Brandon Rhoten on how Wendy’s introduced premium beverages using paid social

Wendy's was a brand born on television. Shifting to a paid social program was a giant leap.

Brandon Rhoten, VP Head of Advertising, Media, and Digital at Wendy's, says they were the first of their kind to begin selling premium beverages as a fast-food restaurant. When they decided to introduce a new product line, they choose a tool that would allow them to talk to specific individuals instead of mass audiences: paid social media.

It's not always a free utopia where you can be funny and everyone will come to you. You do eventually have to pay for stuff.

The first question they asked themselves: What are we trying to accomplish?

“Was this an awareness issues? Brand perception change? Are we expecting sales from this or did your CEO say ‘Hey it snowed, can you post something about it on Monday?'”

Brandon says there could be lots of reasons to do something on social, but it is critical that you define your goals and what you want to accomplish. Without goals set, it's difficult to determine whether your program worked or not.

For this campaign, Wendy's goal was clear: introduce premium beverages into the marketplace and raise sales via paid social.

Wendy's decided to use paid social to target the right people through Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.

Brandon says paid social is an important topic for two reasons. First, every platform eventually monetizes. “It's not always a free utopia where you can be funny and everyone will come to you. You do eventually have to pay for stuff.”

Second, he says paid social is a powerful tool. “You can reach mass amounts of people and tight niches of people with the same tool. Today, there are a lot of rich platforms that allow you to meet specific goals.”

Once they decided on paid social, they needed to figure out who they were going to talk to.

Wendys Slide 1

“Millennial” was too broad of an audience; they broke it down into subgroups based on their interests.

“When you say ‘millennial,' it's the laziest way to define your target. Define them by what they actually care about, beyond their age,” said Brandon. “It's all about the right person, right place, right time. We forget this when we have tools that make us careless, like television. These tools say, ‘Just buy as much reach as you can, and it'll take care of itself.’”

Brandon's team created personas assigned to each product, defined what each one cared about, and what they were doing in social.

Wendy's created hundreds of pieces of content specific to individual groups and content streams.

They created and funneled content over a five-month effort. All the content was built for specific streams and, depending on whether you interacted with the previous content, determined what you received next.

All of their effort was focused on following individuals and building a relationship over a long period of time. Brandon continued to ask himself, “Am I interacting with this defined target properly, across the campaign effort, to get them to a place where I can get them to do something?”

“Millennials don't have a short attention span, they have a short tolerance for crap.”

It used to be that you had to watch the commercial or consume the ad to get to the content. Now, you have the option to choose what you consume and skip past the ad. This meant their content had to rely on quality, not quantity. It had to be delivered to the right person, at the right time — and be interesting.

Wendys Slide 2

Don't just set it and forget it. Continue to monitor, engage, and refine your content.

After pushing out all of the content, they continued to remain active on all platforms. “You can't just set it up, walk away, and hope for the best,” said Brandon.

This strategy required constant engagement, and they had to refine and tweak their content. They constantly engaged with consumers in real-time on different platforms, and even conducted surveys to see how their content was doing.

Wendys Slide 3

They looked beyond impressions to determine if they truly met their goal.

Brandon and his team used Nielsen metrics, pulling out data the C-suite could understand. They focused on impressions, reach, ad recall, and purchase intent — and these metrics helped Brandon sell paid social within the office.

Reviewing the campaign also allowed the team to determine what worked, what didn't, and what could be done in the future.

The result? Wendy’s had a record year for beverages — without T.V.

The campaign brought in a combined six-point lift in visit intent, 11-point lift in message association, and a 14-point lift in ad recall. It proved to the company that paid social was a critical tool in their advertising toolkit.

Brandon has been a member of since 2012. Follow him on Twitter here.