MarTech Interview with Kevin Rice, CMO at Hathway

Kevin Rice, CMO at Hathway shares a few thoughts on what restaurant marketers of today need to do to drive more brand ROI:


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Kevin, tell us more about Hathway…

Hathway is a leading digital growth partner for top brands in the restaurant and convenience store industries like Wingstop, Panda Express, Dash In, Raising Canes, Burger King, Arby’s and many more. We are the go-to for brands looking to develop and execute their digital transformation initiative in a way that drives customer loyalty, lifetime value and incremental sales. We are also recognized as the leading implementation partner for many of the restaurant industry’s top technologies like Olo, Punch, Paytronix and SessionM.

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How in your view can restaurant marketers of today capitalize and optimize customer engagement in a time of digital dining?

Something that was already on the rise but was further accelerated by COVID-19 was the shift to digital transactions, which allowed brands to reach a critical mass of first-party data capture. With this newly acquired treasure trove of behavioral and transactional data, not only did restaurant brands strike gold when it comes to insights, but it allowed them to leap forward on their journey towards contextually relevant campaigns and personalized communications.

However, data is only as good as an organization’s ability to operationalize data, which requires a more advanced technology stack that requires a Customer Data Platform (CDP), Offer Management Platform (OMP) and Marketing Automation Suite/Cloud. This next-gen digital ecosystem bolsters a brands ability to deliver a more sophisticated customer engagement program, and unlocks infinite levels of audience segmentation, personalized offers and triggered campaigns which consistently perform better because they are more relevant to the customer. In addition, this new ecosystem empowers marketers to focus more of their budgets on digital marketing initiatives that tend to outperform broader-reach advertising tactics in terms of Return on Marketing Investment, effectively getting more bang for their buck.

How are you seeing restaurants and other customer-facing businesses of today adapt to changing customer needs as a result of the pandemic that is still influencing customer trends?

Along with many others, the restaurant industry is leveraging technology to virtualize their business models, customer experience and operations as their revenue is largely coming from outside the “4 walls.” To support this, brands have focused lots of energy since early 2020 ensuring their technology and operations support new direct-to-consumer fulfillment methods, including brand-direct delivery, curbside pickup, and the like. 

Virtual brands are part of the next evolution here. Not only are there hundreds of rapidly growing virtual brand startups, but also virtual concepts from industry leaders like Wingstop, Brinker, Bloomin’ Brands, among others. There are a number of approaches when it comes to launching a virtual restaurant concept, but essentially, it is a restaurant that is online-only, doesn’t offer a physical storefront and is delivery-only. For Wingstop, their new virtual concept, Thighstop, is a way to test this new business model and a new product offering that offer a solve for a very real chicken wing shortage.

In the future, we see the ties between technology, operations, and marketing strengthening further to support strong consumer experiences and sentiment for off-premises business. Order accuracy, as an example, remains a challenge for many brands, especially those with interactive “assembly line” style in-restaurant experiences where customers are used to adjusting things like ingredient portions in real time — and if the order is wrong, especially by the time it gets delivered, there isn’t a lot of recourse available to the consumer. We see this as a looming next step in digital evolution, using digital solutions to close that accuracy gap before it’s too late.

How do you feel digital ordering will be impacted in the near future as customers become more accustomed to online-first experiences, while at the same time businesses reopen?

As always, restaurant brands need to cater to however their customers want to dine. Digital ordering has proven that it is here to stay, which means when a customer is looking to order food from a restaurant, their phone is the first place they will go whether they are looking to order for delivery, curbside pickup, take-out or even dine-in.

Restaurants like Panda Express are adding a “Dine In” option to their websites and mobile apps whereby customers can walk into a store, take a seat and order online to effectively skip their line. This is a great example of how digital can enable a better customer experience even from within a restaurant’s physical environment.

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What does it take for restaurant marketers today to optimize the overall customer experience in this challenging environment?

Unlike other industries like FinServ, Travel and Retail, digital is still relatively new to the restaurant industry at-large. So, when it comes to optimization, many brands still need to foster a test-and-learn culture supported by data sciences, analytics practitioners, and various forms of testing (A/B, Multivariate, User Testing, etc.).

By embracing and applying testing, brands can focus on optimizing their digital KPI’s — AOV, Frequency, Conversion rates, etc. Even a 1% lift in average AOV or Conversion rates would result in many millions of dollars in incremental sales for many brands that have digital scale.

Building a test-and-learn culture starts with the recognition that your organization needs to focus on Outcomes over Outputs.

A few MarTech tools you feel are a must have for this segment of marketers?

I do! However, before any brands shop for software, all technology decisions should be preceded by a carefully crafted Customer Experience (CX) strategic planning effort. Having a clear strategy and digital roadmap that covers all customer touchpoints and interactions is a critical input to determining which technologies are needed to support your digital vision. Taking your strategy one step further and detailing requirements puts you in a better position to select the right technology vendors for your brand.

Aside from all of the obvious platforms a restaurant needs — POS, Online ordering, Loyalty, Stored Value — there are a number of advanced technologies that really help a brand get to their customer engagement to the next level, such as a Customer Data Platform (e.g. mParticle, Segment, etc.) and a Marketing Automation Suite (e.g. Braze, Iterable, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, etc.). Integrating these technologies all a brand that might be leveraging their Loyalty Management Platform as a de facto CRM.

One other technology that is top of mind is a location service provider, such as Radar. Radar helps support a more accurate Curbside pickup workflow using Geolocation.

Some last thoughts and takeaways for marketing and sales leaders to keep in mind through 2021?

The Digital Transformation journey is a long one. It doesn’t happen in a year. Starbucks is a prime example. They are a clear leader in the category when it comes to digital, and that is because they have been investing in digital (consistently) since the late 2000’s.

Horizon Planning is a great way to look strategically a few years out and structure your focus and attention — 70% towards optimizing your existing business model, 20% towards extending your existing business model into new customers or markets, and 10% towards disrupting your existing business model (before a competitor does). Don’t fixate on the exact percentages. They aren’t gospel. Rather use the framework and adapt for your business.

The point is that digital is the new arena for winning the share of wallet, or the share of stomach. And the race in this arena is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Hathway helps brands drive measurable business impact through data-driven strategies, digital experiences & modern marketing.

Kevin Rice is the CMO at Hathway

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