At the end of a transaction at Chick-Fil-A, employees respond to customers who say, “thank you” with “my pleasure.” This became a signature part of their brand experience—something to differentiate them from their QSR competitors.
But as QSRs sprint toward more digitized interactions, they must also remain connected to their customers in a purposeful way. What will replace “my pleasure” when automation can feel so impersonal? Meaningful communication is an important part of how QSR brands bring value to their customers.
We outline three ways QSRs can pursue innovations that simplify engagement while amplifying thoughtful connections with customers and their communities.
Reaching communities means speaking to them directly—and food is very powerful language. But QSR menus must strike the balance between universal appeal and local interest. Not every item is meant for every region, so localization becomes essential when connecting with consumers where they live. Brands like KFC and McDonald’s have made localization a central part of their brand experience in China, where they’ve replaced the Colonel’s fried chicken with reganmian (hot dry noodles) and the Egg McMuffins with congee (rice porridge).
But localizing QSR menus must be done with a respect for and understanding of the communities that brands are trying to reach. When Pizza Hut entered the Chinese market in 1970, they collaborated with established Chinese brands to research the market and develop local flavors, which helped them forge an emotional resonance. But when Shake Shack and Popeyes both entered the Chinese market 30 years later, they understood that their target audiences were focused more social media-friendly food and trendy restaurant design. Whether QSRs connect with communities through localized menu items or sleek locations with seamless digital capabilities, they must strike a balance between expanding customer reach while maintaining authentic brand messaging.
The rush toward QSRs implementing technology was accelerated by the pandemic as safety requirements necessitated no-contact transactions. During that transition, QSRs discovered that consumers actually preferred the speed and convenience of their digital experience, with Mintel reporting a 12% increase in online ordering and preordering from February 2020 to January 2021. But no-contact transactions can quickly feel impersonal if the data isn’t applied to benefit the customer.
QSRs can use their digital ordering platforms to customize the ordering experience. Both McDonald’s and Tim Hortons have launched technology that personalizes the digital drive-thru menu board based on the customer’s rewards program activities and past orders. Taco Bell is applying Go Mobile prototype technology, which informs customers the best traffic route to take to get their food. While digital initiatives are primarily aimed at streamlining the speed at which customers receive their orders, they can also communicate a meaningful experience that prioritizes the consumer.
Quick service business means quickly pivoting brand strategy and messaging. We saw examples of this across all industries at the start of the pandemic, as consumer needs and health requirements changed fast and frequently. While we’re still in the throes of the pandemic, we’re seemingly transitioning toward glimpses of normalcy, which means that QSRs need to remain agile when developing their messaging to avoid confusion and loss of consumer trust.
QSRs can amplify their digital capabilities to create a transparent dialogue with their consumers. One example is Yum! Brands, parent company of brands like Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, which acquired Tictuk, a chat-based ordering and marketing platform that enables “conversational commerce” including promotions and text ordering. By acquiring this technology rather than just partnering, Yum! will not only retain ownership of how they interact with their consumer base, including tailored messaging and personalized loyalty programs, but they can maintain agility by controlling how and when they need to shift future communications.
QSRs thrive by offering consistency and reliability in their service, products, and messaging. There is comfort for the consumer in knowing their experience will be the same no matter where they are in the world. But consistency shouldn’t impede a brand’s ability to innovate and or evolve with changes in the market and emerging consumer behaviors. By leaning into valuable digital technologies that will help them promote thoughtful communication, QSRs will better relate to and understand their consumers to amplify stronger connections.
About Melanie Morales
Melanie is a member of SGK’s Global Marketing team who worked to launch SGK’s rebrand. She brings 15 years of marketing, writing, and communication experience developed across various industries and media channels including media, publishing and energy.