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Barry Westrum

Barry Westrum


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Trendsetters: DQ's Barry Westrum Explains How to Turn Around a Brand by Understanding Data
Barry Westrum is just the third CMO in history of Dairy Queen, and as the Quick Service Restaurant known for ice cream novelties like the Blizzard turns 75 this year, it has plenty to celebrate. However, when Westrum, a veteran of Yum! Brands, joined the company in 2012, Dairy Queen had experienced seven years of stagnant or negative in-store transaction growth. With over 6400 locations worldwide, including 1200+ in 23 countries outside of the US and Canada, that scenario was not a "sustainable business proposition," according to Westrum.

Speaking to marketers at the ANA's Brand Masters Conference earlier this month, he not only shared how all brand decisions are now backed with data, but also emphasized that Dairy Queen found new relevance by acting on data insights that resulted from strong emotional connections. In fact, the company now spends over $1 million to better understand consumer insights; two years ago, its annual research budget was roughly $200,000. He added, "We now live at the intersection of brand priorities, the preferences of our community, and stuff that's trending."

With Barry Westrum's arrival, Dairy Queen initiated tests in key markets to better understand what people wanted from the brand. At around the same time, he hired Kansas City-based independent agency Barkley to revitalize its message. They learned that Dairy Queen doesn't simply have customers, they have fans. "A very powerful word," said Westrum. "Fans root for the home team. They recruit other fans. Fans pass their fanhood down from generation to generation."

Dairy Queen's "Fan Food, Not Fast Food" campaign launched in 2013, and it entirely changed the way the company approached its customers, franchisees and crew members, particularly through social engagement and innovative brand activations. In fact, Barry Westrum proudly told his audience: "Dairy Queen is now referenced in the social space once every 18 seconds. That's a big deal for a brand that didn't have much of a social presence as little as four years ago."

The far-reaching concept of "Fan Food, Not Fast Food" also ultimately caused transactions to climb. Dairy Queen has now been profitable six out of the past seven quarters. (The unprofitable quarter fell during last winter's "polar vortex," a time when few were thinking about buying ice cream.)

Barry Westrum's advice for achieving these results is deceptively simple. He recommends that one finds their brand's "north star." For DQ, "fannovation" had to become part of the culture. He reminds marketers to "start with your brand strength, but don't be afraid to tackle your biggest brand barriers." He also emphasizes that "retail is detail," and believes that inspiring hundreds of thousands of crew members is critical. (Dairy Queen achieves this via an aggressive #lovemydq program.) Finally, he says to "think and act 75 years young."

Numerous insights, innovations and renewed profitability resulted from understanding and applying customer data to the the new "Fan Food" ethos. Here's just a few:

DQ® Grill & Chill

Fans are happy to visit for lunch, not just dessert—provided it's affordable, according to Dairy Queen research. To encourage more midday visitors, DQ offered a Five-Buck Lunch, consisting of an entree, beverage and soft-serve ice cream for $5. The chain went from being underrepresented at lunch to being touted in social media as the Five-Buck Lunch was considered to be among the best offers in the quick-serve restaurant category. They soon learned that even one extra visit per month from a fan can have a significant impact on business.

To celebrate this Valentine's Day as part of its year-long 75th "Fanniversary," DQ aired a cheeky spot that parodied the holiday's rampant jewelry advertising. It promoted a Dairy Queen heart-shaped red velvet cake for two, along with a bracelet-sized red velvet case that contained a lacquered spoon for cake sharing. In the spot, a young woman reacts to opening the spoon case with the emotion of receiving an engagement ring- (complete with a phone call to her parents), while her emotional beau is gratefully teary-eyed.

The funny commercial aired on Saturday Night Live, as well as on the Puppy Bowl, Animal Planet's answer to the Super Bowl and the second-highest-rated programming of the day. In addition to connecting with its audience for laughs, the Valentines program highlighted Dairy Queen's ecommerce site for cakes,, which is now responsible for 40% of its cake orders.

Orange Julius

Consumer insights also showed a concern about healthy food options. DQ acted on that data by incorporating Orange Julius, the fresh fruit drink brand it acquired in 1987. Again, Dairy Queen turned to humor to make their point. An ad featured a fruit vendor that hawked only fake plastic fruit in an outdoor food market. The imitation fruit certainly looked good on the stand, but when shoppers approached, they were bewildered as the products simply weren't edible. DQ asked: You wouldn't eat artificial fruit, so why drink juices with artificial fruit flavors?


Company research indicates that ice cream purchases are weather related. According to Westrum, "When the temperature dips six degrees lower than normal, no matter the time of year or location, Dairy Queen loses about 60 transactions per store per week. However, when the temperature is six degrees higher than normal, DQ gains about 100 transactions per store.

To drive sales, Dairy Queen partnered with's mobile app to respond quickly to temperature changes. They send a Blizzard offer to buy-one-get-one-free whenever the temperature dips below normal. In the past, DQ had only been a summer advertiser. Today, the chain is visible all 12 months of the year. They're just balancing their media budget between TV and digital as they learn more about results.


Dairy Queen also used mobile geotargeting to send messages to consumers who had stopped in a McDonald's parking lot within the past five days. DQ offered them a Five-Buck Lunch coupon. Roughly 25% of the people who received the offer visited a Dairy Queen store within two weeks.

Barry Westrum joined Berkshire Hathaway-owned American Dairy Queen Corporation as Executive Vice President of Marketing in February 2012. He has 17 years of experience working with several concepts within Yum! Brands, most recently at KFC as their Chief Marketing Officer. Prior to KFC, Mr. Westrum served as chief marketing officer at A&W and Long John Silver's Brands. Additionally, he was Dean of the YUM! Know How and Innovation Center, and in various marketing leadership roles at Taco Bell, including field marketing, brand communications, new product development and brand marketing and strategy. Mr. Westrum began his career at J. Walter Thompson and Tracy-Locke Advertising agencies, leading accounts such as Pepsi-Cola and Stolichnaya Vodka Brands.