Sonic’s Executive Moves Underscore the Importance of Enhanced Customer Experience

Sonic’s key executive decisions recently drove home the fact that an enhanced customer experience is its utmost priority.

During the company’s recent third-quarter earnings call, Sonic CEO Cliff Hudson noted the following key executive moves:

Lori Abou Habib became the new CMO: “All of us here at Sonic are very excited that Lori Abou Habib, who is a 10-year-old veteran with our company and most recently was Vice President of National Marketing, has been named as the new CMO of our company,” Hudson said. “Lori has extensive experience with our brands. She’s led local marketing earlier in the career as well as brand management and our product pipeline, our creative efforts, and has held these different positions at various times in her tenure with our company.”

Darin Dugan is Sonic’s new VP of National Marketing and will lead the brand management and creative teams. Dugan has about 20 years of experience in food and beverage marketing, including 16 years at Kraft, and most recently served as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Culinary for Applebee’s.

Kim Lewis has joined Sonic in the newly created position of Vice President of Digital Strategy. Lewis has 15 years of experience in digital and e-commerce efforts from other industries. She will lead digital integrated marketing, communications, and CRM strategy.

What’s more, Sonic is recruiting for a Chief Brand Officer, who will oversee the marketing team and ICE, which is the company’s Integrated Customer Engagement platform. ICE leverages the point-of-sale system, digital menu boards or POPS, and mobile payment processes.

Evan Magliocca, brand marketing manager for Baesman Insights & Marketing, told Loyalty360 that he’s excited about Sonic’s approach to fully developing its customer experience from a cultural perspective.

“Sonic understands the importance of customer experience,” Magliocca said. “Its recent hiring moves show how important cross-channel experiences are and how unified they need to be to produce positive customer interactions. Sonic’s announcement that it will be hiring a Chief Brand Officer should really improve its cross-channel consistency.”  

With the ICE initiative, Sonic will increase customization, but it will also be more efficient at moving customers through the selection process, which should also reduce wait times and increase the number of customers served, Magliocca added.

Hudson believes the key executive moves will considerably strengthen the marketing team.

“We’re reaching a point now in the evolution of our business where we can more aggressively evolve our marketing toward 21st century means of customer engagement consisting of digital, social, 1-to-1 communication, as well as customization. We have high confidence that we’re putting the right team in place to guide the strategy and bring to life our view, our vision of giving consumers the most personalized experience in QSR.”

Same-store sales sank 1.2 percent in the third quarter.

“You can ask the question, ‘what are we doing to recapture the momentum in our business?’, and we’re doing a number of things: Refining the processes we’ve had in place in the recent past,” Hudson added. “We continue our re-emphasis on pairing premium product innovation with relevant value.”

Carrie McIlveen, U.S. Director of Marketing for Metia, told Loyalty360 that customer experience is a critical differentiator in today’s competitive and hyper-connected global marketplace.

“Customers want their experience to feel effortless,” she explained. “Sonic seems to be putting the right team in place to evolve. However, to truly deliver on the personalized experiences, it will also need the right data tools and insights. The more Sonic can deepen the understanding of its customer and emotional triggers, the better it will be for exceeding customer expectations and gaining a competitive advantage.”

Meanwhile, Jon Siegal, vice president and general manager at Stellar Loyalty, told Loyalty360 that Sonic, like all brands in the QSR industry, are facing stiff competition from adversaries new and old.

“It’s not enough anymore to simply rely on brand advertising to drive sustained sales,” Siegal explained. “Customer acquisition is one thing; retaining and growing share of wallet is quite another. It’s vital for brands in the food industry to continually differentiate, and, by putting an emphasis on creating a more modern and personalized experience for customers, Sonic is certainly demonstrating the right intentions.”

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