Understanding consumer needs is a foundational part of marketing and innovation. But all too often, product marketers focus on satisfying consumers’ functional wants rather their emotional needs. This is a mistake. Connecting with customers is not just about giving them more taste and bigger portions, it’s about satisfying their emotional needs through food. How we eat, what we eat and how much we eat is directly related to our emotional state of mind.
“Eating is more a matter of the mind than it is the body.” Leon Rappoport
Research has shown that when a brand develops a strong emotional connection with consumers through a better understanding of their psychological motivations, they will have a distinct advantage over the competition.
To help brands develop this emotional bond, Secret Ingredient Marketing has developed a simple tool that maps a range of possible emotional food needs.
THE EIGHT EDIBLE EMOTIONS™ After digging through stacks of need state research from the recent past and applying our collective wisdom gained from over 25 years in food marketing, we have found that the psychology of food can be summarized into 8 core emotional food motivations.
1. Personal Pleasure “The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook.” – Julia Child
The desire to derive personal pleasure through food is probably the most obvious and best understood emotional driver of food choice. The desire for decedent, highly indulgent, over-the-top food that appeals to our hedonic tendencies is a well worn idea. Sometimes we want to forget the diet and go for food that gives us pleasure.
2. Belonging “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.” – Irish Proverb
Food is an important bonding agent. Food has a unique ability to bring people together and create shared experiences. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world people get together around food. We come together as families, friends and romantic interests over food. From the family table, to the backyard BBQ, to anniversaries and celebrations, food is a driving force in building community and togetherness.
3. Health “Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork.” – English Proverb
Now more than ever, our food choices are driven by our interest in better health. Healthy eating has reached the tipping point and gone mainstream. As a culture, we have come to experience the consequences of a poor diet and are determined to do better. While we will never settle for cardboard taste, we are looking to find food that makes us feel good about what we’re putting in our body.
4. Identity “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Food defines us. Like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, our food choices help define who we are and how we want others to view us. While some of us may love to devour a Big Mac, others would never be caught dead in a McDonald’s drive through. And, while BBQ may be a favorite food, many would say that it’s not good “first date” food. There is girl food and guy food, downscale food and upscale food, global food and local food. It is true, we are what we eat.
5. Adventure “Don't eat till you're full, eat till you're tired.” ― Andrew Zimmern.
Food has gone global and bland is boring. This is the perspective of today’s eater. More so today than in the past, consumers are eating adventurously. They are actively seeking new exotic flavors, fusions, forms and types of cuisine. Shows like “Bizzare Foods” with Andrew Zimmern and Andrew Bourdain’s “No Reservations” have further expanded our interest in the wide world for food.
6. Comfort “You can’t be sad while holding a cupcake.” - unknown
There is security in the familiar. The same is true of familiar foods. When we’re under stress, having a hard time coping or feel a need to get in touch with our roots, we turn to comfort food. Comfort food provides nostalgic or sentimental value that grounds us and gives us a sense of well-being and belonging. It can take us back to our childhood, remind us of our heritage and help us relive our mother’s home cooking and thereby provides emotional healing and security.
7. Relevance “I've always had a fantasy to write a cookbook, because everyone wants to know what a model eats.” - Padma Lakshmi
Food is the new fashion. The marriage between pop culture and food has never been stronger. As a culture, we are obsessed with chasing food trends, finding new food innovations and demonstrating our pop culture sophistication and influence through our Facebook and Instagram posts. Reality TV shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen have given us a new language to talk about food at the water cooler and turned us all into amateur food critics.
8. Vitality “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates
Since the beginning, man has looked to food for potency and vitality. Consumers today are no different. They’re looking for food to make them feel mentally and physically energized, enhanced, stimulated and recharged. They want functional food with purpose. Food that will improve energy, cognitive ability, heart function, joint health, kidney function, digestion, etc. Maybe there is a fountain of youth. And, maybe it comes in assorted flavors.
THE EDIBLE EMOTIONS WHEEL™ As the graphic below shows, these 8 emotional food need states can be visualized as a wheel with an imaginary X and Y axis running through it.
