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May 15, 2024

Your secret local marketing weapon: Brand ambassadors

with Elaine Patel
Director of Local Store Marketing at FAT Brands

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Want to boost community engagement and increase brand advocacy? In this episode of the Local Marketing Lab, Elaine Patel, Director of Local Store Marketing at FAT Brands, unveils a powerful secret local marketing weapon — brand ambassadors. With over 20 years of experience working with major brands, Elaine shares game-changing strategies that have propelled FAT Brands’ success across 2,300+ locations.

Empower front-line employees as brand ambassadors. Elaine reveals how identifying and empowering enthusiastic front-line employees to serve as brand ambassadors can drive incredible results. She provides a blueprint for equipping these ambassadors with training, resources, and support to effectively engage with local communities, fostering valuable connections that boost brand awareness and loyalty.

The power of consistency in local community building. Consistency is king when cultivating local relationships through marketing. By committing to regular, persistent efforts to connect with schools, community groups, and local heroes, brands can build strong, lasting bonds that pay dividends in customer loyalty and word-of-mouth advocacy.

Celebrating local heroes wins brand love. In a brilliant move, Elaine introduces FAT Brands’ “Celebrating Local Heroes” program, where brand ambassadors recognize and appreciate teachers, firefighters, nurses, and other pillars of the community. This innovative approach not only strengthens community ties but also creates a powerful emotional connection with the brand.

Packed with actionable insights from a seasoned marketer, this episode is a must-listen for any business seeking to unlock the full potential of local marketing. Elaine’s fresh perspectives and proven tactics provide a roadmap to leveraging the power of brand ambassadors — your secret local marketing weapon.

Key Takeaways

Here are some topics discussed in the episode around your secret local marketing weapon, brand ambassadors:

  • Empowering and equipping front-line employees as brand ambassadors for local marketing
  • Best practices for supporting and motivating brand ambassadors
  • Benefits of celebrating “local heroes” like teachers, firefighters, and nurses for building brand awareness and community connections
  • Strategies for building consistent, long-term relationships with the local community
  • The role of social media and user-generated content in amplifying local marketing efforts

The most important aspect of local marketing…is making sure that the franchisees understand what their community is comprised of.

Secret local marketing weapon: Brand ambassadors (person vlogging)


Other shout-outs


Justin Ulrich
What’s up everyone, and welcome to the Local Marketing Lab, where you get real-world insights from industry pros to help you drive local revenue and local for growth. This podcast is brought to you by Evocalize – digital marketing tools powered by local data that automatically work where and when your locations need it most. Learn more at evocalize.com

Well, what’s up? And welcome to the Local Marketing Lab. Joining us in the lab today is a guest with over 20 years of marketing experience working with multiple brands that we all know and love. She’s an OG Fatburger team member and the director of Local Store Marketing at FAT Brands, Elaine Patel. Thanks for joining us in the lab, my friend.

Elaine Patel
Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Justin Ulrich
You bet. I’m probably even more excited. You know, you’ve got some really solid experience that we’re going to jump into. But, you know, before we get going on your background, just to clarify, so FAT Brands has 18 brands associated with it, is that correct?

Elaine Patel
Right. 18 brands. And a lot of the growth has come in the last, I want to say, five years where we just exploded. So, yep, we’re up to 18 now.

Justin Ulrich
Awesome. And for our listeners who may not be aware of which brands are – which brands do fall under the FAT Brand’s umbrella, could you give me a couple examples of ones that they might know?

Elaine Patel
Sure. Fatburger, Johnny Rockets, Elevation Burger, Hot Dog on a Stick, Round Table Pizza is very popular. Great American Cookies, Marble Slab Creamery, Pretzelmaker, Fazoli’s, Twin Peaks. We recently acquired Smokey Bones. 

We have casual dining – Hurricane Grill and Wings, Buffalo Cafe, list goes on and on. I could keep going. Just when I get caught up to launching the local store marketing at the newly acquired brand, yhere’s always a new brand that comes on board. I’m never caught up.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, you guys are. You’re on fire, that’s for sure. So let’s start off by maybe giving us just a little bit of your background, you know, maybe a little bit of your journey and what you do in your current role.

Elaine Patel
Sure. So I am a FAT Brands veteran. I started back in the early 2000’s, and we only had one brand, and that was Fatburger. And I think that’s why Fatburger is very close to a lot of the OGs at the corporate office because that was our first brand. And so, you know, when I started, there was no marketing team. I was marketing employee number one. And I loved it because, yeah, it really felt like a startup.

