Kim Morales (Hawkers) - Full 360° Experience
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Vin: Welcome to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista, probably the most entertaining marketing podcast you're going to put in your ear. I'm Vin, the producer here at Stirista. The goal of this podcast is to chat with industry leaders and get their take on the current challenges of the market, and we'll have a little fun along the way. In today's episode, Kim Morales, Vice President of Marketing at Hawkers, chats with AJ and Vincent about how using multiple media channels to tell the company's story and establish awareness helps increase engagement. Give it a listen.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Stirista's The Marketing Stir. I am your host, Vincent Pietrafesa, the vice President of B2B products and partnerships here at Stirista. It's so good to be talking to you. You'll notice my voice's a little raspy. That is because I coach my son's Little League team. He's six and just talking and talking, " Get in line. Get in line. No, don't pick the daisies. Don't blow the dandelions. Just pay attention." It's a lot. And then I sound like this. Thank you to Downtown Little League for making me sound like this. But I manage, I volunteer, I help out with the children. It's so good to be talking to you, everyone. If you don't know who Stirista is, we are the people behind The Marketing Stir. Let's talk about us for just like 15 seconds. We are a marketing technology company. We own our own business to business data, business to consumer data. We help companies utilize that technology to get to those people with email marketing, display, connected TV. We help you get new customers. Email me at vincent @ stirista.com. That is how confident I am. I just gave you my email address. And boy, do you use it sometimes for the purpose I just read, a lot of times for your own purpose. But it's okay. It's working. That means you're listening. It's all good. What else is good? My co- host. He's with us. He's back been. I feel like he's up in his haircut game. I'm very proud of him. Ladies and gentlemen, my co- host, the CEO of Stirista, Mr. Ajay Gupta. What's going on, Ajay?
Ajay Gupta: Hey, Vincent. I had somewhat of a crazy weekend. Well, I don't know about crazy. We were waiting on a tennis tournament and it was raining. Essentially there was an open bar while we waited for the courts to dry. Luckily, the courts never dried.
Vincent Pietrafesa: No one was dry. No one was dry that day. Everyone was drinking.
Ajay Gupta: It turned out to be a fun Sunday, but I have decided I'm going to take a 30- day break from drinking.
Vincent Pietrafesa: What do you mean? Wait, when am I hanging out with you? I'm hanging out with you in less than 30 days, like day 27.
Ajay Gupta: I'll make an exception. We'll make it 27 days.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, like 20 days. I was like, 30 days? I immediately thought of myself and it was selfish. I'm like, no. I was like, no, if you want to not drink, that's okay. Yes, you do you. You could still hang out with me. People don't need to drink. That was the weekend. Now, my weekend was just hanging out with the family. I coach Little League, and it's a mix of tee- ball and coach pitch corralling. I really honed my leadership skills coaching 14 six year olds. This is my voice. I feel like every weekend after my voice is just like this, and then I get it back on Tuesday. But anyway, but yes, it is. It's good to be here. Stirista, great. Our teams, we've announced on a couple of the podcast some acquisitions, slowly meshing together some of the teams. It will take some time, but we're proud of that. I will see you in less than 30 days. We're representing. Tell people out there where we're going, Ajay. What's the big event that we're going to be attending for Stirista?
Ajay Gupta: Winston and I will be representing Stirista at the Fast 100 Asian American Award, which is given to Asian American owned companies. The hundred fastest growing in the country.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That is it. That's a testament to that gentleman that you're hearing right there, Mr. Ajay Gupta. But yeah, that should be fun. Ajay, we've got a fun, fun show. I love talking to companies like this that are emerging and it's cool and delicious as well. What do you mean, Vincent? That's a weird hint, but we're going to get into it. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an amazing guest today. She is the vice president of marketing at Hawkers Asian Street Food. Have you heard of it? Maybe you have. You certainly will. Ladies and gentlemen, a warm Marketing Stir welcome, Kim Morales. What's going on, Kim?
Kim Morales: Hi, Vincent. How are you doing?
