A view from Manaaz Akhtar

Subway's Akhtar: Simpler strategies need a champion

Akhtar is regional marketing director at Subway. Having spent 14 years in the food- on-the-go sector, she oversees all marketing and category management across Europe...

Lead by example

I started my career in the quickservice restaurant sector in March 2002, when I joined Pizza Hut. Throughout my marketing journey, I have been fortunate to have visionary mentors who have helped me become the marketer I am today.

Key drivers that have been instilled in me are:

  • Keep the customer at the forefront and use genuine insight.
  • Focus on your style of delivering messages – how you deliver a strategy is just as important as its message, particularly when getting the buy-in of franchisees.
  • Have a strong rationale and facts, especially when working with an operations-based network that demands business case studies.
  • Integration and working cross-functionally aid stronger plans and more consistent delivery.
  • Having a long-term road map helps explain the vision.
  • There is a need to do disruptive marketing to effect changes.
  • Build a strong team and give exposure to those who are capable.
  • Interpret data well – there is no point in having a database of unused information.
  • Do not revert to what you know and repeat the same ideas.

I also keep in mind this quote from Sir Martin Sorrell – "You’re never too old to reinvent yourself" – as no person nor business should be beyond reinvention.

Walk in their shoes

Each brand and business is unique and how your customers view, interact with and consume your brand is different.

For a 100% franchised business, the tightrope between a campaign to drive either brand reappraisal or traffic is one of the biggest marketing or leadership challenges a marketer can face.

With our business model, the experience starts with each customer, as their sub is made fresh right in front of them. You need to watch and know your consumer; you need to approach knowing them the [same] way Tinder works.

Consumers switch brands and competition in the QSR sector is very aggressive – and London is leading the way in creating new "stop and stare" moments to grab attention.

Simplify, but be brave

Most companies create complexity and, as the largest QSR set-up, this could be said of Subway.

I have to think holistically about the company’s overall value proposition, integrating messages and insights across territories, geographies and all agency groups. But simpler strategies need a champion, not to be compromised by committee.

The challenges I face

Social media has produced a different, more elusive consumer with short-term thinking. Media agencies have to move from being media-facing to consumer-facing. There will also be a continued decline in customers’ spending power.

While it’s important to deliver a strong value platform and new product development, we also need to identify times of the day outside the breakfast and lunch rushes that are not busy, and find ways to attract people in. We’ve had successes with our integrated digital outdoor to social ads.

They’ve enabled us to kick-start these conversations with consumers. I also agree with some top chief marketing officers I saw recently – speaking at a Marketing Society event – that the marketing leaders of tomorrow will have to be more agile and have broader experience to adapt to changing technologies and consumer behaviours.

They pointed out you have to be able to "surround yourself with fantastic people and then get out of their way" and create an environment where people are passionate about consumers, insight and growth, are free to take risks, and accept that sometimes you fail in pursuit of those goals. And to always put the customer first.

Question, question, question

It’s all about interrogation and integration. If something is too easy to sell back into a business, it will probably fail by being too safe and not standing out. We need to create those "stop and stare" moments, keep relevant and reinvent and remind our customers why they fell in love with the brand in the first place.

Manaaz Akhtar is regional marketing director at Subway. Having spent 14 years in the foodon-the-go sector, she oversees all marketing and category management across Europe for the Subway brand, the world's biggest franchised fast-food business.