And so I got to like, you know, add the programs and start all these different things. And so it was really exciting. I loved it. We only had a small group of corporate employees, and we were actually, our office was located on top of a restaurant. And so I smelled like burgers every single day when I cooked. But it was great. I loved it. 

Really dived into understanding that brand and what local marketing is all about. I think when I first started there, there might have been maybe 45 or 50 locations, and now FAT Brand is up to or has surpassed 2,300 locations. And so there’s been a lot of growth. But, yes, I was definitely an OG here at FAT Brands.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. Yeah, 2,300 plus locations. That’s incredible. And in your role specifically, you’re the director of local store marketing. So you handle all local level marketing for each one of those brands? Each one of those locations?

Elaine Patel
Yes. And so, you know, within each brand or within each division, we have fast casual, casual dining, we have QSR, polish casual. There is a marketing team, so you’ll have a brand lead. And a lot of times they’re so focused on brand level activities, which their plates are full. Local store marketing sometimes kind of gets put on the side or it’s a thing to do. 

So they brought me in to really focus on local store marketing, and I have the support of the full executive team. Everybody’s very supportive of local store marketing, and so I lead LSM across all the brands, and I have a little team that we help the marketing teams within the divisions create local store marketing programs. And so it kind of trickles down to the franchisees and ultimately to the customer. 

So our brand teams are amazing. They’re excellent professionals, and we just help them create resources for franchisees.

Justin Ulrich
That is awesome. So if you have, you’ve got the 18 brands, 2300 locations, you’ve done plenty of testing and learning. And this is what I was so excited about bringing you on about, because you have accelerated learnings that most folks don’t have if they’re just working with one brand. 

So with everything that you’ve tried, everything that you’ve tested, what would you say or maybe call out or one or two of the most important aspects of local marketing?

Elaine Patel
Sure. So, within FAT Brands, majority of our brands are franchise driven, our franchisees. And so we need to make sure that those franchisees have the resources to connect with their communities. And that’s what I think is the most important aspect of local marketing for FAT Brands is making sure that the franchisees understand what their community is comprised of. 

Where are the sports venues, where are the schools, where are the hospitals, where are the churches, and how do you connect with those communities? And so they need some help. You know, franchisees are very busy. They have a bunch of different hats that they wear, and we’re here to help them with identifying who’s in their community and how to connect with those members in their community.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. Are there anything, any tactics, maybe that you’ve tried recently that kind of hit it out of the park or really stuck out as something that worked really well?

Elaine Patel
I’m glad you asked that question and I’m very, very proud of a new program. It’s called the Brand Ambassador program. What we’ve done is that we’ve empowered crew member employees. And so because the franchisees have a lot going on and we know that local store marketing cannot be neglected, we’ve empowered the crew member, which could be a high school student, could be a college student, somebody that’s very friendly, likes to talk, very social. 

And so we are educating them through a program called LSM 101 and then are not leaving them there. We are speaking to them during LSM huddles every month. We’ll group them together and we’ll talk about different aspects of marketing and local store marketing. How to engage with your community, how to shake somebody’s hand and look them in the eyes when you’re connecting with them, and just give them all these different tools to use when they’re out in the community. 

And then the breakout sessions and the marketing teams will talk to them all about the brand level initiatives happening that month and the local store marketing initiatives. So they are fully equipped to go out to the community and make those connections. And so I’m really, really excited about this brand ambassador program. It started off with just a couple brands. It’s now portfolio wide and we have north of 450 brand ambassadors and growing. So very excited about them.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, that is incredible. Yeah. You know, we hear a lot in different conversations I’ve had about how at the employee level, a lot of these folks feel like they are the brand, especially in the younger generation. They all have access to, you know, their device in their pocket and looking for mine. But it’s like you could take out your phone, take a video, you know, you can promote the brand and give your own kind of flavor or feel associated with that content and really make it yours. 

And brands that embrace that and give the tools to their employees are the ones that are going to win in the end because that’s all free marketing. And think about the channels, the amplification you’re able to get by getting your brand in front of each one of your employees networks. It’s super powerful.

Elaine Patel
Exactly. And I think it’s really going back to that, empowering the crew members, because what we want is a franchisee to identify your talent, right? Identify that person. That’s that bubbly person, maybe a cashier or server, and they like talking to people, and it’s just like harnessing that energy and giving them the background of what local store marketing is and how important it is to connect with their communities and then let them go out and do what they do. 

