QSR marketing has changed. Yes, there’s still TV, radio and display, but local-level and digital advertising has gotten popular as well.
For as long as any of us can remember, Quick-serve restaurant (QSR) brands have been mainstays of traditional advertising: TV, radio, display and other conventional channels.
Like so many other businesses, however, the QSR industry has gone digital. This hasn’t replaced traditional advertising, but savvy marketers have built significant digital strategies that are grabbing a larger and larger share of consumer attention — and of the CMO’s budget.
This reflects broader business and cultural trends — ubiquitous smartphones and connectivity, for one obvious example. It also reveals how marketing has changed and is continuing to evolve — for QSRs.
Let’s dig into three ways in which marketing has evolved in the QSR industry and how marketing pros are adapting.
Marketing strategies can be more distributed
When you think about your favorite restaurants, they’re just as likely to be places to meet as they are places to eat. They’re part of the local fabric and culture — and QSRs shouldn’t be exceptions.
QSR corporate always wanted to engage at the local level, but that was tough to do with such vast footprints of stores. When you think about those traditional advertising spots I mentioned, they’re often national or regional in nature — the same in every city or town.
Corporate marketing wasn’t able to effectively tap into the pulse of the local communities in which these restaurants operate. Local owners and franchisees, meanwhile, often don’t have a ton of marketing experience, and the corporate office has typically been reluctant to give them creative freedom.
Digital has changed that by enabling QSR chains and franchisees to market specific locations in a manner more consistent with the community vibe we tend to associate with restaurants.
We’ve seen the rise of tools and other options for extending the tools you already use to do more local marketing. For QSRs, the corporate parent can put in place guardrails to ensure local operators are staying within brand guidelines and other policies – while still empowering campaigns around hyper-local moments like a Friday night high school football game or a community event.
This is the QSR version of personalization. It makes the local restaurant far more human and connected, and the results will follow. And you don’t even need a ton of data or other up-front requirements. You just need to know the market and have the right platform in place.
It’s not just digital – it’s digital first
You might not have predicted the QSR industry as a likely candidate for digital transformation, but it really has gone digital-first in a major way in recent years.
Customers expect it. They’re using the apps, they want to see the menu or order on their devices (often before they even arrive), they want to interact digitally (often with zero human interaction). Even smaller QSRs are getting in on this trend, and certainly industry leaders like Chick-fil-A have gone digital-first.
It presents significant opportunities for marketers in terms of engagement, data, and customer experience — apps become opportunities for loyalty programs, hyper-local marketing, personalization, contextual push offers and more.
This has been one of those “slow-fast” revolutions in the industry. It was drip, drip, drip and then — whoosh — the digital floodgates opened. If you’re not there already, you need to be prioritizing digital customer experience ASAP, especially on mobile devices.
QSR marketing is no longer entirely under your control
To recap: the industry has gone all-in on digital, and marketing across all channels has become more distributed. And the third change is a hybrid of both: the broader digital ecosystem – think delivery apps, restaurant review sites, reservation sites and more — means QSR marketing has become distributed in a way that you no longer directly control.
Proactive brands and locations might have some control on third-party apps like Grubhub, but not total discretion like you do with your own properties.
So, this is an interesting arena where marketers at minimum need to be aware of – know how you appear in different places that you don’t control — and then from there need to decide how proactive you want to be.
The range of possibilities here is quite wide, from essentially opting out — but then forgoing potentially lucrative revenue streams and customer segments — to diving in headfirst by doing promotions, sponsored listings, and so forth.
This is simply something that QSRs didn’t have to deal with in the past but it’s very much a part of the modern consumer’s universe. It creates both opportunities and challenges for marketers, so you have to ask: How do we use these channels that we don’t control? Where do we put money in? How much time do we devote to things like the images these apps use for our restaurant?
There aren’t always simple answers in part because it’s a relatively new frontier in the digitally first QSR marketing world. It’s another significant change for the industry that your marketing strategy should now address.