Vincent Pietrafesa: Doing awesome. Doing awesome. Doing awesome. My friend, who went to the University of Florida, also told me to tell you, go gators. Go Gators.
Kim Morales: Yes, go Gators. Love to hear at least a Gator friend adjacent, if not a Gator themselves.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I am. I am. Florida Gators representing. A few high draft picks this year. They're doing well. I was just down in Gainesville. I was just there for the first time. That same friend got married and she went there. Her dad was an alumnus. Alumnus, yeah. Alumni, alumnus.
Kim Morales: They bleed orange and blue it sounds like.
Vincent Pietrafesa: They do. I was there. Got to peek into that big beautiful stadium. But I was there for spring break. No one was around. I was like, this place seems dead. It doesn't look like that on the television. It's like, oh, it's spring break, sir. I'm like, oh, awesome. It was great to be down there. Kim, let's get right into it. I want to talk to you. You and I had already met and chatted. I love this story, but for people who don't know, tell people about Hawkers and your role within the organization.
Kim Morales: Of course. Hawkers Asian Street Food is a restaurant company that was created 12 years ago. Four friends connected over their love of food and travel across Asia. They were enjoying life and heading back to Orlando and realizing none of those flavors that they were tasting across their Asian travels were being replicated in Central Florida. Many of our founders, we have four main founders, three of them are Asian and grew up with their families cooking these beautiful dishes at home, which is full of so much flavor. The four of them got together and decided that we should open a restaurant. Why not? We want to have these Asian flavors here back at home. They found a restaurant space on Mills Avenue in Orlando in March 2011, and the first Hawkers Asian Street Food opened. Within a day, there were lines around the block, and they knew they had something. Their wish for this delicious food was also something that many people in Orlando and now people in seven states with 13 locations are also getting to experience and enjoy. We are thrilled to be one of those fast growth restaurant companies, which isn't the case for all restaurants, but we feel like we have the right mix of food service and vibe to keep growing and planning to triple our growth hopefully at least over the coming years.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, no, that's amazing, Kim. That's one of the things that struck me when you and I talked is growth and restaurant business right now coming out of the pandemic. And also, let me just add that that's an amazing story, Asian owned. Ajay's an Asian owned company. Just like we talked about at the beginning. That's awesome. We love hearing that. Keep up the great work all around there. Kim, we always like to ask how people got started in marketing. But before that, just tell us about some of the role that you have there. As the VP of marketing, tell me about some of your day- to- day, what you're responsible for. Is it scoping out some additional locations? Is it marketing the current restaurants? Talk to me about it.
Kim Morales: Right. As in my role, any marketer is responsible for driving sales and traffic into the restaurant. I lead a team of savvy marketers who are managing everything from brand strategy to communications to creative. We are ensuring that we're putting the Hawker story in front of the right people at the right time to either get them to learn about us and crave us and want to come right in or people that have been to us before, reminding them about us and making sure that we're on their next restaurant visit. Using all of our tools at our disposal and wonderful way that we communicate Hawkers and continuing to do that for all throughout the calendar.
Vincent Pietrafesa: How'd you get started in marketing?
Kim Morales: As I was growing up, I played a lot of music. I played the piano. I played violin. I sang in the choir. Good enough. Didn't really think I was good enough to make it a career. Honestly, I didn't really like practicing that much, so I felt like that would hold me back as a career choice. But when I got to University of Florida, I was looking for a major that would take that creative aspect and help me leverage that in some way. Eventually fell into advertising. It's like, well, this is creative. I can do this. I could be the next great creative director. My first intro to mass com class professor was like, " You need to get an internship." What did I do as the next great art director? I got an internship in media planning, which is really the opposite, the opposite of being creative when you think about advertising. At least a career in creative. Through the series of internships continued to work in media planning and buying, which I actually really loved. It's such a blend of art and science of advertising. Even when I was starting in advertising, the science part of it was really hitting a new trajectory, digital media and marketing. It was the 2000s. It was just becoming a part of the media suite of brands. I really got into that piece at the right time. And through those experiences eventually landed a job with Bloomin' Brands, which is headquartered in Tampa, and they are the owners of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Fleming's, among others. I was on the media team there for five years and eventually convinced the team at Outback that I could lead digital marketing for you guys. And I did. And since eventually found my way into leading all brand marketing for Outback. When the opportunity at Hawkers came around, it was really the perfect timing. I have think 12 or 13 years experience in the restaurant biz doing marketing. A lot has changed, but that was my path into marketing and eventually where I am now.
