The best QSR mobile advertising strategies

The best QSR mobile advertising strategies

Quick service restaurants (QSRs) are facing challenging times as modern consumers have an overabundance of convenient options for dining out. Recent figures indicate that there are nearly 200,000 quick service restaurants in the US—and that number triples when all food service options are included in the figure. On top of that, restaurants are diversifying their menus; consumers don’t have to visit a specific restaurant when they’re craving a particular meal. Taco Bell is serving breakfast, McDonald’s is expanding their healthy eating options, and Domino’s is offering pasta and chicken wings. In this busy industry, the competitors who will stand out are the ones who take advantage of mobile moments, capturing the consumer’s attention as they are making their dining decisions.

Most QSR dining decisions are made while the consumer is on the road; therefore, the best QSR mobile advertising strategies are designed to work based on location as they travel with the consumer. They incentivize consumers to dine with your brand by making it convenient and rewarding to do so. Some of the top QSR brands in the world have taken advantage of this and, as a result, have been able to grab attention—and market share—in the crowded fast food industry. To give your brand a boost with QSR mobile advertising strategies, you must first examine what tactics have proven successful for similar brands in order to use them effectively.

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Mobile-First as a QSR Mobile Advertising Strategy

Mobile-first isn’t so much an advertising strategy as it is a philosophy. In the past, digital marketing strategies took a decidedly desktop-focused approach. Marketers would focus most of their marketing budgets and advertising efforts on sharing the brand’s message via a desktop-based website. Design for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices was a lower priority—much lower. In recent years, however, many brands in the QSR industry have reversed their attitude by making mobile their primary focus.

Chili’s was a particularly successful early adopter of this approach. In 2015, they launched a new digital strategy which focused heavily on the company’s branded app. Aside from offering several high demand options like mobile ordering and restaurant browsing, the company also implemented geolocation technology. Customers who had downloaded the app were notified of current deals and specials each time they were in the vicinity of a Chili’s. They also receive personalized notifications based on their ordering history and preferences. Even the company’s loyalty program was run through the app, allowing customers to save up rewards points for future visits. Currently, their app has approximately 4.3 million regular users—and that number continues to climb.

The app became a major sales driver for the company after Chili’s put the majority of their digital advertising efforts into developing it. While the company maintains a desktop site, mobile is the brand’s primary focus. Despite being a national chain, mobile allows them to advertise to customers in the moment, based on where they are. This is particularly important in the quick service sector when you’re often right next door to your biggest competitors.

The Key Takeaways:

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Focus on mobile over generalized web advertising:

Chili’s mobile-first approach allowed the company to focus its advertising on consumers at the bottom of the sales funnel via smartphones, i.e. when it was convenient for them to visit a location, rather than advertising to a national desktop audience who were likely at home, and steps from their own kitchen. This strategy is ideal for QSR brands as it reaches consumers in the prime moment for a purchase.

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Incentivize the program by rewarding users:

One major converter for Chili’s is that its loyalty program allows users to collect points based on dollars spent. The rewards points act as a converter as well; when consumers are redeeming their points, they may order additional items. By including their QSR rewards program within their app, the company made these points easy to redeem, increasing the likelihood a consumer will visit a restaurant to use them—and give the staff an opportunity to upsell.

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Offer a convenient experience:

Chili’s mobile app fully integrates several features which make it appealing to consumers. They can order items, collect rewards points, receive notifications that their meal is ready, and leave a review all via the smartphone app. This creates value for consumers by making their experience with Chili’s exceptionally convenient for a chain restaurant, helping to improve active use on the app and allowing them to compete with fast food restaurants offering drive-thru options.

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Manage Your QSR’s Mobile Reputation

Reputation management is a crucial aspect of QSR mobile advertising. While about 70% of consumers will look up a brand on their smartphones, those searches are much shorter than traditional desktop-based ones. QSR consumers are on-the-go; as a result, their time is limited. The first review they see for your company is likely going to be the one that they trust. If your company has a one-star rating on Google reviews, it’s very likely to steer them away from visiting your establishment, no questions asked. Your company must actively engage in online reputation management to limit this risk.

Chick-fil-A is a company that understands the importance of reputation management. Despite a few controversies over statements made by its CEO, they’ve managed to come out on top. Politics aside, Chick-fil-A is the highest ranked fast food franchise when it comes to customer satisfaction. The brand capitalizes on any complaints it receives on social media or review sites to improve their performance and better communicate with their customers, generally via mobile-based advertising.

For instance, when they saw an uptick in complaints regarding long waits, they rolled out an option on their app that allowed consumers to order food, then receive a notification when it was ready, masterfully resolving the issue. When consumers began to show interest in the nutritional content of the food, the Chick-fil-A app provided in-depth information on their menu items so customers could choose healthier alternatives.

The company consistently and diligently monitors its online reputation, then utilizes its app to resolve issues related to those complaints in a timely way. By thoroughly and quickly addressing customer complaints, with the help of mobile technology, the chain was able to gain top marks from consumers despite having a few controversies in the past.