The X axis represents a range of psychological motivations from egocentric “me” motivations to sociocentric “we” motivations. For example, on the left side of the X axis, the need for a pleasurable eating experience can be explained by our ego-driven motivational needs. On the right side, we can see that our need for food that brings us together as a bonding vehicle is explained by our socio-driven motivations. The Y axis represents a range of motivations from security to fulfillment. At the bottom of the Y axis, the need for healthy food maps with our need for security and at the top our need for fulfillment and self-actualization helps us see how food can reinforce our personal image.
EDIBLE EMOTIONS™ IN ACTION There two basic ways to use this model. One way is to use the wheel to understand the emotional value of your brand relevant to the competition. The other way is to use it to stimulate relevant product innovation.
Brand Identity Map your brand and the competition againsts the 8 need states. Do different brands satisfy different emotional needs? Is there ownable emotional territory for your brand? If so, what are the “go to market” implications? Do you have the right products, the right menu or assortment and the right marketing communications? Product Innovation What emotional needs do current products address? Mapping your current products on the wheel will help you see where opportunities for new products may lie. If you find that a need state is under served, you may want to start innovating in that area. Conversely, the wheel may also highlight potential items for deletion. You can also create emotional mashups by developing products that satisfy more than one emotion.
There is an old saying among marketers that goes like this; “we can do whatever we want, we just can’t do everything we want.” Most QSR brand managers I know spend a lot of time agonizing over their marketing calendar trying to figure out what initiatives to pursue and what to leave behind. Should they spread the marketing dollars across several initiatives or focus on only one or two? They want to know the calendar optimization secrets that will keep the brand healthy, customers happy and sales as high as possible?
QSR Marketing Dynamics Back in 2010 and again in late 2012, Secret Ingredient Marketing studied the QSR category in great detail in an effort to understand QSR marketing dynamics and establish benchmarks that brands could use to guide their planning. Each time we studied marketing communications from 5 leading QSR brands in the US and the UK over a 12 month period. In total, we looked at over 2000 ads (digital, print and TV). We took a total market approach that looked at regional and national efforts as a whole. Our analysis revealed that the advertising from the 5 leading QSR brands can be categorized into FIVE unique marketing platforms.
1. Taste/Quality Platform: Marketing communications in this area are all about the food. The taste and/or quality of the food is the marketing story. Often this is about dramatizing a taste benefit, but it is also about highlighting the quality of specific ingredients or preparation method. Healthy/better for you options also fall into this category. Examples include ads for McDonald’s Iced Frappe, Wendy’s Pretzel Bun, Taco Bell’s Dorito’s Loco Tacos and KFC’s Grilled Chicken.
2. Price Value Platform: Efforts in this area are all about communicating a low price point. It is about establishing everyday low price items and price points that match or exceed category expectations and serves the needs of a brands most price sensitive consumers. These could be value menus, low price LTOs, low price combos, etc. The most typical examples here are the various $.99 menus in the category, but also include ads for things like the $5 foot long from Subway and the $10 any pizza from Pizza Hut.
3. Bundled Meal Platform: This platform is a close cousin to Price Value but differs in that this is more about communicating the amount of food you get for the money rather than the price itself. Often this platform is about re-imagining combo meals as abundant food bundles. From $5 box meals from KFC and Taco Bell, to McDonald’s 40 piece nuggets, to complete meal deals from KFC, this platform demonstrates consumer value by emphasizing the amount of food the consumer gets.
4. Brand Relevance Platform: While every marketing effort should feel well branded, this platform is about ads dedicated to building the big brand and demonstrating its consumer relevance in a way that transcends the food. Examples include Subway’s use of Olympic athletes, McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ it” campaign and the provocative Paris Hilton ads for Carl’s Junior.
5. Added Value Platform: We call this the Added Value Platform because it emphasizes what you get in addition to the food. The most common examples here are kid’s meal toys and contests like Monopoly from McDonald’s. While not every brand uses Added Value initiatives, when used correctly it can be a good way to build traffic around a day-part, boost sales of core products or capture seasonal business.
QSR Marketing Benchmarks Now that we have identified the key platforms that drive marketing in the category, let’s get back to the first question. How much promotion should each of these platforms get? Is one platform more important than the others in terms of driving sales success? Is there an ideal mix of platform support that a brand should pursue over the course of a year?
