The adage “You are what you eat” takes on new meaning — and new significance for marketers — against the backdrop of new data captured in the recent Foot Traffic Trends report focused on Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) sector and released by location intelligence company xAd.
At a high level, the report, based on 37 million visits xAd observed on its platform from April 1 to June 30, gives us the inside track on which brands have been the most successful in driving foot traffic to their premises — and which brands have a way to go. It tracks the performance of a business sector synonymous with “on-the-move” consumers, providing convincing evidence of a comeback for more traditional QSR brands, companies that lost customers to emerging fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread.
As the report sums it up: “Economic uncertainty and aggressive deals are leading to a resurgence in the fast food industry. In the first quarter of 2016, McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s all saw growth in same-store sales.” In fact, McDonald’s has pulled ahead of the pack, leading in both foot traffic and loyalty in Q1.
Dig a bit deeper, and the report stitches together location data and context (time of day, day of the week) around restaurant diners, providing marketers insights into consumer habits and preferences that will allow them to better define audiences, not just understand foot traffic and visitation patterns. (By way of background, xAd states the data in the report represents “geo-price ad requests observed in the platform and mapped back to defined business locations.” In this construct each ad request “represents a real customer on their smartphone while at a QSR restaurant.”)
The outcome is data that speaks volumes about consumer patterns and — more importantly — intent. Put simply, what you eat (and where) is location information and intelligence that is inextricably intertwined with people’s intent and lifestyle.
It should come as no surprise that there are significant regional differences. Relative to the national average diners in the West are 12% more likely to visit a Mexican QSR, while diners in the Northeast are 104% more likely to frequent coffee shops. The South leads in QSR visitation overall, and is 52% more likely to visit a restaurant that serves chicken.
Add context and the metrics around physical restaurant visits and smartphone data collected on the journey are even more powerful, enabling more granular understanding, and ultimately segmentation, of audiences based on where they are going (or likely to go).
An easy example in the report is the “Night Owls,” a segment that matches the visitation pattern of an audience of late night diners that also happens to frequent Jack In The Box. While visitation is slow during the day, the QSR chain’s share visitors “skyrockets nearly 60% higher in the late night hours that to their Munchie Meal, which is offered between 9pm and 5 am.” Sensing a business opportunity to match meals with an experience its Night Owl audience is sure to appreciate, Jack In The Box shifts to host a club-like atmosphere late nights with flashy lights, upbeat music and a party vibe.
The report doesn’t spell it out, but it’s easy to define, through location affinity, a segment I’ll call “Early Risers And Grinders,” the workers, commuters and coffee lovers who have made breakfast (mostly coffee) the start of their daily routine and the focus of their brand loyalty.
It’s why QSRs emphasize grab and go offers — and brand marketers focused on campaigns pegged to the time slot with promotions to drive foot fall. In fact, the report shows Subway gained foot traffic share quarter over quarter, including a 4% increase in share during breakfast hours attributable to their 2-for-1 breakfast promotion.
In the U.K., xAd’s separate survey of 1,500 smartphone users in there who have used their device for a purchase decision over the past 30 days sheds important light on behavior that marketers can leverage to boost their audience understanding and targeting capabilities.
Consumers in the U.K. use their mobile phones to make purchase decisions faster — increasing the requirement for brands to “make an impact with contextual experiences with real-time marketing,” according to xAd.
Among the findings: Consumes in the U.K. are more impatient than ever before, with 77% looking to eat within the hour of researching a QSR brand. The vast majority (84%) if these QSR researchers are looking to make a purchase within a short driving distance after looking up (within 5 miles), and 77% are looking to make a purchase within the hour.
Overall, half (51%) of these researchers and diners say smartphones are their most important research tool.
My take: Brands must ensure they have a strong mobile strategy to reach people when and where purchase intent is highest. Data and analytics that stitches the two together — available from companies including xAd — is essential for marketers to see and leverage the opportunities at the intersection of visitation patterns in the real-world and behavioral insights enabled by digital and data.
Peggy Anne Salz is the chief analyst and founder of MobileGroove, a research and consulting firm providing analysis, custom research, and strategic content marketing to the global mobile industry, and mentoring and consulting to tech startups.