Ajay Gupta: Kim, I'm a big fan of Asian food. If somebody ever gives me a choice, I usually pick an Asian food place. This is great. I have not had a chance to taste Hawkers yet, but I have been looking at the location, so next time I'm in Florida I'll definitely seek it out. But what makes it different from other Asian food chains?
Kim Morales: The premise of Hawkers is sharing Asian street food. If you go to the streets of Asia, whether you're going to Singapore or Hong Kong or Japan, there are a plethora of street food choices. Really the best food you're probably going to get in those cities is walking around the hawker stalls of those areas. Hawkers brought that into our four walls. When you try the various flavors, it's not your typical going to a Chinese restaurant or other Asian where it's just one specific type of Asian cuisine. We're sharing all types of different Asian cuisines, mostly found through hawker stalls. The way we ask people to share those experiences is through shared plates and sharing dishes. You can get a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It's all about how can you try a variety of things and enjoy it the same way you would if you went into a hawker center somewhere in one of those other Asian countries.
Ajay Gupta: Gotcha. Awesome. Vincent loves taking us to family style Italian, so we'll look forward to Hawkers one day. You've been expanding quite rapidly over the last few years. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the marketing strategies that have contributed to the expansion?
Kim Morales: Absolutely. We want to make sure we're understanding does the market know about hawkers or do they not? If we're in an area where they know us, then we want to continue to stay top of mind when they're thinking about where to eat out. But if they don't, we want to tell that story and tell this story of sharing Asian street food and why have we chosen these unique flavors to bring to new neighborhoods across the country. Establishing awareness, telling our story, and we're doing that through multiple media channels. We are heavily into social media. Our brand marketing team does an amazing job of building social content that resonates with our audience and is proven to be social first, and that's why it is working so well both organically and through any paid media that we're doing. We're first doing that. And then as we increase engagement, we're sharing Asian culture, we're sharing our vibe, which is very unique to our restaurant. You're immersed in a Asian hawker center the minute you walk in, the colors, the sounds, the smells, everyone, the hustle and the bustle. We continue to make sure that every touch point we have, whether through our digital channels or once you hit the restaurant, we're continuing to give you the full 360 degree experience of Hawkers.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Kim, we talked about it before in the intro there, the restaurant business really changed in the last few years. How has Hawkers adapted to some of those new challenges and what would you say has been the biggest challenge?
Kim Morales: Well, I weathered the pandemic at a different restaurant company and I think some of those challenges were similar as there was a huge shift to go and reduced in restaurant dining, and then it was labor shortages and supply chain shortages. A lot of waves of issues at restaurants I've had to deal with. But Hawkers has done an amazing job of weathering all those issues, which is why we're still in growth mode at this point. But I think what Hawkers did was take a step back, manage the core business, and then managed the shift to off- premises, both our own to go and third party. And that challenge is maintaining the quality of the experience that a guest would receive in the restaurant, where to go was probably 10% of a restaurant's business, a casual dining restaurant, it then became 30% or more. Maintaining that business and continuing to maintain the experience and how is the food packaged, how is it getting to the guest. We have really great creative team that designed these beautiful to go bags that has a game on the inside of the bag that you can play. We have a Spotify playlist where you can play the awesome music that you hear in the restaurant when you're at home. Some of those touches that continue to engage with our guests and give them that experience that they could have at home even though they're not in the restaurant.
Vincent Pietrafesa: It sounds like also as an emerging restaurant chain where you're adding new restaurant, you also have all that data based on what happened the last few years, what people are looking for nowadays. I think that's an advantage as well. Kim, talk to me about yourself, meaning you were at a larger restaurant company, as you mentioned. Hundreds, if not thousands of locations. Now you're at one where you're growing. What was the draw that took you to Hawkers?