The first thing we need to do to answer this question is to separate the sales leaders from the laggards. During the period we studied, McDonald’s and Subway have proven to be the category sales leaders in terms of long term growth. Only in the last two years has McDonald’s struggled (more on this in future posts). Since 2009, Subway has grown 21% and McDonald’s 15%. During the same time period, KFC and Burger King had negative growth. KFC was down -9% and Burger King was down -5%.
The next question to ask is what benchmarks can be derived from studying the marketing behavior of these sales growth leaders and laggards? How do they go to market with respect to these 5 marketing platforms? It turns out that both McDonald’s and Subway go to market in much the same way. And, in a much different way than KFC and Burger King.
The Sales Leaders For these two brands, the lion’s share of the communication (33%) fell under the Taste/Quality platform. These brands seem to recognize that selling the quality or taste of the food is the most important thing to do. The next most important initiative was Price Value. Twenty-two percent of all communications was related to price. While Taste/Quality and Price Value seem to be the dominate initiatives, 18% of all communication was dedicated to creating Brand Relevance through dedicated brand advertising. The Bundled Meal Platform was the next most important initiative with 17% of communications related to this category. And finally, just 11% was about promoting Added Value offerings.
The Sales Laggards Not surprisingly, the marketing profiles of KFC and Burger King look very different from these leaders and very different from each other. In the case of KFC, only 12% of their efforts went towards Taste/Quality. In contrast, KFC seems to spend most of their efforts promoting Value initiatives. Specifically, 35% of their effort went to Price Value and another 29% went to Bundled Meal deals. Together, that is 64% of their marketing effort going toward Value and the expense of Taste/Quality. Twenty-three percent of their ads were dedicated to Brand Relevance.
Burger King has been all about promoting Added Value initiatives. A whopping 28% of their efforts was in this area. This is more than double the promotions levels that Subway & McDonald’s did. Like KFC, Burger King did not support Taste/Quality to the same level as McDonald’s & Subway. Only 21% of BKs efforts went toward this platform. BKs support for Brand Relevance and Price Value was on par with McDonald’s & Subway.
QSR Marketing Best Practice? So, what can we learn from this analysis? First, we learn that taste and/or quality focused marketing communications seems to be a key to sales success. For a brand to be successful, it must continue to appeal to the appetites of its customers. Whether it be introducing exciting new tastes & textures, finding appetizing ways to sell the old favorites, highlighting better for you options or articulating quality preparation methods, smart brands will put the Taste/Quality of the food front and center. KFC and Burger King don’t seem to subscribe to this point of view! Brands would be wise to dedicate approximately one-third of their marketing efforts to promoting Taste/Quality.
But, that’s not the only thing that matters. While Taste/Quality should come first, promoting Price Value (e.g. Dollar Menu items and LTO price offers) is also important. With the encroachment of Fast Casual, on Fast Food’s turf, it is a good idea to reinforce QSR’s Price Value advantage over Fast Casual and appeal to the needs of price sensitive fast food eaters. However, too much Price Value advertising can be counter-productive (more on this in a future post). For example, KFC’s attempt to hang their marketing hat on Value promotions does not appear to be working. It seems reasonable to keep these efforts in the 20-25% range, but nothing higher.
The importance of Bundled Value seems unclear. Subway and McDonald’s have done a little of it, KFC has done a lot of it, and Burger King has done none of it. Still, it seems true that traditional combo meals are being reinvented as box meals, party boxes and home meal replacement with an emphasis on abundance. The notion of getting a whole lot of food for not a lot of money has proven successful. Targeting “big eaters” with compelling Bundled Meal solutions seems like a good idea and keeping these promotions to around 15% or less seems about right.
Perhaps the most overlooked and controversial part of most QSR brand’s marketing mix is dedicated brand advertising. Ad Agencies often say that brand advertising should be first on the list and Clients often want to put it last. Turns out they may be both right. This analysis suggests that a significant effort toward promoting brand relevance is important to sales success, but is not the only thing. Whether it’s a big advertising campaign like “I’m Lovin It” from McDonald’s or a clever tie in with The Biggest Loser for Subway, QSR brands need to find a way to build brand relevance at a level that transcends the food. But this works only if there is sufficient Taste/Quality promotions in place. So, dedicating 20% of your marketing effort toward the big brand does not seem excessive.
