QSR Marketing Challenges and Trends, and How Media Expertise Can Help

drones delivering hamburgersThe quick service restaurant (QSR) industry has always been rapidly evolving and highly competitive. What worked last year could be a waste of money today, and every experiment—no matter how wild—has the potential for huge returns … or not.

While this isn’t an earth-shattering revelation for QSR professionals, there are recent challenges and trends in the industry that have snuck up on some and may not even be on the radar of others. These challenges and trends could make or break new and vulnerable operations, and could even put a dent in the budgets and futures of long-standing mega-brands that must constantly fight for their positions as QSR leaders.

One glaring example of a noteworthy challenge that’s impacting nearly every brand in the QSR space is the ever-changing smorgasbord of potential media options and the fact that “being visible” isn’t nearly enough to compete today. Every media buy needs to be strategic, offering positive ROI and growing the value of the customer’s entire experience in relation to the brand.

This is no easy task when new channels open up almost daily, fickle audiences migrate from one to the next in seemingly random bursts, and the ability to track and analyze the resulting data presents its own technological challenges.

Those brands that can successfully meet this challenge will reap huge rewards, including:

  • Greater control over their brand
  • Enhanced customer relationships
  • The multiplying power of customers becoming brand loyalists and ambassadors

Those who don’t are bound to be left in the dust since the trend toward wider and more diverse media channels isn’t going to slow down or reverse anytime soon.

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Gain additional insights by watching this short video from Blue Onion Media’s Pete TenEyck. Want more? Shoot over an email or give him a ring at (303) 597-9661. He’s a pro when it comes to helping businesses effectively navigate the evolving media landscape, and he’d be happy to answer your questions or discuss your pain points.

What could make the difference for an individual QSR brand?

Since QSR brands are already used to working in a highly competitive vertical, successful marketing pros in these companies and in the creative agencies that serve them are already adept at experimenting and “failing fast.” However, the kind of strategic media planning and buying necessary to meet this industry challenge is often outside their normal wheelhouse.

Further, the data collection and analysis capabilities required to get ahead of the competition in media planning are either unknown or financially out of reach for all but the largest QSR brands. As a result, many marketing pros with the best of intentions simply can’t deliver an effective media strategy to the level needed to truly succeed in this rapidly evolving field.

The perfect solution would be to partner with an experienced team of media planning and strategy experts that can quickly and efficiently build an effective program nimble enough to remain relevant over the long term. But does such an option even exist?

Before we answer that, let’s look a little closer at the main components that must be considered when forming an effective media buying strategy for QSR brands.

Competitive research and benchmarking

Because of the cutthroat level of competition these brands face, keeping an eye on the competition has to be an integral part of any effective media buying strategy.

This doesn’t just include figuring out what channels the competition is using, but tracking their level of success or failure on each as well. As the saying goes, “a smart person learns from their own mistakes, but the truly wise learn from the mistakes of others.” Understanding the kind of all-encompassing competitive landscape in which QSR brands exist demand specialized tools (such as Kantar, Nielsen, Nielsen Audio, Scarborough, and Strata to name a few) as well as deep insight based on experience.

Effective competitive research and benchmarking can provide valuable direction regarding channel selection, messaging, timing, and how all three of those aspects of a given competitive campaign interrelate. With this data at their fingertips, QSR brands can optimize campaigns across all these areas, improving results and saving money in the process.

Not necessarily ‘following the leader’

There’s also a necessary balance to be met here: a QSR brand that bases their marketing decisions primarily on “what’s McDonald’s doing this month?” is bound to fail in the long run. A “copy-cat” strategy leaves the brand at the mercy of another brand’s costly mistakes. It also runs the risk of watering down or even eliminating the value of the brand itself as similar messages bolster the image of the company they’re emulating.

While keeping an eye on the competition is vital, it should be wise, prudent and influence a strategy that intentionally differentiate a QSR from the competition.

Laser-focused targeting

It’s tempting to assume anyone who eats is a potential customer for a given restaurant. However, there’s no way to sustainably and effectively market to such a wide audience. Effective campaigns are laser targeted on specific demographic and psychographic segments to select the best channel, timing, and messaging to resonated with a specific target market.

