Merchant: Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries
Platforms: Google, Facebook, FiveStars
Bottom Line: Large restaurant chains are shifting their budgets away from print, and toward digital channels, like Facebook and Google, that target consumers at the local level.
With more than 100 locations, including outposts in countries like Abu Dhabi and Denmark, you could be forgiven for thinking Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries would take a broad approach to marketing and advertising. But according to Andy Moore, director of communications for the North Carolina-based fast casual restaurant chain, the exact opposite is true.
“We focus on cost-effective solutions that boost our franchisees’ bottom line, as well as opportunities where we can further position ourselves as members of our communities, like sponsoring a Little League team or partnering with a local business,” he says. “For those reasons, very little of what we do has a national focus, even though we like to set the tone at the corporate level.”
In the past 18 months, the ratio of spending between print and digital marketing campaigns has flipped at Hwy 55. Today, the company’s digital spend is more than 20% higher than print.
Hwy 55 has chosen to focus its efforts on platforms that can be used to reach consumers at the hyperlocal level, including Google and Facebook. The restaurant chain has seen its reach on Facebook grow “exponentially” since it started prioritizing local pages.
“On Facebook, we’ve focused our ads on connecting with current and potential fans, both on our national Hwy 55 page and on our local store pages. We’ve found that the new Facebook Manager is great at enabling you to run ads on a number of local pages and quickly prioritize which are performing most effectively,” Moore says. “Google is an opportunity to better communicate LTOs [limited-time offers] and our competitive differentiator with potential fans. And in both Facebook and Google, of course, we’ve been testing like crazy to deliver the lowest CPC numbers possible for our franchisees.”
The company also launched a loyalty program with FiveStars three years ago, which it is continuing to build.
“[FiveStars] is the best method we have for engaging with new guests and putting our best foot forward in gaining new Hwy 55 fans,” Moore says. “This is a huge role for our brand in particular, which succeeds in smaller communities where we can’t afford a base of casual guests.”
The restaurant chain had been using a paper punch card loyalty system prior to FiveStars, however it was the promise of deeper analytics that led the company to consider going digital. Today, FiveStars is used at all of Hwy 55’s American locations.
“We look at the percentage growth in a store’s subscriber base and how that number correlates on a month-by-month basis with an increased number of checks over last year,” he says. “This lets us know, as best we can, how closely a given location’s same-store-sales growth is due to our loyalty program.”
In 2015, the restaurant chain saw same-store-sales increase more than 9%, a metric that Moore says is usually influenced by a big increase in foot traffic. Individual stores that grew their FiveStars subscriber base by 30% or more were correlated with same-store-sales growth that was well over the company mean. Hwy 55 has also found that guests visit three to five more times each year once they join the loyalty program.
Looking forward, Moore sees beacon technology playing an increasingly important role for smaller brands and says he’d love to implement beacons at Hwy 55 restaurants as a way to send loyalty members more personalized deals. He’s also eager to see how virtual reality will change the game for local advertising.
“I think an exciting VR possibility is the chance to sponsor experiences, rather than just shove yet another 30-second ad into people’s faces,” Moore says. “For a retro-themed brand like ours, broadcasting a VR concert—for someone with a retro flair, like Bruno Mars or Leon Bridges, for instance—would not only be a great opportunity to showcase our brand, it’d be a way for us to help contribute in a pretty cool way to this new space.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.