Finally, this study seems to suggest that a small amount of good old fashioned sales promotion tactics (e.g. Monopoly from McDonald’s) can help drive sales during slow periods, breathe new life into core products or help steal transactions from competitors during the busy months. Done correctly, it can also add value to the brand. If giveaways and contests feel right for your brand, then by all means do them. But do them sparingly with no more than 10% of your efforts going in this direction.
Concluding thoughts So, what do you think of this assessment? Does it fit your brands marketing model? Are these “best practices” worth pursuing?
Our view is that this model is a good starting place, but does not explain all that QSR marketers need to know to be successful. While it is important, there is more to QSR sales success than a well-managed promotional calendar. For example, we have not yet discussed the importance of consumer insight and role of innovation. Even within each of the 5 platforms, there is much knowledge that can be shared. It’s one thing to identify Taste/Quality as an important platform, it is quite another to know how to execute effectively within that area.
My next posts will try to put more meat on these bones (pardon the pun) as I will analyze McDonald’s to figure out what has gone wrong. I’ll also look at super successful brands like Chic-fil-A – a brand that has grown 42% since 2009- to show what makes them successful?
In the meantime, if you would like some help getting your brand on track or would like to learn more about our competitive analysis services, please send us an email or give us a call. We would love to hear from you.
Most people see a beverage as well… a beverage. They see it as something consumers buy to quench a thirst, satisfy a taste desire, or deliver a health benefit. While this view is true and important, it does not fully explain the unique role that beverages play in consumer’s lives. Our success in the beverage world has taught us that a beverage is more than a drink; a beverage is a cultural marker imbued with meaning. Meaning that consumers consume as eagerly as the liquid itself.
How do we create value?
The conventional view of consumer behavior is that consumers are utility maximizing machines whose purchase behavior is based only on satisfying a need. However, our experience in the beverage world has taught us that beverage advertising is not as much about satisfying a need as it is about demonstrating the cultural significance of a brand.
In fact, we believe beverages sit at the intersection of culture and consumption. Sure, consumers use beverages to quench their thirst, but they also use beverage brands to have a sip of popular culture. In turn, this helps them construct their sense of self, their world and their view of the world around them. This is how we create sustainable brand value.
How do we create meaning?
You know the old saying; “tell the truth and the truth shall set you free. Well, it turns out this is a fitting metaphor for how we approach communications. We think the best creative ideas are based on consumer truths. Not contrived product demonstrations, but real truths plucked from the fabric of contemporary culture that show consumers how the brand fits into their life. In beverage advertising, the cultural context is everything. In fact, we would go so far as to say that popular culture is played out in a beverage. For a beverage is not just as beverage; a beverage is culture in a can.
Here's a thought: The branding game has changed so much that the concept of brand integration is no longer a useful way to approach branding, at least with regard to media selection. In today's new-media landscape, brand integration is just a far too-simple, old-school concept.
It's time to rethink things.
I'm not suggesting we abandon integration principles. I'm suggesting we replace the concept of brand integration with a more contemporary concept I call "brand holism."
It's true that the emergence of new media has provided more opportunities to deliver a brand message in new and interesting places. On the surface, this is a good thing. (It's hard to argue that consistency and ubiquity are bad things.) But all we're doing with new media is adding boxes to the same old-media flow chart. We can do better.
We have the opportunity to do much more for our brands. We can be smarter about the opportunities inherent in each medium and their ability to add dimension to brands and intensify the relationships with consumers. It's no longer good enough to simply align the different parts of the media mix around one objective; we should ask the parts to work toward different objectives that support the whole. We should not be looking to make everything match. We should be looking at how the different parts complement one another and create a greater whole.
Yes, it is still important to be single-minded, but single-minded doesn't mean we have to be narrow-minded. Today we have the ability to think wide and deep at the same time. As traditional media planning gives way to connections planning, we can see that there are many things we can do for our brands to make them more "whole"; things that were difficult or impossible to do just a short time ago.
