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Meet Frances Allen, EVP, Chief Brand Officer, Denny’s Corp.

When Frances Allen took the marketing reins at Denny’s in 2010, she had her work cut out for her. She knew that many people considered the brand to be outdated—but in less than four years Allen has taken Denny’s to the pinnacle of success, with a tasty social footprint and millions of fans. Allen, who cut her teeth at Dunkin’ Donuts and PepsiCo, positioned Denny’s as the nation’s diner, a place to go for classic home-cooked food and a comfortable atmosphere. It’s a strategy that works.

Marketing strategy: I have five principles I use to approach marketing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re selling soft drinks or cell phones, these principles apply. One, be insightful and understand your brand’s core DNA and the role the brand plays in people’s lives. Two, make sure everyone in your organization believes in that positioning and that every consumer touchpoint reflects it. Three, be engaging. We live in a world where brands can no longer control the conversation. You have to provide people with things they want to share. Fourth, be innovative. And finally, you’ve got to know the numbers. Trust your gut and use data as a guide, not a solution.

Winning ways: I’m extremely proud of the turnaround at Denny’s. We’ve had positive sales for 10 out of the last 11 quarters and tripled our stock price, which is a result of our unique “America’s Diner” positioning and the entire system we built around it. We’re also doing many innovative things in the digital space, with the result that we have a Klout score of 86, which is higher than Starbucks and significantly higher than any brand in our category.

Defining moment: There was a huge risk in taking on the role of CMO at Denny’s when sales were really struggling, but it’s been rewarding to see our combined efforts pay off. We’ve elevated Denny’s and positioned ourselves so that we’re a brand on the move again.

Trend watching: Media today has so many forms and marketers need to have the confidence to release control of the conversation and to give their agencies and their marketing managers the license to make real-time decisions. Move fast and be agile. If you try to control it and follow the classic approval guidelines you grew up with, you’re going to miss opportunities.

Words to live by: Bill Bernbach said, “An idea can turn to dust or magic depending on the talent that rubs against it.” You have to hire great people who are clear about what hill you want them to take. Then, get out of the way and let them weave their magic.

Good read: Purple Cow by Seth Godin. It’s about zigging when other people are zagging, being different, innovating, and taking risks.

Good advice: Just like we need to understand our brand DNA, people need to understand their own DNA. Know who you are and what you bring to the table and use that knowledge to carve out a unique position for yourself in your company, something you can be known for.

Meet the rest of the 2014 Marketing Hall of Femme honorees and read their inspirational stories.

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