that there are certain tastes, flavors that we have to develop to continue to drive visits behind the Super Fan, let’s say in Asia-Pacific, or in our European market.
Give a brief description of a Super Fan.
It’s really a heavy fast-food user. It’s an 18- to 49-year-old, but really skews 18 to 34, split pretty evenly male and female. In fact, we are really zeroing in on not only that Super Fan male, which has been somebody that has helped us drive sales over the last three years, but that Super Fan female, and that parties with kids business that is so important to the fast food.
Do you market differently to different Super Fans?
How many times they come to Burger King, whether it’s six or seven times in the U.S., versus three to four times in the U.K., will differ, but we know that the majority of them are looking for a great-tasting Whopper from Burger King across the globe. We will have some localized tastes and flavors, just to make sure that we are meeting all of the needs of the local citizens.
In 23 stores in the U.K. we have recently looked at a traditional British breakfast; we’re looking at [kippers and] sausage, porridge, a lot of different items that are obviously very specific to the U.K. customer. That U.K. customer is responding very well because they have a specific idea of what a traditional British breakfast should be.
You mentioned the idea of making local changes to menu items abroad. Can you give me an example?
You know, probably the best success story we’ve got is Latin America. [It is] one of our strongest regions and, frankly, one of our trailblazers when it comes to new product marketing. They will test many things for us in advance of even the U.S., and they have had several localized flavors that we have or will pick up here in the U.S. A good example is a mini-burger. That’s something we’re paying attention to very closely here domestically, as well as for the rest of the world. Right now they’re in all of Puerto Rico and doing quite well.
The King, as a character here in the United States, has been extremely popular. How is that resonating internationally?
Our advertising agency … is doing quite a bit of our creative, and they continue to know who the Burger King is, what the Burger King voice is (which we call our “Cool Uncle” voice)—a voice that’s somebody you trust and tells it like it is; somebody that’s a bit cool; or somebody you really want to know and understand. They hire local creatives and local talent to make sure the translation is appropriate and resonates in those local countries.
Is it a concern of the company that there might be some inconsistencies or potentially offenses in any marketing campaigns?
No, I think we have a good handle on how to be provocative without being offensive. [Crispin Porter + Bogusky] totally understands that, and makes sure that that philosophy is translated through that local voice.
BK has a branded video game for mobile phones. Are international markets receptive to those types of campaigns?
We will explore any type of alignment behind great promotions. A good example would be an upcoming movie property where we are looking at aligning not only behind the movie property, but [also introducing] one Whopper LTO sandwich that would be served across the globe and tie into this movie property.
Speaking of a menu item offered across the globe, what is the best-selling Burger King menu item in the world?
That would be the Whopper.
Does that differ by market, or is everybody consistently enjoying the Whopper?
What makes the Whopper great is that you can have the Whoppers your way.
So, customization adds strength to your product globally?
Absolutely. Our core brand promise is a great-tasting, high-quality, flame-grilled meal that you can have your way, and we really are taking “have it your way” beyond just hold the pickles and hold the lettuce. We like consumers to be able to size it their way [and] pay for it their way, so it truly is the true essence of our brand, and it’s really in our DNA.
Is BK’s coffee line seeing success abroad?
What BK Joe has done for us and why we really are behind this program is it provides our customers a truly consistent cup of coffee regardless of the time of day, regardless of what location you go to. I can’t say all of our competition could make that same promise. … And we recently we’ve extended BK Joe* into an iced coffee version, our Mocha BK Joe line. Right now that’s only in the U.S., but we’re out concept-testing that among some of our global consumers and markets, as well. We are very pleased with the performance of that Mocha BK Joe iced coffee line.
Is there any market where you wouldn’t launch the BK Joe line?
We will, of course, leave that decision up to what the local consumers need and want and make the call almost on a region-by-region basis. So, that would not be one of the programs that we would say is just a blanket, across the globe decision.
How do you make those types of decisions?
I’ll start with some of our most important advocates and advisers—our franchisee community. We have many different committees and ways to solicit feedback from our franchisees, both domestically as well as around the globe. We also have quite a few local employees, local resources who grew up in those markets that help guide and shape what U.S. and trends are going on there1. And then the most important person who votes on a decision like that is the consumer. We have a vibrant testing process from concept, to taste test, to in-restaurant testing that will help us validate that idea at every step of the way. That’s set up, again, both domestically and throughout the globe.
Does BK have any international events that it’s aligned with?
A lot of our programs are specifically geared towards what that Super Fan is looking for. And a lot of ours are either entertainer-driven, or Xbox-driven. We don’t like to just follow the typical, traditional fast-food route on that and just say we’re going to slap our logo on a sporting event. We want to understand what’s important and relevant to our consumers and true to our brand.
A great example is our recent Simpson’s program, which was a global, worldwide movie premier. Burger King added so much extra to it with the SimpsonizeMe.com Web site, the entire globe participated in that. … We take properties or programs that are really relevant to our Super Fans, and truly represent what our brand stands for.
What role does the Internet play in a creating a recognizable global Burger King brand?
The Internet is a key part of our media mix, our promotional mix, and our ability to launch a product effectively. Our customers are very Web savvy and very technologically savvy. We’ll look through different channels to get the word out. This is a little bit of an example that’s a bit dated, but we’re so very proud of it, and that was Subservient Chicken.
We used the Internet to launch one of the most successful new products we’ve launched here in the last three years, the TenderCrisp Chicken. We’re very proud of using the Internet to our advantage on that, getting word out to the Super Fans in their way.