Fast Food Brands Are Struggling To Meet Consumer Values

A close up of crisp; spicy chicken wings, also known as hot wings, with ranch dipping sauce.
SHARE
THIS



Brands are simply a perception held in the mind of customers. It’s not about what they say they are, it’s about what customers think they are, argues uberbrand’s Dan Ratner.

The fast food market is fiercely competitive, with several giant brands traditionally dominating. This has made it very difficult for new brands to gain traction. As consumer values shift, this is changing. Australia has a strong food culture and the proliferation of food and cooking shows has given consumers greater awareness of what they’re eating. With consumers enjoying a wider range of options and foods that were previously thought of as exotic, now table staples.

As a result many traditional fast food brands are struggling to meet new consumer values. These changing values are creating a more competitive landscape with the rise and emergence of new brands like Nando’s, Guzman Y Gomez and Grill’d. These brands are tapping into contemporary values through product, experience and communication.

It’s difficult for heritage brands to adapt to these changing customer profiles and consequently, the category is at a crossroads. As the traditional giants risk losing relevance in context to shifting consumer values, it may be time to rethink target markets and attract audiences in a different way.

To better understand this shift in values, uberbrand recently commissioned market research into how customers think about fast food brands. The research found that emotion and, more specifically, memory, play a huge role. Certain brands trigger certain emotional memories in an audience. Tapping into and reinforcing these feelings and emotions are essential for establishing and maintaining a strong, successful brand.

The research asked people about their favourite memories of visiting fast food restaurants. One third of respondents said visiting fast food restaurants with their family was their best memory. With a large percentage of people’s best memories from when they were younger than 15 years old. Further qualifying research suggested that these positive memories were based around enjoying bonding time with their parents as a child.

Overlaying this into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reveals some deeper opportunities. The theory cites love and belonging as some of the fundamental human needs. Belonging is generally established early in life (with esteem and self-actualization often coming later). It seems family visits to fast food restaurants as children, establishes an association with this need for belonging.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Interestingly a quick review of traditional fast food advertising shows brands looking to appeal to the higher order needs of esteem or self-actualisation. Focusing on self-actualisation based needs in terms of both product development and communications, like many fast food companies do, may be a mismatch. Bonding is a deeper and potentially more powerful need to appeal to.

Many of the people who bonded over traditional brands with their families when they were younger now have their own children. Shifting values toward food has them choosing alternative brands then those they enjoyed as a child. The consequence is that their children too may instead build bonds with these other brands.

The risk for traditional brands is that if they don’t find ways to establish connectivity with younger generations then as the population ages the bonding link is broken and they will lose relevance.

1. Consider shifting focus away from representations of esteem

Far fewer respondents associated their best memories with time spent with friends at fast food restaurants, yet so many fast food advertisements repeatedly show scenes of esteem represented through the association of their brand with youthful confidence; using imagery of friends (sitting on the beach) enjoying an informal meal together. This is a very aspirational take on how some people might enjoy fast food. It is contradictory to the research, and not the most effective representation of the core category need. It’s clear to see through their communications, sponsorships and product placements, that fast food brands are looking to associate their brands’ with esteem. As we have identified, they should instead perhaps consider incorporating belonging.

2. Get back to basics

There is a trend for big brands to focus on product innovation to meet the changing market. While innovation can be important, it may have negative mid to long term effects. Over-innovation can cause brand fragmentation and confusion, undermining the credibility of the brand and its core offer. Indeed, being in an ‘innovation spiral’ – continually coming up with new flavours and menus can be a key indicator that a brand is in trouble. It is indicative of innovation trying to plug holes left from losing relevance. Contemporising products around belonging rather than esteem may be needed to capture evolving consumer values.

The folding of Pie Face is an example of a fast food brand that tried to oversaturate a simple offer with product innovation. It continually added new flavours of fillings while missing the role pies play in the lives of their customers.

So, what can fast food brands do about it?

Most fast food brands will be able to turn around their fortunes, but they must take a different approach. Success starts with deeper understanding of how emotional rewards satisfy consumer needs and build loyalty.

The evidence shows that fast food facilitates bonding experiences, filling a powerful need in people. Successful brands know exactly how they want their customers to feel and they reflect this in every aspect of their brand – from their product, menu and experience through to advertising and communications.

Creating emotional branding can be challenging for fast food brands due to the commoditised nature of the products – but it is possible. For example, Coca Cola has shifted from big-splash advertising to a more personalised and emotive approach in order to re-establish relevance with their audience. For the highly successful “share-a-coke” campaign the company developed cans with various first names printed on them. This connected consumers to the brand and encouraged sharing on social media. Consumers actively wanted to find a can with their name on it so they had something that felt personal and unique to them. Memories of bonding experiences are personal and unique too but fast food companies need to find ways of taking advantage of this.

Fast food brands could be in danger of being blinded by short-term objectives, risking losing sight of what their customers truly think and feel about them in context to the category. Focusing on esteem, using young friendship groups in their communications or constantly innovating may cloud their ability to deepen and broaden their relevance.

To build brand loyalty and long-lasting relationships, brands must understand how their offering delivers its emotional reward for customers. The first step should be to find out whether they have an accurate view of how their brand satisfies needs, and then mapping the unique way it delivers this through their brands’ positive emotional rewards.