The Key Takeaways:

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Be proactive:

Chick-fil-A vets social media, review sites, and its own website for poor reviews constantly. The company looks for trends that indicate widespread issues and then follows up by determining ways to publicly resolve them for customers. They don’t respond to every complaint, and your brand shouldn’t either. Instead, they quickly manage far-reaching issues affecting the most consumers.

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Provide real results, not lip service:

Chick-fil-A avoids copy-and-paste messages such as, “We’re very sorry you had a bad experience.” When the same message is repeated word for word, hundreds of times, this only increases a customer’s aggravation and feelings of not being heard. They read like what they are: lip service. When Chick-fil-A reviews customer complaints, they look for actionable items and offer a solution.

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Focus on the service:

In 2012, Chick-fil-A ran into some trouble when the CEO made some controversial political statements. As a result, web results for searches for Chick-fil-A weren’t about food, but about the controversy. The company then pulled back from making political statements and made the focus of their online reputation their food, not their politics. Now when you search for a Chick-fil-A location, you get an address, not a news story.

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Look to Data Over Demographics as QSR Mobile Advertising Strategy

Mobile advertising offers QSR companies something that standard advertising can’t: it allows them to target offers to consumers who are the most likely to become customers. After all, demographics might tell you that Millennials are health-focused and interested in organic offerings, but what about those Millennials who choose to visit QSR locations to indulge? Demographically-focused advertising is flawed because it paints all the members of a race, age group, or gender with the same brush. This could cause QSR companies to lose out on valuable advertising opportunities.

Data from mobile advertising, on the other hand, allows QSR companies to target individual consumers, rather than just relying on broad demographic statistics. With it, they can measure the effectiveness of rewards programs.

This is the strategy that a Chicago-based chain, Burrito Beach, implemented. The brand has an app-based loyalty program that collects consumer data on each visit for the purpose of gaining insights on who their customers actually are. This strategy allowed them to expand their overall demographic focus much more broadly than they originally anticipated.

Initially, the brand focused on young professionals on the go. However, through the data provided by their mobile program, they were able to see that the items on their menu pulled in a much more diverse crowd than expected. They were then able to use that data to create mobile advertisements that targeted specific consumer segments, rather than focusing on one generic demographic, as well as refine their menu to better cater to their entire audience.

The Key Takeaways:

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Don’t be blinded by demographics:

General demographics can be a good starting point for mobile advertising, but you should use actual data from your own customers to expand on it. Find out who your customers are and why they buy your food. Initially, Burrito Beach thought they were popular as a quick, low-cost option for single Millennials. It later turned out that they were considered a convenient and healthy option for both parents with young children as well as Baby Boomers.

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Permission is paramount:

Burrito Beach used their loyalty app to gain information on consumers; however, this was done only after those consumers made the active choice to participate. This permission is very important—and it’s something you can incentivize. Burrito Beach offers loyalty points in exchange for data. Another option is to ask these consumers to fill out short surveys in exchange for points and deals.

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Focus efforts on specific locations:

While QSR companies might have a key demographic, specific locations can cause that target market to shift. A Burrito Beach near a college may be popular with younger buyers, while one near an office complex might appeal to middle-aged workers. Break data down to a location-by-location level to gain the most out of your research.

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Tying it All Together: The Best QSR Mobile Advertising Strategies

The three mobile advertising strategies detailed above can actually be seen as the three stages of a campaign. Most importantly, you must begin with a mobile-first approach. Following implementation, you must monitor your reputation to ensure that your brand is gaining the right kind of attention for your efforts. Finally, you must monitor the data of your end user to look for ways that you can improve your advertising efforts and target them to the right users.

You can accomplish these goals by partnering with a third-party shopping app. Shopping apps are designed to work with a consumer while they’re on the go. They incentivize users and offer the opportunity to improve your brand’s image by building a direct relationship with loyal customers. Finally, they provide the data you need to retarget your advertising campaigns. The best part: they allow you to take that mobile-first approach while minimizing your investment as you don’t have to create a branded proprietary app.

Many fast food chains are taking a mobile-first approach to QSR advertising as it allows their brand to stand out in the crowded industry. Often, gaining the attention of the consumer is a matter of conveniently getting your name in front of them at the right time, with the right message. By tying the three above strategies together into one campaign, your company can gain the edge in the highly competitive QSR industry.

Shopkick partners with QSR companies, allowing them to reach out to consumers in the moment of purchase for proven mobile advertising ROI. For more information on how Shopkick can support your mobile advertising efforts, contact our team today.



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Dima Volovik

EVP of Product and Engineering

Dima Volovik is the EVP of Product and Engineering at Trax Retail — Shopkick.

Dima Volovik is the accomplished product and engineering leader who led teams to deliver innovative and commercially successful e-commerce products, marketplaces, and enterprise solutions for Amazon, Comcast, Fandango, and Universal Music. Before joining Trax, Dima was the Director at Amazon, where he led product development and Engineering for Amazon Appstore and Amazon Prime Video, CTO at Fandango, and Paciolan, head of technology at Golf Channel/Golf Now, and Global VP of Direct to Consumer Technology at Universal Music Group. Dima’s expertise includes developing consumer products, marketplaces, and enterprise solutions.

Dima grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he received his MS in Electrical Engineering from Azerbaijan Oil Academy, and he currently resides in Los Angeles, California, with his family.