And so it’s really just, you know, supporting them and giving them resources to help them connect.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. Do you ever take the content that they create and then push it out from the corporate level?

Elaine Patel
We do give those brand ambassadors that, like, are tech savvy. A lot of them are. They’re native to social media. And so, you know, we do tell them if you’re interested in helping with maybe their stores’ Facebook page, they can go on and create posts and boost their posts and all that stuff. And we give them resources for that, some guidance on that. We have a whole social media team that can give some tips on what to do and what not to do. 

And so, yeah, that’s one way where they could create their own post, given the resources that they have, and push it out. And then they’re so excited about it because they can see, oh, that was my post I wrote, and that’s all over, you know, that’s on their stores social media channel. So it’s really, it’s super cool to see a brand ambassador, you know, take that initiative.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, for sure. Do you like, there’s a lot of, maybe fear isn’t quite the right word, but folks aren’t quite ready to let go of the reins to give their employees the control and empower them to create their own content in many instances. Have you found that there really isn’t as much risk as people might think?

Elaine Patel
Yeah, I think that the brand ambassadors right now, the program is pretty new, and they are so amped up and excited to be brand ambassadors. They will say, you know, I am brand ambassador from store number 254, and, you know, I’m here to represent it. They’re so, they have so much energy. And I think that, you know, if you educate them and inform them about local store marketing and, you know, why, it’s important to, like I said, look at somebody in their eyes when you’re talking to them, give them a firm handshake, have that energy and that smile on your face when talking to them. 

And so we give them those tips. We give them those resources. We also pull in guest speakers doing the local store marketing huddles, and they’re from the leadership team and they’ll kind of tell their journey like what the vision is for the company and what role they play in that vision. So they feel part of the family, the FAT Brand’s family. They feel that what they do matters. And I think that’s really important. 

And so is there a fear that, you know, they might go rogue? I don’t, there’s, I don’t have never had that fear because I know that they are just so entrenched with the brand, knowing the brand, and they want to put their best foot forward. So it’s all been positive. Yeah.

Justin Ulrich
No, that’s awesome. Yeah, we, we hear a lot about authenticity and how, you know, from, if you think 20 years ago, marketing was very much, like, commercial. Like, you have agencies like, you’re spending tons of money on develop and producing these, like, really high quality content pieces that are basically commercials.

Elaine Patel
It was cookie cutter. It used to be. And I was there during those days, you know, back in the day I was there. I knew that it was very vanilla. But now, you know, times have changed and it’s great to empower the crew members to kind of take their spin on it and, you know, sometimes you’ll find something very creative, you know? So it’s really interesting.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah. And it’s, I mean, it’s a win win because if you think about, too, that the dollars that you’d throw into an agency coming up with some of these campaigns, like hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars producing some of this stuff, and you have the ability to just get it produced on the fly for free whenever you need it, there’s always new, fresh content and it’s engaging. It’s the most engaging that we’ve seen ever in terms of a type of content. So it’s super exciting.

Elaine Patel
It’s exciting times. Absolutely.

Justin Ulrich
So let me ask this. What are some things that you might suggest if someone’s struggling to drive local traffic online, orders, whatever it might be at the local level, what are some things you might suggest they could do today or maybe sometime this week to start turning that around.

Elaine Patel
Right. So I think the first step is to, to identify the person that’s going to leave this for your restaurant. And even if you have just one restaurant, if it’s the assistant manager, if it’s the cashier, whoever has that personality, identify that person and commit to supporting that person. That means that you might schedule them for a couple of hours where they’re just kind of going on Google and they’re finding their route to the schools in their area, give them that time. Right. 

And then support them with marketing materials, make sure they’re equipped with the materials to go out to the community, and then, you know, be their cheerleader, support them, and you’ll see that that person, in connecting with their communities had gonna have a humongous impact. Right. 

And another thing is that you have to be consistent. You cannot shotgun local store marketing. You cannot do something one month, wait four or five months, do something another time, wait a little bit. It has to be consistent because you’re building relationships within the community and you have to have that voice repetitive. You have to cultivate those relationships. 

And I think by identifying this person, that person can consistently go out to schools and they’ll see that, oh, yeah, you’re the girl from Round Table Pizza. Oh, yeah, you’re the Fatburger guy. So they see that familiarity, they see that that person, and then there’s a relationship that gets built and then it cultivates from that. 