Kim Morales: The excitement of a growth brand and one that really was finding ways to connect with guests and consumers in a way that valued creativity and valued how to connect. It was entrepreneurial in a way without me having to go out and find a job where I truly am an entrepreneur because that's much harder than joining a group of entrepreneurs themselves. Everything just came together, that blended creativity that I mentioned before that led my decision to go into advertising and eventually marketing. Just a fun and engaging brand. And the people, of course. The people on my team are so smart and phenomenal. The leadership team is really ready to move forward with this brand and take it to new places. The four founders are still very involved, which is integral I think in a high growth company. It's hard to replicate if you don't have the founders there. At this point, it's exciting that everyone's still involved and eager and ready to grow this brand quickly. It just was a ride I was ready to jump on.
Ajay Gupta: Is there a favorite marketing campaign that you're worked on?
Kim Morales: Two come to mind. I think for Hawkers, January- February is Lunar New Year and that is when Asian cultures celebrate their turn of the new year. So many wonderful elements go into that. It is a tent pole campaign for Hawkers. We created a really fantastic Lunar New Year cocktail that had a sparkler coming out of it. It celebrated that time of year with beautiful colors, and it's very exciting and vibrant celebration. We jumped right into it and did these hung bows, which are fortunes, and we'd use those as a bounce back into the restaurant. Those are those red envelopes you see at that time of year. Gave those out along with the cocktails. The restaurants decorated themselves and it had all kinds of bright and fun elements going into it. Not only was it fun and exciting, but it was a very successful campaign. You got to love when something works that you just love and then your guests respond to it. I think I would have to also mention when I was at Outback, we launched a program called Teammates in 2021 when college students were able to take advantage of their name, image and likeness, NIL, I'm sure you've heard of. It launched in July of that year and we jumped into it with Outback since there was such a love of college football among our guests. It's still going to this day. I loved working with it. Two of the initial athletes were drafted in the first round in the draft a couple weeks ago. It was just exciting to see. Worked with these athletes and have them be a part of this really interesting program for Outback who had such a rich history working in college football and to see these athletes go to the next level and truly be very successful. But it was a successful campaign for Outback as well that's still going. It was my little baby that I love to see continue to grow, even though after I left.
Ajay Gupta: Kim, is influencer marketing a big part of the strategy for Hawkers as well?
Kim Morales: It is. I would say my team has become experts in influencer marketing. Coming from my past, it either worked or it didn't depending on the campaign. But with Hawkers, man, our restaurants are so... A wonderful canvas to take photos in and share them. The food is easy to share. The restaurants are fun and vibrant. These influencers love to have them on their feed. The programs our team has put together are very successful. They're turning it into measurable results. Not only do we get fantastic content that these influencers share at our restaurant, we are seeing results that are sometimes 10X what we're putting into it in terms of gained media value. It's very authentic for you, and it's something that we'll continue to grow and do more of.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Kim, you were talking about some of the, you and Ajay, the influencer marketing, but let's talk about Hawkers as far as the community. There's a lot of great things you're doing within the community and community involvement around those neighborhoods and those cities and those states. Talk to us a little bit about that and is that part of the overall strategy of Hawkers?
Kim Morales: Absolutely. We want to be a part of our neighborhoods and we want to be helping them grow as much as we can. We look at each of our neighborhoods a little differently. We love to work with foundations and other brands that are similar to us, because we feel like we're all in it for similar reasons. But for example, we have restaurant in Dallas, in Deep Ellum, and we work very closely with the Deep Ellum Foundation to continue to grow arts and culture in that neighborhood and starting to grow more of our connecting to other Asian charities and cultures. The team just did a launch event for AAPI month last week in our Arlington, Virginia location with a very Asian foundation. Looking for, one, either connecting on a local level, or two, looking at organizations that can span all of our restaurants and help tell our story as we can help tell theirs. That's been our strategy to this point.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Kim, that's within the community. You have experience at a lot of great companies. I'd love your take on the team. Talking about community and the restaurant, now let's look internally, the team members. In your experience, how do you ensure your team members are valued and feel supported and what strategies have you felt have been effective during that time?
