Player Profile: BK's Bomhard refocuses brand's taste positioning

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Burgers and laundry soap don't have a whole lot in common. But former Procter & Gamble Co. brand manager Stephan Bomhard hopes to help Burger King Corp. clean up by focusing on its core strengths -- Whoppers and taste.

The 33-year-old Bavarian is a rising star at the No. 2 fast-feeder, having been elevated twice in fewer than 14 months. In January 1999, Mr. Bomhard left P&G to join BK as VP-marketing for the European, Middle East and Africa region, which he made into the fastest-growing region worldwide. In October 1999, he was named VP-brand development, North America; last month he moved to his current post of senior VP-marketing, North America.

"Whether you're selling package goods or fast-food, the two are not that different," Mr. Bomhard said.

Mr. Bomhard said his biggest adjustment since joining BK is the speed at which the quick-service industry moves.

"Speed is absolutely critical," he said. "In fast-food, you know [the result] in two to three days after starting a program."

MORE RIVALS

When he was selling soap suds, his field of competitors was also much smaller. With fast-food, he said, people are choosing not only among quick-service chains but also from supermarket offerings for home meal replacements.

"Procter & Gamble had Clorox and Lever; Burger King has a whole range of competitors."

To that end, he is examining the chain's entire menu. His most recent product innovation is the X-treme Double Cheeseburger, an extra-cheese burger launched in mid-April as a limited offer with ads from BK's agency, Lowe Lintas & Partners, New York.

Mr. Bomhard said he faced his biggest challenge last month when a group of disgruntled franchisees hired a lawyer, a PR company and financial advisers, spurring speculation they wanted to buy the chain from parent Diageo.

Refocusing the organization and identifying a strong direction became his chief charges.

TOO MANY COOKS

"The franchisees were disappointed in our business performance last year, and they questioned the marketing strategy," he said, conceding that there were likely too many cooks in the marketing kitchen.

To regain franchisees' support, he used consumer insights pointing back to the historical strength of the brand. "By reviewing the time when Burger King had its strongest growth period, the evidence became clear that focusing on taste was the right avenue."

Mr. Bomhard rose through the ranks at P&G while completing a Ph.D. in marketing at the University of Bradford in England. He introduced cleansers, bleaches and fabric conditioners for P&G in Russia, catapulting them to market leadership in less than two years.

While some might question his youth, Mr. Bomhard called it a big demographic advantage.

"This is the age where trends come across very quickly," he said.

He shied away from naming a mentor but stressed the importance of single-minded positioning.

"I admire people who've built consistent brands over period of time," he said. For BK, that appears to be just what the doctor ordered.

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