While grocery stores now mandate masks and car dealerships bring test drive vehicles directly to consumers, few sectors have adapted as dramatically and quickly as the fast-food industry. Local, regional, and national quick-service restaurant brands have adapted seemingly overnight to become experts at online and mobile app ordering, as well as contactless delivery. These changes in strategy alone seem massive, but, in reality, only scratch the surface. Marketers have shifted approaches quickly as well, with updates in media plans, measurement tools, and—last, but certainly not least—creative messaging to keep their brands pushing forward through choppy COVID-19 waters.

Before lockdowns and stay at home orders, marketers battled to reach busy, on-the-go consumers. Now, with more people staying home, entire strategies and budgets have shifted to match. Local TV stations have seen, and continue to see, a “surge in viewership as more Americans tune in for coronavirus updates,” according to The Wall Street Journal. With many advertisers cancelling media buys during the same time a timely intersection of decreased demand and increased supply has emerged. Many brands have capitalized on this “buyers’” market by renegotiating CPPs, CPMs, or even adding weight to current schedules.

The necessity of online ordering has impacted digital advertising for the short- and long-term. Many consumers never dreamed of ordering fast food online, but, with dining rooms slowly reopening and at reduced occupancy and drive-through lines a popular substitution, online ordering has proven a huge time saver. Recent data from eMarketer shows that food delivery apps like Postmates, DoorDash, and GrubHub experienced a 30–60 percent increase in downloads since the start of 2020. While consumers benefit from the convenience of mobile app ordering, restaurant brands benefit from its first-party data. They have adapted by implementing sophisticated technologies that track revenue generated from various digital media types. The push to implement these tracking methodologies has led marketers to now optimize their campaigns to “prove it all,” from brand lift, online ordering, and even drive through visitation.

Chick-fil-A serves as an example of one quick-serve that has succeeded in making this transition. To begin, the brand updated its advertising to encourage consumers to order through the drive-thru, its mobile app, or via delivery using partners such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub. As has occurred across many chains, Chick-fil-A has implemented a variety of safety procedures to ensure customers feel safe picking up or receiving delivered food. The company continues to evolve its approach to manage for the effects of COVID-19 with a digital focus on driving business—but doing so safely.

As brand marketers map out future plans, first-party data will become king especially in light of the loss of the third-party cookie. Online orders and app downloads provide both short- and long-term value. These technologies not only bring immediate profits, but also build strong one-to-one customer relationships. Online ordering trains and provides insight into customer behaviors, generating lifetime value that will sustain recurring revenue for years to come.

The way we live, shop, and play has changed. Monumental external pressures face our society, creating a tremendous consumer need—and an even larger opportunity for brands to meet those needs. Restaurant brands that adapt during this time to meet these evolving needs and expectations from consumers are uniquely positioned to not only survive the pandemic but come out on the other side stronger for it. Through forging one-to-one relationships with consumers and perfecting the art of “making it easy,” restaurants have a unique opportunity to thrive in the post-COVID-19 economy.

Taylor Lindholm is a Director of Sales at Nexstar, focusing on bringing exceptional marketing solutions to agencies and brands alike. Taylor has experience across varying industries, including Quick-Service Resturants, Education, and CPG. He’s excited to see how local media continues to evolve and adapt to new technologies, while serving the needs of news junkies (like himself) and all audiences everywhere.

Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story