QSRs brainstorm next-generation in-store engagement tactics to gain competitive edge
With quick service restaurant chains trying harder than ever to fuel in-store foot traffic and sales, next-generation customer engagement strategies will likely see brands leverage multiple mobile technologies, such as portable chargers for smartphones and virtual reality headset packaging.
Mobile is continuing to cement its status as a gateway tool for QSR chains to leverage as they ramp up to entice more individuals to visit their bricks-and-mortar locations. With brands including McDonald’s rolling out VR headsets that can be created from Happy Meal packaging and KFC meal boxes that charge diners’ smartphones, other food and beverage marketers would be well-suited to brainstorm their own future customer engagement tactics – which will need to be injected with a heavy dose of mobile technology.
“Digital – mobile in particular – is completely transforming QSR businesses, from all sides,” said Michael Becker, managing partner at mCordis. “According to RetailMeNot, one in four U.S. consumers has at least one restaurant app on their phone. Panera, Domino’s, Chili’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, Wingstop and countless others are transforming their businesses to be of service to the connected individual.
“We will see many innovations from all layers of the industry that will revolutionize the restaurant experience and to help people manage their digital devices, including helping us keep our devices charged,” he said. “For example, Starbucks and McDonald’s have installed contactless chargers in tables in some of their stores for quite some time; others have installed charging towers, and now KFC is piloting a charging box.
“In addition to seeing ongoing experimentation, we’ll also see improvements in battery storage and other innovations like the ability to capture kinetic energy from movement and the friction in clothing to help keep our devices charged.”
Constant brand innovations
A slew of major fast-food chains have recently experimented with leveraging the newest mobile technologies in an attempt to drive consumers into their restaurants.
McDonald’s added a new spin to its Happy Meal by enabling customers in Sweden to download a complementary mobile application and turn the packaging into a virtual reality viewer, underscoring the fast food chain’s desire to build relationships with younger consumers (see story).
Additionally, the Big Mac marketer ramped up anticipation for The Angry Birds Movie’s May premiere by enabling customers to scan codes on various products to uncover an exclusive augmented reality game that brought the film to life on their mobile devices (see story).
Meanwhile, KFC recently introduced its “Watt a Box,” a smartphone-charging meal box, to Indian markets, enabling diners to take advantage of the item’s power bank and two USB ports.
While the box is only available in two Indian cities, Mumbai and Delhi, KFC is allowing Facebook users to enter a contest to win one for themselves.
These types of in-store activations have the wherewithal to garner considerable amounts of press and social media buzz, and also convince more consumers to stop by at a restaurant and experience the novelty of a VR headset or charging port made from a meal box.
“VR will undeniably play a large role in the way we consume content and engage with brands in the future, so McDonald’s is already acclimating customers to that interaction type with its VR Happy Meal,” said James McNally, senior manager of business development at Prolific Interactive. “QSR customers live in a digitally-augmented world, and it’s only common sense to meet your consumer where they are, and engage with them through their mediums/channels of choice.
“I doubt the phone-charging KFC box is going to set off a trend, but smart QSR brands would do well to position themselves as a digital ‘friend’ to their consumers, whether through content or devices or experiences.”
Opportunities and challenges
One major challenge for QSRs rolling out mobile-enabled items to build up sales is the potential loss of product value once consumers leave the restaurant. A smartphone charging box may be useful to a customer with a dying smartphone in a KFC location, but the box will likely not be regularly used in the future.
Moreover, consumers will not carry the box around with them whenever they are out and about.
These types of conundrums lend credence to the notion that product giveaways are better leveraged as buzzworthy events instead of utility-driven ones.
On the other hand, by placing a bigger emphasis on interactive in-store experiences – whether it be with VR content or portable chargers – QSRs will be able to foster more conversational relationships with customers, thereby garnering more relevancy in conversations surrounding the digital space, per Mr. McNally.
“Putting charging into packing is a great public relations event,” mCordis’ Mr. Becker said. “It creates an opportunity to elicit feedback from people and generate consumer insight. It does raise many business model questions around how one might fund a project like this at scale.
“For example, a business should look at how the cost can be covered within the tight margins that already exist within QSR products,” he said. “Also, managers will have to address what to do if someone’s device is not compatible with the provided charging cables and how the store provides customer support if there are problems (and there will always be problems).
“Finally, they should look at the environmental issues that may arise from producing more cables, more batteries, in a disposable format? How will these boxes be recycled? Addressing these and related issues create ample opportunities for innovation as we strive to be of service to the people we serve.”