Former Arby’s CMO Teaches Students the Power of Purpose-Driven Branding

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov 12, 2018) — Marketing expert and former Arby’s executive Debbie Pike visited the Michael J. Coles College of Business last week to discuss how consumers and employees are influencing how businesses evolve their brands.

The Nov. 6 presentation was part of the Tetley Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series. Made possible by a generous donation from former Tetley, Inc. CEO Hank McInerney, the Tetley Series brings prominent business and community leaders to Kennesaw State University to engage with students.

Debbie Pike

Pike is a principal with Meritage Restaurant Group, a family-owned business operating several fast casual restaurants. Before that, she spent two decades with Arby’s, where she held several key positions including President of Franchise Operations and Chief Marketing Officer.

Her presentation, entitled Beyond Marketing: Why Purpose-Driven Brands are Thriving examined the growing importance for businesses to associate their brands with socially conscious causes and values in order to stay relevant.

“If you are a company, there is a significant part of your consumer base that thinks you should be helping improve their quality of life,” Pike says, referencing research on customer attitudes. “And 78 percent of consumers think companies should do more than make money; they should also make a positive impact.”

Pike cited Starbucks as one of the first major companies to align its brand to a purpose when it became involved in the global fight to end hunger. Having a purpose helped give Starbucks an identity apart from simply selling coffee, and built loyalty among its customers.

Similarly, Pike helped do this for Arby’s in the 1980s when she participated in the establishment of the Arby’s Foundation, a charitable arm of the company that has raised more than $80 million for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Boys and Girls Club.

“It has become a critical part of their business model and strategy,” Pike said. “They have integrated it into their messaging, and it really has become part of the fabric of the organization.”

Consumers are not the only people that expect businesses to have a purpose beyond earning a profit. Employees are becoming more likely to choose to work for companies that have a well-defined purpose over those that do not.

Debbie Pike

Organizations that have developed their purpose and have encouraged their employees to buy in experience higher employee productivity and lower employee turnover. If people feel invested in their employer, they begin to see the company’s success as their own success.

Pike experienced this firsthand when she made the tough decision early in her career to leave a job with Proctor and Gamble to work for Arby’s.

“I was inspired to have a great first job and amazing training, but in the end I wasn’t inspired by what I was doing,” she said. “I would have stayed longer if there had been a sense of purpose that made its way to my level and provided me with the motivation to know that I was doing something more than getting more shelf space.”

As students enter the workforce and search for a company whose purpose and values match their own, Pike advised them to be sure they can tell the difference between a company that is authentic about its purpose and one that is not.

“If you are a company and try to do something that is falsely received, you are going to be one of those lower-meaningful brands and it will be status quo,” she said. “But, just about every organization has an ethos that stands for beyond just making money. And that’s why they exist.”

-Patrick Harbin

Photos by Catalina Calvo