Dan Ratner is the managing director of branding and communications agency uberbrand. 

Please login with linkedin to comment

Latest News

Zenith Sydney MD Karen Halligan To Depart
  • Media

Zenith Sydney MD Karen Halligan To Depart

Zenith Sydney's Karen Halligan has pulled-up stumps, although that's not to infer bad light had anything to do with it.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
PR Agency Hotwire Rebrands
  • Marketing
  • Media

PR Agency Hotwire Rebrands

PR agency Hotwire has rebranded, yet sadly not to "Hot Cocks Who Rock Your Socks Off". Which would've been far cooler.

Challenger Agency VCCP Wins Creative Account For Torrens University Australia
  • Advertising

Challenger Agency VCCP Wins Creative Account For Torrens University Australia

After a competitive pitching process involving five agencies, Torrens University Australia has appointed challenger agency VCCP as its new brand strategy partner and creative agency for 2018. Acclaimed for its work on dynamic brands including ING and Compare the Market in the financial services sector, Laureate Australia CMO Anne Da Cunha said VCCP’s reputation as […]

GumGum Appoints Ansible’s Sarah Baskerville As Victorian Sales Director
  • Advertising
  • Technology

GumGum Appoints Ansible’s Sarah Baskerville As Victorian Sales Director

AI advertising company GumGum has announced the appointment of Sarah Baskerville as its sales director for Victoria. Baskerville joins GumGum from Ansible, where she spent two years as its Melbourne mobile director. Prior to joining Ansible, she was head of specialist sales and partnerships at News Corp Australia, and also held a number of sales […]

The Diamond Concierge Gives Away $85K Ring In Campaign By McCann Queensland
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns

The Diamond Concierge Gives Away $85K Ring In Campaign By McCann Queensland

McCann Queensland’s second instalment of ‘The 5th C’ campaign launched over the weekend for online diamond retailer The Diamond Concierge, which received over 47million views around the world in the first 48 hours of it being released. In this second phase of the campaign, The Diamond Concierge gave away an $85,000 diamond ring, with Gold […]

Sparro Recruits Key Account Director Following Client Wins
  • Marketing

Sparro Recruits Key Account Director Following Client Wins

Digital marketing agency Sparro has announced the appointment of Hannah Jones (pictured above) as a key account director following a spate of client wins. Jones joins Sparro’s senior team alongside founders Cameron and Morris Bryant, overseeing a portfolio of accounts that includes Webjet, Domino’s Pizza, TAFE NSW, Temple & Webster, F45 Training and Bing Lee. […]

Women’s Health’s Jacqui Mooney On Driving A Women’s Brand In An Evolving Industry
  • Media

Women’s Health’s Jacqui Mooney On Driving A Women’s Brand In An Evolving Industry

In an industry facing change, Jacqui Mooney, editor of Women’s Health believes brands such as hers will continue to be a constant. Please note: this article was contributed by Magazine Networks. The magazine industry may be seeing substantial change but Jacqui Mooney has a goal that remains firm: to create happier, healthier lives for Australian women. […]

Why Consumer Brands Are Failing Aussie Mums
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

Why Consumer Brands Are Failing Aussie Mums

Is your game chainsaws or large marlin wall-hangings? Can't seem to attract the mums? This couldn't come soon enough.

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Network Ten Creditors Approve CBS Deal
  • Media

Network Ten Creditors Approve CBS Deal

It seems the fight for Ten between CBS and media moguls Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon may finally be over.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
MKTG Signs Exclusive Commercial Partnership With PlayersVoice
  • Marketing
  • Media

MKTG Signs Exclusive Commercial Partnership With PlayersVoice

MKTG has announced it has signed an exclusive commercial partnership with newly-launched sports storytelling site PlayersVoice.com.au – an agreement that will see the agency move into a new territory of sports marketing. The partnership between MKTG and PlayersVoice will see the business managing brand partnership opportunities for the new platform; working with clients to deliver […]

Domo Introduces New Data Security Software Solution
  • Marketing
  • Technology

Domo Introduces New Data Security Software Solution

Domo has announced it has introduced new cloud security technology for its Bring Your Own Key (BYOK) software, which includes unique capabilities like rolling generation of data encryption keys and a built-in kill switch. Domo BYOK is the first BYOK enterprise software solution for cloud analytics and business intelligence, and builds on the company’s existing security, compliance and […]

Shopper Media Group Grows Sydney & Melbourne Sales Teams
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Shopper Media Group Grows Sydney & Melbourne Sales Teams

Shopper Media Group (SMG) has continued to grow its Sydney and Melbourne sales teams to keep up with the demand for Smartlite Panels for shopping centres. Ashley Munro joins SMG as group sales manager for Sydney, having previously worked in a similar role at NOVA Entertainment. Laura Mason has been appointed as SMG’s business manager […]

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
  • Advertising
  • Media

Olympics, Census Prove Tough Hurdles For Media Agencies: SMI

Australia’s media agency market has experienced another tough month in August, according to the latest data by Standard Media Index (SMI). SMI noted the softer demand this time around was primarily due to the Rio Olympics and Census providing abnormal bookings last year, resulting in demand for August 2017 so far being back 12.1 per […]