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Kim Freer, chief marketing officer for Raising Cane’s, said the company, which has 750 units, including a flagship in New York’s Times Square, expects to grow by more than 100 restaurants this year.

Kim Freer of Raising Cane’s: creating memories and connections

Marketing leader at 750-unit chicken finger restaurant works to weave brand into pop culture conversation

Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has created units designed by musician Post Malone and overseen activations with Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs players to enhance its branding.

Kim Freer, chief marketing officer for Plano, Texas-based Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, said the company, which has 750 units, including a flagship in New York’s Times Square,expects to grow by more than 100 restaurants this year.

“We’re all about creating those memories, creating the connection over food, but also creating something larger in terms of weaving ourselves into the conversation in terms of pop culture, rooted in authentic relationships with fans and with our guests,” Freer said in an interview.

Freer started her career at traditional ad agencies, working with a variety of clients like Audi, Cessna Aircraft Co., Subaru, and Volkswagen, before joining the account of a Subway restaurant franchisee.

“That really began this love affair with working in restaurant marketing,” Freer recalled. “There is just nothing like the fast-paced immediate feedback that you get when working in foodservice with our guests telling us in real time how their experience was and voting with their wallets quickly on LTOs. I had the pleasure of working on local restaurant marketing for Subway, managing about 2,800 locations across the Western U.S.”

From Subway, Freer moved to the brand side, working with Pasadena, Calif.-based Blaze Pizza and Wetzel’s Pretzel’s. She joined Raising Cane’s as CMO last October.

“At Raising Canes, we’re big fans of our fans,” Freer said, “and we’re always looking for opportunities to make deep connections with them.”

Those connections include two restaurants designed by Malone, one near his home in Utahand a Cowboys-themed unit in Dallas.

“There was really just this amazing synergy in an authentic relationship between Post and our owner and founder, Todd Graves,” Freer said. “We partnered together to create some custom restaurants, custom merch, and collectible cups that were all a result of that relationship. The fandom … is true and authentic and unique.”

Raising Cane’s also works to become part of pop culture moments, such as this year’s Super Bowl.

“We recently did an activation with two players, Mecole Hardman Jr. and L’Jarius Sneed, both from the Kansas City Chiefs, immediately following their Super Bowl win,” Freer said.

“That activation really celebrated the two winners, gave area fans this access to the champions and was an exciting moment to celebrate together,” Freer said, adding that her favorite part was not only the celebration but that a local high-school student and his journalism teacher attended the event.

“The student was an aspiring reporter and he asked if he could cover the event as practice for his future career,” Freer recalled. “He’s there filming scenes, behind the scenes footage and doing commentary of the event. And it was just one of those experiences that you know he will always remember. … We’re all about creating those memories, creating the connection over food, but also creating something larger in terms of weaving ourselves into the conversation in terms of pop culture.”

Marketing for restaurants has changed since her work with Subway, Freer said.

“When you think about the last 10 years, the digital landscape has changed, of course; we’ve had more data at our fingertips than ever before, more channels to communicate with our customers than ever before, and I would also say more opportunity to use our brand voice for good,” she said.

Customers, on the other hand, want communication and personalization, Freer said.

“Ten years ago, I would say that it was probably more of a one-way communication vs. now this back-and-forth continuous fluid dialogue,” she said.

Influencers have become part of that equation, she added.

“When we work with them,” Freer explained, “ware looking for authentic relationships with people that love the brand, who can speak about the brand and best represent the brand.”

Growth this year includes a Raising Cane’s on Broadway in Nashville, Tenn.

“As we grow, we’re making sure that we’re committed to each individual restaurant and each individual community that we serve, putting really kind of careful attention to detail in terms of localized restaurant design, plans, outreach, etc.,” Freer said.

“We plan to partner with about 45,000 local organizations, if you can believe that, giving back about $20 million to our local communities. That's really the lifeblood of what we do.”

To execute those local partnerships, Freer said Raising Cane’s relies on its national marketing partners as well as local restaurant marketers.

“We have an extensive field marketing team that serves as the CMO of their area, and they’re making sure that they're having those relationships, making those connections,” she said.

The biggest challenge is setting priorities, Freer added.

“You want to do all things,” she said. But success depends on “really staying focused on the boulders and making sure that you don't get distracted by the pebbles,” Freer explained.

Raising Cane’s, founded in 1996 in Baton Rouge, La., has restaurants in nearly 40 states.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on X/Twitter: @RonRuggless

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