Kim Morales: Sure. As I said before, I lead a team of very savvy marketers and their creativity is fantastic. I think for anyone to feel valued at their job and feel that they love what they do, it's finding the intersection between what you really love and what you're really good at. I think that's very true in this case. That's when your best work comes through. One, I think overall, I think my team definitely has that part figured out, but finding ways for them to continue to be creative and enjoy what they do. Having a say in how we're building our strategy and the programs that we do and harnessing that creativity. Once a week we get together and we're making sure that we connect. We're a hybrid office environment. Whether we're together or we're in person or we're on a Zoom call, making sure that we're not just talking about the work, but we're learning more about each other. What went great for you this past week? We have a wild card question we ask every week, kind of like an icebreaker, but a way to get to know a little bit more about each other as well. I think if we continue to have fun and always keep the business on the forefront, making sure that we're continuing to do what's needed by the business, but that intersection of passion and what this team is good at. We'll continue to make sure that everyone's engaged and happy in what they're doing.
Ajay Gupta: Kim, what's your favorite food at Hawkers?
Kim Morales: There are so many. It is so good. I know you two haven't been able to try it, but call me the minute you're in one of our markets. We'll make sure you guys get the hookup. Probably I have to say roti canai. It is a Malaysian flatbread, kind of has some croissant- like qualities. You throw it on the flat top so it's warm, and then it comes to the table served with a curry dipping sauce that is a secret recipe from our branch chef Allen Lowe that no one knows, except I think for three people. Honestly, I have no idea how the restaurants serve it. I think it's served in secret packaging, but the curry dipping sauce is just... It's so much flavor and delicious, and people would pour it on anything if they could. It's just the perfect melding of flavors and delight. It's a must have every time you go to Hawkers.
Ajay Gupta: Nice. I might need some food right after this one.
Kim Morales: I know we're talking at lunchtime. Not a good idea.
Ajay Gupta: Kim, this is one of our staple questions here. It's around LinkedIn. I'm sure with your job title and all the places you've worked, you get a lot of unsolicited messages. What's a message that gets your attention and what's one that really annoys you?
Kim Morales: I listen to your podcast and I see that everyone gets asked this questions. I've really been thinking about what's my answer. What's my answer going to be to this? From being in advertising to marketing, yes, I get a lot of unsolicited messages. In all honesty, I do have to be in the market for your product to truly have an interest or be hearing a lot about it to. We do get a lot of messages, email as well as LinkedIn. I think there's that at first. I wish I'd say I had time to respond to everyone. I just don't. I think if you are trying to break through, get your answers right, say the right things. If you need some help understanding what someone does who works in marketing in the restaurant industry, make sure your template isn't just a template. Get some advice on what to put into that message that makes a stance, that sound like what you're talking about. I think with any marketing, it comes down to the 360 degree approach. If it's not a product I've heard of, then maybe your company should be doing some LinkedIn marketing and doing some ads at first and podcast interviews and ads. I think it's building that awareness, especially if you're a newer product. If I'm interested or in the market for it, then I'll respond or send you to the right person. I think the ones I hate are the ones that are like, this has nothing to do with marketing. Did you really think the VP of marketing should be the one you're sending this out to? I mean, I guess you should know your market a little better. It's probably the ones I don't like. I'm definitely ignoring those because they're definitely down the wrong rabbit hole.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I love those answers. 10 minutes before we started this podcast, I received a call and it was a cold call. The person said, " Hi, I just wanted to see if you're the person in charge of buying your company's marketing promotional pieces." I said I am not. He just paused. This was not a LinkedIn message, but this just happened about 30 minutes ago. He said, " Oh." I said, " Well, who normally buys your products?" " Oh, VPs of marketing." He said, " I called someone else from your company, Margaret, and she gave me the same answer." I said, " Your targeting is off. Margaret is a customer success representative, is account manager." I said, " You need better targeting." He is like, " Oh, okay." That was it. That was the conversation.
