Aishwarya Ramesh
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"The role of a CDO is to integrate commerce with marketing": Kapil Grover, Burger King

We profile Burger King's CDO turned CMO, who spoke to us about a marketer's role in a digital ecosystem, and more.

In July 2021, Kapil Grover who joined Burger King (BK) India as its chief digital officer (in November 2020) took over the role of its chief marketing officer. Grover is a marketer with over two decades of experience, so the move is not a surprising one, but the phrasing of the designation is telling of the times we live in.

Ever since the covid pandemic started, marketers and brands have been relying on the digital medium to communicate with their consumers – either via social media or digital advertising.

According to Grover, the word digital has gone through a massive transformation in the last five years. He recalls that earlier, digital marketing used to be centered on social media - advertising on Youtube, Facebook etc. However, this has only become one part of digital marketing right now.

Kapil Grover
Kapil Grover

“We are witnessing the advent of digital marketing which leads to commerce, and this is increasingly important for us. This shift to online ordering and home delivery is a massive mega trend that’s happened in the last 2-3 years. Brands need to integrate that into their larger business strategy.”

Burger King is currently running a campaign (with agency Famous Innovations) for their stunner menu offer and the Grover mentions that the whole idea was to bring the menu items alive in that campaign.

“In my previous assignment at other companies – we took this approach and integrated this into our larger business strategy; to not only advertise on digital platforms but to also consider commerce and this is the role of the CDO. To build that commerce channel for the brand. We've integrated it into two teams – we have a team dedicated to the commerce vertical and a team for the communication vertical.”

Over a Zoom call, Grover tells us that during the first wave of the pandemic, people were tired of cooking at home and looking for safe alternatives to ordering in, Burger King introduced their exclusive android app.

“After the first wave, many people got tired of cooking at home and eventually they sought out food. The good thing is that even during lockdown, we focussed on continuing to improve product quality and create new products. We also relaunched the flagship product – the Whopper, during the pandemic.”

The Burger King app was launched in Q1 last year and it was another channel for consumers to place their orders on the platform. The company is trying to incentivise ordering from the app with offers and a loyalty program. However, the QSR giant will continue to work with Swiggy and Zomato for food delivery. In Grover’s words, the food aggregators are doing a ‘different job’ – category creation.

“Swiggy and Zomato constitute a marketplace. The job of the marketplace is to establish the category and expand it, to engage with customer acquisition, establish habits etc and they’ve been doing a good job of it so far. Ultimately the choice lies with the customer when it comes to where they want to order from.”

He adds that premiumisation is also another consumer trend they spotted – in response, they introduced 4 new burger products. Burger King’s competitor McDonald’s has also recently launched a gourmet burger collection which is available on food delivery platforms.

Time spent in the QSR space

He joined Burger King in 2016 and that was the time the brand was being established in India. He tells us that they had to find ways to make it relevant and cater to Indian audiences – by redesigning the menu to suit the palate of Indian consumers. “The products we sell in India, we don’t sell anywhere else in the world.”

Grover has considerable experience working in the QSR space (he has previously worked with KFC and Domino’s Pizza in the past), but he considers his stint at Burger King a way of ‘restarting his journey’ in the category because of how the space has been changing.

“During my stint at KFC, the focus was on the restaurant experience and creating innovation on the menu. During my stint at Yum Foods, we were involved in activations, restaurant design, menu design, etc. Around 2008-10, it was a very aspirational product with a Western taste; it was a new experience for consumers at the time.”

He tells us that Domino’s in its business model is quite delivery focussed, and during his two years working there, is when the marketplace phenomenon – the popularity of food delivery apps like Swiggy and Zomato.

"The popularity of Swiggy and Zomato and the whole marketplace phenomenon came about because of the trend of people seeking convenience delivered to their homes."
Kapil Grover, Burger King

“The popularity of Swiggy and Zomato and the whole marketplace phenomenon came about because of the trend of people seeking convenience delivered to their homes. This was also the time more people started using the digital medium for entertainment, shopping, consuming content on OTT platforms, at the same time. Digital payments also gained popularity - in that sense, the whole ecosystem came together between 2017 to around 2020.”

"The next ten years of the category are going to be different form the last ten years."
Kapil Grover, Burger King

He adds that before this time, social media did exist – but it wasn’t as popular as it is today and it didn’t have that level of reach. “When the digital ecosystem matured, payments, entertainment, commerce and everything else came together. Hence the importance of digital and understanding the consumer from a digital perspective becomes more and more important. From being a traditional marketer to learning all about digital, it’s been quite a journey. Now the next ten years of the category are going to be different form the last ten years. Marketing strategies will change, engagement platforms will change, restaurant designs will change – there’s going be a big shift and the pandemic in a way, has accelerated that. It’s a big inflection point for the category.”

During the COVID pandemic, restaurants were mandated to restrict dining in and offer food to takeaway instead, so we asked if that had increased the trend of takeaways in India, but Grover disagrees – mentioning that it has not yet caught on in a big way in India.

"We’re seeing a 3x increase in orders from the Burger King and the delivery business has recovered much faster than the dine in business."
Kapil Grover, Burger King

“We’re seeing a 3x increase in orders from the Burger King and the delivery business has recovered much faster than the dine in business. Takeaway is a phenomenon which is yet to become big in India. We’ve started to see that trend now and we also provide that option to consumers to order a takeaway from the app and collect it at the restaurant.”

"Takeaway is an emerging trend, but there is a lot of work that marketers need to do in order to crack that model and make it convenient for consumers."
Kapil Grover, Burger King

He explains that takeaway is a big trend in the USA and that for most QSR brands there – the takeaway business is bigger than their delivery business. “In other countries - most outlets come with huge parking lots which makes takeaway convenient – you can even eat in the car. In India, the traffic congestion and parking challenges make it more difficult to do a takeaway. Customers also opt for takeaway to save on delivery charges. Takeaway is an emerging trend, but there is a lot of work that marketers need to do in order to crack that model and make it convenient for consumers”

Grover worked at Domino’s from 2016 to 2018 and prior to that, he had worked at Radico Khaitan where he mentions that he learnt the basics of brand building. He began his career in a sales role for the brand Luxor, in May 2000. At the time, Luxor was a part of Gillette and eventually Gillette sold the stake in the business but he had helped set up the b2b marketing division. He launched brands like Waterman and Parker Premium in India.

After that, he worked at Radico Khaitan – as a trade marketing manager in the South. At that time, South as a market was getting organized in the liquor trade and he worked with a lot of regional liquor brands. “I got the feel of South as a market, worked in a regional market and it was a good learning curve.”