For example, today we can: Narrowcast messages to targets that could not be reached effectively before. Thanks in large part to the Internet, we can now create more complex communication strategies and narrowcast them to multiple target audiences at once.
Create engaging media experiences that help form brand expectations. If it's true that the medium is the message, then it follows that the media experience is the brand. We should use new-media opportunities in ways that convey or contribute to the overall brand experience and define who we are through actions rather than just words.
Connect users and develop communities that will create and propagate brand advocates. We are all hardwired to want to connect with people and belong to something. Today, we can easily connect with our most passionate fans and give them elevated access to the brand via privileged information, special offers, VIP status, etc. Through these communities, we can turn users into loyalists and loyalists into advocates.
Foster real-time conversations with consumers. We can use social media to establish mutually respectful and transparent two-way dialog with our customers.
The rewards will be deeper consumer insights that could lead to more relevant products and services, enhanced credibility and greater satisfaction among consumers.
Provide new and interesting context that heightens brand relevancy and deepens brand meaning. We can use new-media opportunities such as branded content to help brands become more culturally relevant and flush with cultural capital. Consumers can come to know our brands not only by the messages we send, but by the places we've been.
The point of brand holism is to no longer look at media as simply a way to deliver messages. We should use media in a complementary way that delivers greater value to the brand and to the consumer. In other words, use media to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. That's the kind of ROI I'd like to see.
My experience with legacy brands such as Kikkoman, Beringer Wines and KFC has taught me that employing the past to work for the future is not as simple as it may seem. For example, any discussion about marketing a brand’s past, revolves around concepts like history, heritage and nostalgia. However, these concepts are related, but not the same. You can have history without heritage, but you can’t have heritage without history. And nostalgia is when you allow your future to be eclipsed by the past. Further, the only concept that should matter is heritage. Let me explain.
A brand’s history is really just a collection of the facts. It is literally the story of the brand. This is good stuff, but on its own, history does not have that much marketing firepower. With the exception of History Channel devotes, the average American doesn’t take well to history lessons. So, brands that market their history risk boring consumers to death and missing an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. A brand’s history is only relevant to the extent that it support a bigger construct; brand heritage.
If a brand’s history is the story, then a brand’s heritage is the moral. And, as our mothers’ taught us, this is the important part. Heritage is the enduring, attitudes, beliefs and values that transcend the history and instructs us how to make sense of the present. If the history provides the facts, then heritage provides the meaning.
Take KFC for example. It has been making chicken for over 50 years, but its heritage is more than chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken’s heritage is about down home cooking, family gatherings and southern hospitality. This is how the brand has and will continue to fit into our lives over time. People could care less that the KFC was the first Fried Chicken Franchisor. People do care that Kentucky Fried Chicken has the culture of the south running through its blood.
Of course, none of this would matter if brand heritage didn’t provide a competitive advantage. In terms of human psychology, heritage satisfies a real psychological need. For some reason, it’s important for us to know the “roots” of the people we seek relationships with. This is information we use to make decisions about who we are and who we want to be. We are, they say, the company we keep. The same psychology applies to brand decisions. Knowing something about a brand’s heritage helps us feel confident about our brand choice. There is something confidence inspiring about the self-possession of a brand with a strong heritage.
But, I’m not suggesting brands “go retro.” Brands that go down the retro path often fall into what I call the nostalgia trap at the end. While “remember when” marketing may produce some short-term success, in the long run it’s likely to amount to a fun trip down memory lane that is quickly forgotten. Or worse, this approach could have been seen as a kind of arrested brand development analogous to the high school football star desperate to relive the glory days. Brands that let their past eclipse the present emit a sense of desperation that pushes them even further into irrelevancy.
In the end, the difference between marketing at the history, nostalgia and heritage level is the different between reliving the past and being inspired by it. To successfully leverage your brand’s past you have to rise above its history and understand the heritage that the history has created. Look not for the facts, look for the enduring attitudes, beliefs and values that have guided your product, process or people over time. This is the intangible stuff that guides consumer choice. Then look to the future to determine what parts of this heritage have meaning for today. Only then will you be able to tread on memory lane without tripping.