How Marketing Has Changed for QSRs

QSR marketing has changed. Yes, there is still television, radio and out-of-home advertising, but local and digital advertising has also become popular.

For as long as any of us can remember, fast food brands (QSRs) have been the mainstays of traditional advertising: TV, radio, OOH and other conventional channels.

Like so many other businesses, however, the QSR industry has gone digital. It hasn’t replaced traditional advertising, but savvy marketers have crafted significant digital strategies that are grabbing an ever-larger chunk of consumers’ attention — and CMO’s budget.

This reflects broader business and cultural trends – ubiquitous smartphones and connectivity, for an obvious example. It also reveals how marketing has changed and continues to change – for QSRs.

Let’s look at three ways marketing has evolved in the QSR industry and how marketing professionals are adapting.

Marketing strategies can be more distributed

When you think of your favorite restaurants, they are just as likely to be places to hang out as places to eat. They are part of the local fabric and culture – and QSRs should be no exception.

The QSR business has always wanted to engage locally, but that was difficult to do with such large store footprints. When you think of those traditional commercial spots I mentioned, they are often national or regional in nature – the same in every city or town.

Corporate marketing has been unable 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 head office has generally been reluctant to give them creative freedom.

Digital has changed that by allowing QSR chains and franchisees to market specific locations in a way that is more consistent with the community vibe we tend to associate with restaurants.

We’ve seen the rise of tools and other options to extend the tools you already use to do more local marketing. For QSRs, the parent company can put in place guardrails to ensure local operators adhere to brand guidelines and other policies – while bolstering campaigns around hyper-local moments like a game of high school Friday night football or a community event.

This is the QSR version of customization. It makes the local restaurant much more human and connected, and the results will follow. And you don’t even need a ton of data or other upfront 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 that the QSR industry would be a likely candidate for digital transformation, but it really has gone digital in a major way in recent years.

Customers expect it. They use the apps, they want to see the menu or order on their devices (often before they even arrive), they want to interact digitally (often without human interaction). Even smaller QSRs are getting into 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 – applications become opportunities for loyalty programs, hyper-local marketing, personalization, contextual push offers and more Again.

This has been one of those “slow-fast” revolutions in the industry. It was drip, drip, then – whoosh – the digital floodgates opened. If you’re not there already, you need to prioritize digital customer experience ASAP, especially on mobile devices.

QSR marketing is no longer entirely in your control

To recap: the industry has gone digital and marketing across all channels has become more distributed. And the third change is a hybrid of the two: the broader digital ecosystem – think delivery apps, restaurant review sites, reservation sites and more – means that QSR marketing has become distributed from one way that you no longer directly control.

Proactive brands and locations may have some control over third-party apps like Grubhub, but not full discretion like you do with your own properties.

So this is an interesting area where marketers at a minimum need to be aware – know how you appear in different places that you don’t control – and from there they need to decide how proactive you want to be. .

The range of possibilities here is quite wide, ranging from essentially opting out – but then foregoing potentially lucrative revenue streams and customer segments – to diving headfirst into doing promotions, sponsored listings, and the like.

It’s just something that QSRs didn’t have to deal with in the past, but it’s part and parcel of the modern consumer universe. This creates both opportunities and challenges for marketers, so you have to ask yourself: how are we using these channels that we don’t control? Where do we put the money? How much time do we spend on things like the images these apps use for our restaurant?

There aren’t always easy answers, in part because this is a relatively new frontier in the digital first world of QSR marketing. This is another important change for the industry that your marketing strategy now needs to address.

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