What Recession Narratives Get Wrong About the Quick-Service Sector

    Restaurants should be preparing for opportunity, not tough times. 

    African American female barista offers cup of coffee to customer with cheerful smile and happy service works in casual restaurant cafe.
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    Quick-service brands need to make sure they’re showing up in the right places to reach their target audience.

    Everyone has heard some version of this story: Either a recession is coming, or it’s already here. The self-fulfilling prophecy of economic anxiety makes it hard to track. Either way, inflation’s staying power remains.  

    For quick-service restaurant marketers and franchise advertisers, though, does the classic advice for leaner times hold true? Is a recession really striking, and even if it does, how do consumers’ dining and spending habits change in a market downturn? 

    In the 2008 recession, we saw the quick-service sector grow consistently, unlike most other industries at the time. Cash-strapped consumers gravitated toward cheaper food options — a pattern we will likely see again. 

    Here’s why the quick-service sector shouldn’t be preparing for tough times but rather opportunity, why companies must capitalize on the opportunity with omnichannel marketing to win market share, and how a more granular marketing approach is key to seizing on the increasing demand for affordable foods. 

    Is a cheeseburger really recession-proof? 

    The global economy’s past few years introduce new variables to this age-old question

    After managing to survive COVID, a global supply chain crisis, and ballooning protein and other material costs, fast food restaurants are in a unique position. They successfully raised their prices to account for shortages and high supply costs — which are now both letting up. That means quick-service's adaptation to inflation could now put them in an especially advantageous position as prices outstrip the cost of overhead. 

    Plus, on top of that advantage, demand for affordable fast food options is on the rise, as is often the case in times of economic uncertainty. 

    But as consumers tighten their belts, how can brands ensure they’re continuing to drive sales and win market share to make the most of this year’s margin opportunity? One way to seize the moment is to invest in new advertising channels and methodologies.

    Show up on the right channels to reach recession-leery customers 

    Shopping habits have changed rapidly over the past few years, from the pandemic’s push toward delivery to the emergence of more apps and platforms where people can browse businesses and deals in their area as well as order food.

    Given this landscape, quick-service brands need to make sure they’re showing up in the right places to reach their target audience, particularly as consumers put more legwork into price comparison and research before heading to any brick-and-mortar locations. 

    Awareness channels like DOOH can spark interest in local residents during their daily lives, delivering brand messaging at bus stops or in elevators to remind people about a food option nearby. But quick-service brands must also follow up with discovery channels like Yelp and Waze to ensure that demand generated from awareness campaigns doesn’t drive business to competitors. A paid search presence can help convert demand into sales, as well as advertising on platforms where consumers go to order food. 

    Executing an optimized media mix requires understanding the interplay between different channels and assessing how campaigns on one affect the marketing priorities for others in the mix. For quick-service brands to win new customers this year, they will have to build out robust omnichannel marketing capabilities and leave yesteryear’s standard spray-and-pray social campaigns behind. 

    Adopt more granular targeting to grow your brand into the future

    In addition to channel expansion, your targeting tactics and metrics likely need an update to meet the complexity of the modern consumer and make the most of every impression. With the dawn of localized targeting technologies, DMA-based targeting is becoming antiquated due to its myriad inefficiencies. 

    For example, if a quick-service brand wants to boost sales in Florida, why should they use the same messaging to target the state’s young, urban residents as its retirement communities? Wouldn’t different creative, designed for each distinct audience, more successfully connect with residents of both areas and demographics? 

    Personalizing channels, formats, and creative for what works in different regions can eliminate the ad waste of over-generalized DMAs. 

    There is a particular opportunity for emerging and medium-sized quick-service brands to win local audiences by being agile in personalizing regional marketing campaigns — especially when facing off against big companies that continue running inflexible national ads. Locally relevant messaging can help secure must-win markets. 

    For franchise organizations, this can even look like tailoring the campaign approach for each brick-and-mortar location. And marketing platforms are streamlining that disparate challenge to make it simpler to execute, even without an agency. 

    Quick-servicebrands shouldn’t be afraid of a recession, whether one officially arrives or not. Instead, they can lean into the opportunity by proactively winning market share and dedicating new revenue toward omnichannel marketing approaches. To find success in new and old channels alike, quick-service brands need to make sure they account for regional diversity within DMAs to get the most out of every ad dollar and capture the growing demand for affordable foods.

    Michael Morris is the co-founder of Hyperlocology. Hyperlocology enables multi-location and franchise restaurant brands to centrally control local advertising, across the most powerful digital channels, for hundreds or thousands of locations. Hyperlocology’s best-in-class technology includes an automated local advertising campaign builder, location-level analytics, community data, and per-location insights to drive meaningful business outcomes