So, you know, I know franchisees are very busy. I know that, you know, you can come into a restaurant one day, somebody calls out, the fryer is not working, you know, tons of things happening, right. And sometimes local store marketing goes down to the bottom of your list when all those priorities are happening. So identify somebody in your restaurant, empower them, support them, and you’ll be amazed with the results.

Justin Ulrich
That’s it. That’s really good insight. I don’t think we’ve had a suggestion like that yet, and we’ve almost had 40 episodes so far. Very good. Yeah, I think a lot of times it’s, it like we talked about a little bit earlier, it’s just, it’s some local marketing is something that everyone knows they have to do. It’s difficult to find the time to do. 

You have day to day things that come up and you’re unable to get to it. And it’s always like, oh, I know, I need to do this thing, but maybe I’ll just do it tomorrow or do it tomorrow. Do it tomorrow. And you always put it off and you, and we say, you know, the best time to plant a tree is, you know, four years ago, you know, but you need to start, though, now, and you can’t keep putting it off. And so if you can empower that person on your team to be effective with the right tools. It’s great suggestion.

And the other thing, too, that I think of is it doesn’t have to, you don’t have to have some big playbook or some big plan that you’re going to give them. Give them some ideas, just talk to them about what you’d like them to do what the final outcome is going to be. Maybe give them a couple ideas and just set them loose for a week, see what they produce and go from there.

Elaine Patel
Right. And you’ll be amazed on what happens. It’s just giving that guidance, harnessing that energy, and then let them run with it.

Justin Ulrich
That’s right. That’s right. Awesome. So who do you think is doing something, and it could be even one of your brands because you have so many to choose from, do you have one of your brands – they’re doing something really cool or something that the other brands aren’t doing, right?

Elaine Patel
So we have recently launched a program and it’s called Celebrating Local Heroes. And it actually has happened. It just kicked off yesterday. In May, there are tons of appreciation weeks that happen. And this could be like Teacher Appreciation Week, could be International Firefighters Day, National Police Week, National Nurses Week. There’s all these different appreciations and you’re appreciating local heroes within your community.

So the brand ambassadors, what they’re doing is they’re going out to the schools, they’re going out to the fire stations, they’re going out to hospitals, and they’re saying thank you. Thank you for doing everything that you do. Here’s a flyer. Come and see us. We’d love to have you in. And so we just had an LSM huddle yesterday with the brand ambassadors and they love this program and you can see the excitement and how they describe how they’re going to tackle it and what route they’re going to take and what schools they’re going to reach.

So I think this program, I really like it because one, you’re helping the community, you’re making those relationships right? And then two, you’re building brand awareness. You know, maybe the schools didn’t know that you’re right down the street. Maybe the hospitals didn’t know that you offer catering. Maybe there’s military appreciation month this month, maybe going to a military base. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe not. Appreciate them, tell them that you thank you for the service and have them come back in.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, for sure. You know, that’s a really good idea. The other piece is if these are your ambassadors and they’re going out to engage with these folks, again, they have that device in their pocket. Everyone can tell the story, highlight the community, highlight those heroes, take video, share it on your social posts. 

And in doing so, you’re going to create not only brand advocacy, you know, with that individual that you’re highlighting, but then also everyone else who associates with them within your community. And it all links that. All that goodness and that positive juice and energy comes back to your brand.

Elaine Patel
Right, and exactly. We’re encouraging customers to bring in their local heroes and then sharing why is this person your local hero? And you’ll get, like, a bunch of different responses and very, you know, heartfelt, warm, genuine responses.

Justin Ulrich
That is awesome. That’s a great idea. Switching gears a little bit. So you let me know that you’ve got three teenagers. I’ve got a couple teenagers myself, but you have 3 – 13, 14, and 15 years old, which to me, seems like kind of a nightmare, but also could be cool. 

Ours, we have four, but they’re so spread apart. But, you know, not only are you providing guidance and mentorship to your own brood of children, but you also provide guidance and mentorship to others through this organization that you founded, and you’re the president of called Career Sparks. So could you tell me a little bit about that?

Elaine Patel
Yes. So, right at the onset of COVID we noticed that students that are coming from title one schools, disadvantaged families, that they didn’t have the Internet or they didn’t have the iPads to connect while they were learning from home. And so we decided I got a group of these amazing women, and we created this board, and we created Career Sparks. 

