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Embracing Digital Transformation with Jennifer Bell

In this episode of The Marketing Rapport, host Tim Finnigan chats with Jennifer Bell, the Chief Marketing Officer of restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You.

Rich Melman founded Lettuce Entertain You in 1971 with an emphasis on partnership, sharing responsibilities and ideas, and a culture of caring. The company has remained a family business that owns, manages, and licenses over 60 brands and 130 restaurants in a dozen states. Lettuce’s restaurants range in style from fast casual to Michelin-starred fine dining.

Listen to Jennifer Bell of Lettuce Entertain You on the podcast now.

Jennifer shares insights into the company’s marketing strategies, particularly about their loyalty program and customer engagement.

She highlights the company’s journey in developing a custom app to engage younger customers. A significant investment, the app successfully lowered the average age of their customer base and tripled enrollment rates. Jennifer also discusses the challenges and rewards of managing data across multiple brands, stressing the importance of personalization.

As Chief Marketing Officer and Partner with Lettuce, Jennifer has spent years overseeing and managing all facets of marketing, including public relations, the Frequent Diner loyalty program, gift cards, direct mail, data insights, digital and email marketing, social media, and web and graphic design.

Jennifer and her team manage about 68 brands under the Lettuce umbrella. “My team acts like a little agency for our restaurants,” she said.

Read on for a deep dive into the world of marketing from a seasoned professional’s perspective.

Putting Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes

Jennifer stressed that marketers need to see things from their customers’ perspective. It’s all too easy for marketers to assume that customers get excited about the same aspects of their product that marketers themselves do.

“It’s not about us,” she said. “It’s all about them and what’s best for them. And you really have to focus on that to be successful…One of our key findings was that marketers and customers simply think differently.”

Lettuce took this lesson and ran with it by shaping their market strategies around embracing customer feedback. The organization employed user testing and market research to better understand customer interactions with their app.

Recently, Lettuce learned they weren’t meeting customers’ demands for an easy-to-use app. This feedback led to the creation of a unified wallet for all forms of payment, greatly simplifying the customer experience.

Fearlessly Embrace Digital Transformation

It’s important to remember that every marketing team’s digital transformation will look a bit different depending on the company’s needs. Jennifer led Lettuce from a sprawling, entrepreneurial setup to a more standardized platform with all data points in one place. Prior to the transformation, the company’s data had been spread across multiple teams.

“Everyone was doing their own thing,” she said. “From a technology perspective, we did not have a tech stack or a platform that was standardized across all teams.”

When Lettuce first began its digital transformation, Jennifer’s teams were quite worried at first.

“I admit, digital transformation is a little scary,” she said. “I didn’t appreciate how much anxiety it stirred within the ecosystem of our teams—some people interpreted ‘digital transformation’ as ‘Oh, you’re going to use technology to take away my job.’”

To alleviate these fears, Jennifer involved her teams in the transformational process as much as possible. This helped them understand that the transformation was meant to make their work more efficient rather than automate it away.

The Power of Collaboration

Jennifer believes that involving her teams in the digital transformation proved the value of cross-silo collaboration. She’s confident that breaking down walls and encouraging collaboration is a prime generator of new ideas.

“It’s also important to recognize employees for their contributions,” she said. “This, too, fosters investment and enthusiasm, which boosts engagement and productivity.”

In addition to promoting collaboration and a positive work environment, Jennifer proactively seeks advice from her own employees when making decisions. For example, it turned out that they couldn’t predict whether their vendor partners would fail to meet expectations or exceed them. So, Jennifer involved her team in the vendor selection process.

“Now, when we set the requirements, we’re really careful to ask for things that we absolutely need,” she said. “We’ve developed a scoring system that weighs ‘nice-to-have’ features and ‘absolutely essential’ ones.”

Jennifer is impressed by the massive returns an organization enjoys when it fosters a collaborative environment. “The energy and ideas our team created were like magic.”

Listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and our website.

Find Jennifer Bell on LinkedIn.

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