Kim Morales: I feel bad for them. I think they just don't even know.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, exactly. But I wasn't a jerk. I answered the call. I said, " Why don't you go on our website, go on LinkedIn, look for our marketing executives and reach out to them?" I wasn't like, hey! He was like, " Do you have marketing? Do you order apparel?" I'm like, " Yeah, I wear it all the time. I'm not the one responsible for it." Nothing in my title would allude to that, but research to the point. I love it. Kim, talk to us. Just a couple questions before we wrap here. What advice do you have for people trying to get into this industry? You're into this industry. You're continuing to be awesome in this industry at amazing companies. What advice do you have? We have a lot of students coming in. We have a lot of people who are at entry level listening to the podcast as well. We'd love to hear your advice.
Kim Morales: Well, I mean, I think that, of course, internships, getting experience, whether it's restaurant or hospitality. There's a lot of relatable experience to restaurants. Retail even is very similar. The thought process behind the marketing is very similar. Getting internships. Even ad agencies I think are a great way in. It was the way I got into marketing. One, if you're in school or just getting out of school, getting some experience with internships. Of course, networking, finding those answers, like you were just talking about. If you don't know someone, then how do I find someone that works in marketing especially in a restaurant business? And then finally, working at a restaurant. Especially when you're in college and you make some extra money and you think hospitality might be right for you, there's nothing like actual real world experience than learning the ins and outs of running a restaurant. Because everything we do in marketing, we have to make sure that it can be executed in the restaurant. That's great experience that anyone can get I think in life or if you want to work at a restaurant marketing company.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I agree. I think it's so much easier now where you could just... It's LinkedIn. This is the benefits of LinkedIn, looking for an internship, looking for advice. If you're a student, reach out to someone and talk to them and say, " Hey, can I like 15 minutes of your time? I'm trying to break into this industry." Nine times out of 10 that VP of marketing, they'll be willing to talk to you. Yeah, I don't know what I did, Ajay, when I was looking for an internship back in 19'98, '99. It was tough. You had to know someone. It was in tough. I just dated myself. It's okay. Anyway, Kim, your hobbies, what do you like to do for fun? You're in Tampa, a lot of fun things to do there. It's Champa Bay as they call it, at least the last six to seven years. But talk to us, what do you like to do on the weekends?
Kim Morales: Well, I have two kids, so most of my life is revolved around them. I have a three- year- old and a 12- year- old. The 12- year old is pretty much at a sporting event or activity every day and every day of the weekend especially. Watching her play sports and trying to keep the three- year old out of trouble is pretty much most of my hobbies. Being in the restaurant industry, I love food. I love trying new flavors. Whenever we can, try new restaurants. It helps me in my job, but it's also really fun at the same time.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, no, I could definitely relate. I'm chasing around a three- year- old and dealing with a six- year- old and dealing with a group of six- year olds, and that's again why I sound like this. But Kim, this has been amazing. We really appreciate it. Check out Hawkers. They're in seven states right now, Kim?
Kim Morales: Yes, we are. Go to eathawkers. com and you can see all our locations and look at the menu and start drooling. Hopefully you're nearby and join us for lunch or dinner. Follow us on social. @ eathawkers is all our handles.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's awesome, @ eathawkers. That's amazing. That is Kim Morales. We appreciate her time. She's the vice president of marketing at Hawkers Asian Street Food. I'm Vincent Pietrafesa. That's Ajay Gupta. This has been another episode of The Marketing Stir. Thank you so much for listening and we'll talk soon.
Vin: Thanks for listening to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista. Please like, rate, and subscribe. If you're interested in being a guest on the podcast, please email us at themarketingstir @ stirista. com. Thanks for listening.
Kim Morales, the Vice President of Marketing at Hawkers, chats with Ajay and Vincent about how using multiple media channels to tell the company's story and establish awareness helps increase engagement.