Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fast Food Marketers: Can Your Restaurants Afford to Stomach Another Bad Year?

If you're in the fast food industry, you are probably seeing a gradual decline in market share as more fast casual competitors enter the market.

As an Integrated Marketing Communications student in Northwestern’s Masters Degree program at Medill, informed on the latest marketing trends, I have identified two articles that can help you compete against these fast casual establishments.

As the economy changes, most fast food chains are not giving enough attention to potential high-value consumers, as Leslie Patton says in her article Have We Reached Peak Burger? These consumers are more health-conscious, have higher incomes, and are part of the generation of millennials who will soon become the drivers of the economy. Fast casual restaurants, like Chipotle and Protein Bar, on the other hand, are capitalizing on opportunities to appeal to these markets by providing customizable menu items, fresher ingredients, and healthier options. 

Similarly, in her article 4 Reasons Chipotle Is Destroying Fast FoodAshley Lutz says that millennials are connecting with fast casual restaurants that give customers the ability to customize their meals. Quick service restaurants are also losing market share as health conscious consumers prefer to eat at fast casual restaurants, which they feel offer higher-quality ingredients rather than throwing new items on the menu, which can be distracting and cause longer wait times. 

From my examination of these two articles and my studies in the Medill IMC program, I recommend considering the following to grow your fast food business and reconnect with your target consumers.

1. Allow for customization - Millennials love the ability to create their own meal experience, and this also allows for health-conscious diners to build a more nutritious option.

2. Stick with classic menu items - As the old saying goes, quality is better than quantity; rather than overwhelming customers with too many menu options, enhance your existing offering with higher-quality ingredients and excellent service.

3. Improve efficiency - Give your customers the quick turnaround they expect by utilizing new technology and operational means that will improve efficiency and make your customers happier.

By following these steps, fast food giants have a fighting chance against their fast casual competitors to win millennial and other audiences in this day and age of ever-changing consumer tastes. Despite recent struggles with connecting to target markets, your success will largely depend on your response to the changing economy and consumer preferences.

Grace is a part-time IMC student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. She currently works in an analytical role at Walgreens corporate office. With a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations from Loyola University Chicago, Grace has a background in marketing for nonprofit as well as B2B organizations. As a millennial herself, she is interested in marketing to this increasingly influential generation and is passionate about all things food. 

Contact Grace through Twitter @gracechen92.