Fast food mavens have dubbed 2018 “the year of the guest,” putting consumers in the middle of a revolutionary battle for business in an increasingly competitive category. Growing a fan base in a complex, shifting environment—where brand loyalty is weaning and consumer expectations have skyrocketed—is proving to be challenging. A one-size-fits-all approach to marketing is no longer cutting it, and the kind of precise hit to turn an occasional buyer into a repeat visitor and own share requires an innate understanding of the purchase journey.

Without this level of insight, messages run the risk of falling flat—you don’t want to offer the wrong promotion to an existing customer or serve up an offer to first-timers that won’t drive them into brick-and-mortar locations. It’s important to remember that you are only as good as your last consumer interaction.

To win over your guests, especially the all-important millennials, here are three ways brands can cultivate loyalty, perfect and grow their share, and truly foster long-term brand love.

Shift Mindset and Messaging

It has long been believed that promotions are the Holy Grail to driving in foot traffic at retail.  But a renewed focus on understanding an individual’s purchase journey is highlighting the critical importance of creating bias in the priming stage, the time when consumers are refining the way they think about a brand prior to purchase consideration. In fact, investing in this stage can be up to 9 times more effective than trying to switch mindset in the middle of a purchase.

A study that examined key players across the quick-service category found that bias is driven by a brand’s ability to deliver on guest needs. Consumers are looking for more than just utility from brands. Knowing when to serve up emotional content (i.e. brand purpose, cool atmosphere, ability to customize my experience) vs functional messaging (i.e. price, menu items, location) allows brands to connect more deeply with their audience and in the moments that matter.

As consumers spend mere hours or even minutes in the active stage, the industry must move past short-term gains in favor of more long-term metrics to drive brand engagement and ultimately in store visits. There is a different job to be done and measured depending on the audience. Understanding why and how they make purchase decisions, what touchpoints they interact with and how they consume messaging, will ultimately set your brand apart.

Shine a Light on the Consumer

Consumers today believe that the products they purchase are a reflection of who they are, what they believe, and what values they hold. Brands that are winning not only know their customers, they prove it through personalized products, content, and experiences. Consumers want—and expect—to be known, and with the amount of insights available, brands no longer have an excuse to rely on one-dimensional demographic data.

Amidst declining privacy, a recent US consumer survey found that 47 percent of consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for deals and better customer service. But it’s not data for data’s sake. Brands have access to illuminating insights that can determine whether a consumer is a regular guest or if they lean more towards purchasing healthy items. This level of detail requires brands to look at the data available and apply it in the right way, and at the right moment in the journey.

We see many brands striving for this level of customization with the rise of loyalty programs, but few delivering the personalized experience that consumers crave. Marriott is an exception to this rule, with a mobile app that sets new standards around what it means to know your audience. From allowing consumers to order room-service wherever they are in the hotel, to serving up the location and hours of the hotel gym upon arrival of a fitness enthusiast, Marriott is proving they don’t just know you, but they can anticipate your needs.

Create a Frictionless Experience

In the quest for share, numerous fast food chains have been upgrading their physical locations, while also increasing investment in in-store technology, web and mobile ordering and product innovation. They’re exploring more joint ventures with other businesses—mini-restaurants inside existing retailers—and boosting loyalty programs to deliver on consumers’ desire for rewards and experiences.

Starbucks has been ahead of the pact, focusing heavily in recent years on perfecting their mobile app, and it’s paying off.  With nearly one third of all orders coming in through the app, the company has even reorganized employee structure to ensure there are employees dedicated solely to optimizing the in-store mobile-ordering experience.

So, what does this all mean? It’s an attempt on every front to elevate the quick-service restaurant experience moving from a one size fits all approach to a deep understanding of a brand’s distinct audiences, their journey and what drives them to action. Proving to your consumers that you truly know them, every day, will almost always win the day.

Rick Acampora is the US Chief Operating Officer at Wavemaker. He has 20-plus years of experience across a variety of account types with a blend of packaged goods such as Kraft, P&G, Nestle, Georgia-Pacific and Colgate-Palmolive and quick-service restaurants/retail such as Burger King, Darden Restaurants, Sonic, IKEA ,and Citibank. In his previous role as President Client Services at MEC Global, NA Rick maintained client leadership and oversight for all including L’Oréal USA, Tiffany & Co,  IKEA, WWE, Campbell’s and KFC among others.  Working with the team of client leaders and specialists from across the agency, he was tasked with driving strategic planning throughout the work for clients, streamlining communications and processes across teams.
Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story