And so what we do is that we have virtual career days, and the students can join in, and they can learn about NASA astronauts, and they can learn about how to be a Disney imagineer, or they can learn about how to become a surgeon or how to become a fireman. And so give them those opportunities, that exposure to all these different careers. And really, it’s just that connection that they get with, you know, a brighter future. 

And so we do this. We founded it around COVID time, and it took off, and we learned that, you know, the same thing is making these community connections, helping your community, investing in your community, so that one kid that decides to become the lawyer, become the doctor, can make a difference not only in their family, but in their community.

Justin Ulrich
That is awesome. That is awesome. Yeah. It resonates with me personally. I was that one kid in my family we talked a little bit about. I didn’t even consider going to college. It just wasn’t in the books. But, you know, I had some friends, parents, some mentors that kind of guided me in the right direction, and I’m so happy that I did. 

You know, I got a little bit of a late start on college, but got it done. And I think the biggest part of that is you don’t, if you don’t come up in a family where you have exposure to what’s possible, you just don’t understand, like, what potential you have and, like, the opportunities that you can reach. So it’s, I mean, what a great thing to be able to get that in front of those kids.

Elaine Patel
Absolutely. And like you said, it’s really just the exposure. It’s the exposure to these different fields that they may have never even thought of. So, you know, it’s interesting because those students, they may have only seen a doctor when they’re in a doctor’s office or at a hospital, and they never really learn about, you know, what a doctor does, what that path looks like. And so it’s just exposing them to these different careers and telling them that they can do it, supporting them, being their cheerleader.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. Well, given all the work that you do with not only your own kids, these other kids that you’re mentoring, but then also being able to handle all of this marketing for 18 brands, and it’s just going to keep growing, I’m sure. I thought that how fitting it would be to use AI and create a Wonder Woman out of you.

Elaine Patel
I love it. Oh, my goodness. The arms are so defined.

Justin Ulrich
This is definitely a fun one. I love taking people and putting them into superheroes just because it’s just fun. It’s something that we all grew up with.

Elaine Patel
I love it. And then in the background, it looks so, like adventure.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. So I guess before we let you go, how should our listeners follow you? Follow your brands?

Elaine Patel
Sure. So you get on LinkedIn, FAT Brands, or Instagram at fatbrands, and you can always find us on our website fatbrands.com, and all the 18 different brands are linked there.

Justin Ulrich
For sure. And we will definitely call out all the brands on the links with this video as well. We’ll make sure that we’re guiding folks in the right direction, not only in the social channels, but also locally. If you have any of these brands near you, stop by. 

If you have a Fatburger, stop in. It’s incredible. Pick up yourself some burgers, some food, some ice cream, candy. You guys have everything in all your locations. So it’s a lot of fun to have you on today, and I appreciate you joining us in the lab.

Elaine Patel
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was fun.

Justin Ulrich
You bet.

As always, thanks for joining us in the Local Marketing Lab. This podcast was sponsored by Evocalize. To learn more about how Evocalize can help you grow your business, visit evocalize.com

If you learned something from today’s episode, don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook @Evocalize. That’s Evocalize and on X at Evocalize. 

And remember, keep innovating and testing new things. You’ll never know what connects with your customers best unless you try. Until next time. Thanks for listening.

Elaine Patel

Director of Local Store Marketing at FAT Brands

Meet Elaine Patel

With over 20 years of marketing experience and a deep understanding of franchise growth, Elaine Patel has been a pivotal figure in the local store marketing department at Fat Brands. As the Director of Local Store Marketing, she has played a key role in the rapid expansion of the company, overseeing marketing strategies for all 18 brands under the Fat Brands umbrella.

Elaine’s innovative approach, particularly her recent success with the Brand Ambassador program, has not only enhanced community engagement but also increased brand advocacy. Her journey from being the first marketing employee for Fat Burger to leading local marketing initiatives across multiple brands makes her a valuable asset in the world of franchise growth.

Host of the Local Marketing Lab podcast, Justin Ulrich - Headshot

Justin Ulrich

VP of Marketing at Evocalize

Meet the host

Justin is a seasoned marketing leader known for his creative expertise and innovative go-to-market strategies. With vast experience spanning both B2B and B2C landscapes, Justin has made his mark across a spectrum of industries including software, POS, restaurant, real estate, franchise, home services, telecom, and more.

Justin’s career is steeped in transformative strategies and impactful initiatives. With specialties ranging from channel marketing and brand management to demand generation, his strategic vision and execution have consistently translated into tangible results.

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