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QSRs Shift Marketing Strategies To Adapt To Changing Consumer Behaviors

May 14, 2020 Carolyn Harding

As the restaurant industry continues to feel the effects of today’s pandemic – a UBS analyst recently predicted at least one in five U.S. restaurants could close due to COVID-19 – quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains have begun launching innovative promotions, services, products and more to maintain brand awareness and engage consumers. However, certain QSRs appear to be better-positioned than others, specifically those that have pivoted their marketing strategies to promote contact-free pickup and delivery options with community-centric messaging and campaigns. Despite the major shift to at-home meal preparation, more than one-third of Americans are expected to rely heavily on QSRs in the coming weeks.

QSRs Find Success In Mobile Ordering & Food Delivery Campaigns

Shutterstock_1699022041 Delivery man courier in protective face mask and medical gloves giving paper bags to customer. Girl receiving paper packages. Safe online delivery from supermarket to home door. COVID-19 coronavirus

Food delivery as a whole is expected to generate $365 billion by 2035. For QSRs specifically, mobile ordering is expected to drive 10.7% of sales this year. But with so many consumers limiting their trips outside their homes today, mobile capabilities and convenient food delivery options are more important than ever, and both restaurants and customers have grown more reliant on effective, well-designed apps to identify locations and track orders. As a result, a slew of QSRs have shifted their ordering and delivery strategies.

Popeyes began running campaigns focused on alternate delivery options, while McDonald's produced ads encouraging social distancing and drive-thru orders. Chipotle, on the other hand, invested in its mobile app and made delivery free through March and April, resulting in digital sales more than doubling in March alone. Chipotle CMO Chris Brandt said Chipotle used its “customer-relationship management (CRM) program to turn regular store visitors into delivery customers using targeted social media ads and direct marketing emails.”

According to Fernando Machado, fellow QSR Burger King’s CMO, the consumer shift toward delivery and pickup is likely to be the biggest long-term change for QSRs, calling it a “safe haven” for fast food.

QSRs Adapt New Marketing Strategies, Products & Services

Keeping a steady flow of communication with consumers can be difficult during this time, forcing many QSRs to get creative and launch new initiatives in an effort to engage consumers from afar. 

  • Burger King began giving away free Whoppers to consumers who see the company’s interactive QR code in commercials. Consumers can scan the QR code displayed on TV and claim a free Whopper through the Burger King app. “We are all locked at home. So why not gamify even what would otherwise be an ordinary TV spot? That was the thinking behind the ‘QR Whopper’ campaign,” said a Burger King spokesperson.
  • Shake Shack started streaming a cooking show on social media, teaching consumers how to make the chain’s signature menu items at home. Appropriately titled “Shake Shack at Your Shack,” the show is available on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The series positions Shake Shack as a helpful brand to consumers who are stuck at home and looking for new meal options, as half of surveyed Americans stated they’re cooking more frequently during quarantine, according to Statista.
  • Chick-fil-A kicked off the month of May by relaunching its meal kits. For $14.99, the kits can be ordered via the Chick-fil-A app for drive-thru pickup or delivery through Doordash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Speaking to the clear timeliness of the meal kits, Chick-fil-A's Senior Culinary Lead, Stuart Tracy, said, “We’re thrilled to offer it [meal kits] with great enhancements at participating restaurants nationwide during a time when our guests need convenient mealtime options.”

Some QSRs Focus Less On Profit & More On Social Responsibility

chipotle 4heroes

As we’ve seen in many industries, several fast food chains have put their responsibility to help consumers ahead of their desire to earn. McDonald’s, for example, has been forced to close many of its restaurants around the world. Even still, the fast food chain launched a campaign promoting free meals for first responders. Chipotle recently vowed to donate a burrito to healthcare workers every time a customer names their burrito order “4HEROES” through the Chipotle app or website.

Fellow QSR Wendy’s is doing their part to contribute through their “GroupNug” campaign, offering free chicken nuggets to every car that rolls through the drive thru. “Wendy's restaurant teams across the nation have been living out one of Wendy's most important values – Do the Right Thing – by helping their communities wherever they can during this unprecedented time,” said Wendy's U.S. CMO, Carl Loredo.

Consumer behavior and expectations have been dramatically reshaped over the past few months, and they will inevitably impact the evolution of the customer experience in the long term. So while many consumers love QSRs in quarantine, simply for the convenience they offer, the big question marketers need to ask themselves now is: how do we sustain demand and continue the positive engagement with consumers as restaurants progressively reopen? QSRs and the restaurant industry as a whole will need to continue promoting authentic brand messaging, building senses of community with consumers and seeking new opportunities to innovate their products, services and offerings. If these strategies can be established and made successful in a socially distanced world, QSR brands have a strong chance to create loyal customers beyond these unusual times.

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About the Author

Carolyn Harding

Carolyn Harding is an Associate Manager of Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. DMS helps its clients accelerate growth by deploying diversified and data-driven customer acquisition solutions that deliver scalable, sustainable and measurable marketing results. DMS performance marketing solutions connect the right consumers with the right offers at the right time to achieve the marketing objectives of our clients. DMS is continually innovating to provide new and emerging media and technology solutions that minimize waste and maximize results across the most competitive industries. Since its inception, DMS has demonstrated incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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