Again, locating and effectively analyzing the amount of data necessary to achieve this level of targeting goes beyond what most individual brands or creative agencies can provide. As with the competitive research, specialized tools and databases like MRI offer the only truly effective way to layer the data, analyze it and arrive at an actionable outcome.

It’s impossible to overstate the marketing value of leveraging competitive research with detailed actions and motivations of adult American consumers, which reveal powerful and penetrating consumer insights, including:

  • what people watch, read, listen to
  • what cars they drive
  • how they use the internet
  • their attitudes towards advertising
  • and, thousands of other data points

When a team exists that focuses solely on media strategy and invests in data collection and analysis, an optimal media buying strategy evolves to connect with each target market, no matter how niche-specific or seemingly small.

A wide range of media channels

As recently as 20 years ago, you could count the number of media channels on one hand that offered profitable returns. These days, there are dozens, each with their own combinations of strengths, weaknesses, costs, and level of commitment.

Although the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) method dictates that “less is more,” that’s simply not true in today’s wide-ranging media landscape. The average consumer spends hours each day absorbing content through a huge variety of channels and channel loyalty is notoriously fickle. With a new social network appearing every week and a new streaming service popping up nearly as often, consumers are hopping from one channel to the next quickly and without hesitation.

QSRs cannot depend on a shotgun approach to get their message out on a wide array of channels. An effective media buying strategy should approach each channel as unique and help direct the creative, the budget, and the tracking efforts accordingly to optimize the value of each.

As an example, review this media buying strategy for Arby’s.

A realistic understanding of what media will achieve

In a world that prioritizes instant gratification whenever possible, it’s tempting for brands to assume that a particular marketing investment should be able to provide instant or near-instant results that can be measured on a balance sheet. And, while many of the media channels available today can theoretically provide very quick, measureable results, expectations need to be realistic or the brand risks pulling the plug before the positive impact can be felt.

At the same time, the combination of the naturally fast turnaround in QSR marketing—after all, everyone eats every day, right?—and the speed with which campaigns can be launched and measured through many modern channels does lend itself to experimentation and extensive testing and optimization scenarios. The real key is leveraging the experience and expertise necessary to make the most of those experiments and arrive at the optimal circumstances before the competition figures it out.

A good place to start to determine if a media buying investment is being allocated to the best channels is with an independent media audit. These audits not only confirm that a brand is getting what it paid for, they also show if a target market is being reached most effectively to deliver positive results.

Is it possible for an individual QSR brand to achieve this optimal media buying scenario?

As we’ve already noted, the level of competition and speed of change in the QSR industry creates formidable challenges for most internal and agency marketing professionals who desire to effectively leverage the incredible variety and scope of media options available today. For most of them, the sheer number of available options and the extent to which data can be collected and analyzed for each of these channels puts a truly optimized media buying strategy out of reach.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for QSR brands to benefit to the fullest extent from all the potential this wide variety of media channels offers, because that seemingly unattainable concept we’ve been discussing—a wholly dedicated team of media buying experts with the necessary tools, capabilities, and experience—actually does exist.

Blue Onion Media is Denver’s premier media buying and planning resource, and we’ve been helping companies and creative agencies nationwide achieve optimal results from their media investments since 1979. We’re proud to have a long and successful history working with clients in the QSR industry, ranging from powerhouses like McDonald’s and Arby’s to up-and-coming brands seeking a foothold in the competitive QSR space.

If the idea of being able to effectively track and analyze media buys—from the initial planning stage through the post-buy audit and results analysis—appeals to you, and if you or your client would like to be able to effectively compete across multiple channels as a QSR brand, we’d love to discuss what we can do to help.

See how the right media mix drove a statewide sales turn-around for Arby’s.

Furthermore, if you are ready to get a discussion started on how Blue Onion Media can help your QSR concept overcome today’s marketing challenges, give us a call or shoot us an email. We have much more detailed, targeted QSR marketing insights that we can share with you.

Call (303) 232-1100

Email Peter TenEyck, VP Business Development

Email Eileen Weinert, VP Media