Creative brand marketing, especially digital advertisements, will be among the most important promotional tools QSRs can leverage as consumers return to their favorite restaurants post COVID-19.
That’s based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in June by Celtra, a marketing agency that specializes in display advertising, creative software, interactive video and more. Celtra polled participants on QSR preferences and if digital marketing plays a role in their choices.
A few key findings from the survey include:
Eli Chapman, chief marketing officer for Celtra, said localized ads usually blend a mix of familiarity with convenience, evoking memories of childhood nostalgia and special life moments for customers.
“Consumers appreciate the local relatability, so any way to reflect that concept digitally is a win,” Chapman said in an email interview with Digital Signage Today.
Diners also like to be reminded that their local QSRs are open, easily accessible and offer reliable delivery.
“These are all great angles for localized marketing but the challenge is that brands do not always have the resources to produce and scale localized creative across regions because they don’t have the money, time or creative resources to keep up with the promotion cycle,” Chapman said. “For brands that want to have the feel of a ‘local’ establishment, even if they’re in every single town across the U.S., it is imperative to showcase an understanding of consumers’ lifestyles.”
Chapman used an example of a national brand campaign with images of a family gathered around a warm fireplace. While the ad could resonate in colder climates of the Midwest or Northeast, it’s likely to fall flat in warm areas such as the South.
“Brands that can effectively curate creative content that resonates on a local level are steps ahead of their competitors,” Chapman said.
How pandemic is affecting digital marketing
While more than 80% of survey respondents said they’re comfortable returning to in-person dining, the recent surge in Delta variant cases of COVID-19 could sway their opinions.
With hospitalizations on the rise, and some municipalities returning to mask wearing and social distancing mandates, QSRs could be left scrambling… again. At the time of the Celtra survey, vaccinations in the U.S. were widely available, but only about 60% of the American population had receive both doses of the vaccine, based on recent figures.
“Consumers were hopeful to once again return to a sense of normalcy,” Chapman said. “With Delta, there is a bit less optimism, and we could see a shift back in dining behavior towards curbside pickup or deliveries. No matter what happens with the new virus strain, QSRs should be quick to adapt, finding different ways to market their menus. One way to do that is through digital apps. Customers can view menus, discounts, special coupons, and order their favorites right on their smartphone.”
Chapman said ordering apps increased in popularity through the pandemic and it appears loyalty programs have captured consumers’ hearts as well.
“There’s no doubt that some QSRs’ ordering apps have struck a chord with diners, especially since ubiquitous U.S. franchises like Chipotle, Starbucks and McDonald’s have rolled out loyalty programs that ease ordering and entice consumers back with gamification, personalization and discounts,” Chapman said. “Consumer behavior will continue to demand excellence in their digital experiences — starting with a digital ad, and ending with the reward points that build up after a purchase.”
However, for QSRs, its not about just having an app for ordering, it’s about personalizing the experience for each customer. In the survey, 45% of respondents said personalized offers or discounts entice them to increase the amount they spend on a food order and visit more often, as opposed to 32% for loyalty programs and 23% for a greater variety of menu items.
“In addition to investing into seamless experiences, QSRs should also invest in how they are telling the story of in-app ordering across touchpoints,” Chapman said.
While digital technology has made ordering easier and led to more opportunities to engage customers, ultimately, how much does the quality of food and service factor into building and maintaining brand loyalty? Chapman acknowledged great food is vital, but compelling marketing has to entice the customers into the restaurant.
“Just think about the fried chicken sandwich frenzy that started on social media and ended with the product being sold out in many restaurants,” Chapman said. “Consumers can now scroll through apps like DoorDash and choose from hundreds of dining options — so QSRs have to double down on quality messaging and creative to bring consumers to the table. Our survey found that 63% of consumers said they are more likely to dine at a restaurant that does interesting brand marketing — making it clear that provocative messaging which gets traffic through the door is paramount in the COVID era.”
Chapman said most QSRs realize they must personalize, localize and diversity digital content, but often lack the resources to make it happen. New technologies such as creative automation could be an option for QSRs to ease the demands of marketing teams, yet stay competitive with digital ads in an era with so many consumer choices.
‘Re-get to know’ your customers
Kirsten Allegri Williams and Justin Anovick, two C-suite executives from Optimizely, a digital experience platform company, said QSRs have to “re-get to know” customers and build back brand loyalty as they rebound from the pandemic.
“COVID-19 created a whole new wave of innovation and changed so much — the things that are important to us and how we choose to spend our time and money —so brands need to take the time to re-get to know their customers, as if they’re meeting for the first time,” Allegri Williams, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in an email to DST.
Brands have always needed to listen to its customers, but in the fast moving digital age, hearing them now is more important than ever.
“Hear them, empathize with them, maximize time spent with them and ensure every single touchpoint, however big or small, is meaningful,” Allegri Williams said.
Recent Optimizely data revealed that generations that mostly grew up with digital technology, such as Gen Z and Millennials, often look beyond simply the product or service — they are heavily influenced by a brand’s social presence and values. Those sentiments could last well beyond the pandemic.
“Millennials aged 25-34 revealed that when deciding where to make a purchase, 78% will always or sometimes factor whether the brand’s values and missions align with their own,” Allegri Williams said.
Anovick, Optimizely’s chief product officer, said omnichannel commerce has been repackaged to make the consumer experience more personalized.
“The idea of tracking a customer’s every move on your website, but not even knowing who the customer is when they walk into your physical store has been a slap in the face to both sellers and customers,” Anovick said in an email to DST.
QSRs must take a multi-faceted approach to digital marketing that includes, website, mobile app, store locations, and less obvious markers along the customer’s journey, including site reviews, physical catalogs and marketplaces.
“With website cookies at threat and data privacy laws tightening, the challenge has only increased in recent years, but customer-centric, opt-in solutions are emerging and will become a key competitive differentiator,” Anovick said.