Quick-service brands are increasingly developing mobile applications that offer more than just ordering capabilities in an effort to develop brand engagement and, ideally, drive traffic and sales in restaurants.
In general, mobile app development is a smart strategy for quick-service restaurants seeking engagement and conversions because that's where many of their customers are spending time, according to Chris Miller, executive vice president at foodservice market research firm Sandelman & Associates.
Forty-four percent of quick-service restaurant users have a smartphone, he noted, adding that 36 percent of people aged 16 to 34 who frequent quick-service restaurants spend 15 hours or more on their smartphone every week.
“The important thing to note is not only that heavy QSR users are more likely to own a smartphone, but they’re more likely to spend time on it,” Miller said. “It’s definitely a way chains can get engaged with their customers.”
Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner Inc., a technology research and advisory company, also noted that apps that involve features such as gaming and location-based services might help restaurant companies stay top-of-mind — an important factor in brand development. “A large part of the [apps] strategy is about engagement,” he said.
Here's a look at three such tactics that Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and McDonald’s are using to create effective and engaging mobile applications.
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In March, Burger King launched a promotion with ZeptoLab, the creator of the “Cut The Rope” mobile gaming app. The promotion offers exclusive toys and game levels featuring a candy-loving monster named Om Nom, the game’s key character.
During the promotion, new toys will be released each week, alongside all-new “Cut The Rope” game levels, Burger King said in a statement. When guests buy a Kids Meal, they get a toy and a custom code that unlocks the themed game.
“Partnering with an innovative company like ZeptoLab allows us to offer families exclusive digital content they can't get anywhere else,” said Burger King Worldwide’s executive vice president and global chief marketing officer, Flavia Faugeres, in a statement.
Similarly, in 2012, McDonald’s China developed a partnership with Rovio’s "Angry Birds." For the promotion, Rovio created special "Angry Birds" game power-ups that auto activated when customers “checked in” at McDonald’s restaurants, according to Vivian Zhang, spokeswoman for McDonald’s China.
One of the keys to the partnership — as with Burger King’s with ZeptoLab — was exclusive mobile game play. Customers had to “check in” from a McDonald’s restaurant to access the game.
“China is the second largest market for "Angry Birds" app downloads in the world, so it was a natural fit for us to partner with the most popular game and leading technology provider,” said Christine Xu, chief marketing officer for McDonald’s China in an email.
Both Burger King’s and McDonald’s China’s mobile apps hold marketing promise, said Gartner's Blau. Core to these apps is that the marketing starts in-store — with a purchase or check-in —and continues after the consumer leaves, he noted.
“It’s about bringing customers into the restaurant and putting the customer first,” he said.
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Domino’s Pizza has two mobile apps: one game called “Pizza Hero” and an app that allows consumers to order a pizza and then track its progress from the oven to their doorstep using the “Domino’s Tracker.”
“Pizza Hero” first debuted in November 2011. “That was more of an interactive pizza-making game specifically for iPad that was mostly an effort to simulate what it’s like to make a Domino’s pizza,” said Chris Brandon, a spokesman for the company.
After making the pizza on the app, guests can place an order for it at a local Domino’s unit, according to Brandon. “There’s also an additional element where you can actually apply for a job at one of our stores if you made a good pizza [on the app] and enjoyed it," he noted.
In June 2011, the company launched its ordering app for the iPhone, which is now also available on Android devices and Kindle Fire, he said. Customers have responded positively to the interactive app, Brandon noted.
So far, there have been more than 5.7 million downloads of Domino’s ordering app, and more than 600,000 “Pizza Hero” downloads.
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During the past year or so, 300,000 consumers have downloaded Krispy Kreme’s “Hot Light” app. The free app works by pinging customers when their local Krispy Kreme, or the store closest to them, has fresh doughnuts available.
“For us, the ‘Hot Light’ app was exactly what our consumers wanted,” said Dwayne Chambers, chief marketing officer at the company. “They always want to know when the doughnuts are hot.”
The app goes so far as to give traveling app users directions to the nearest store. It’s a way to directly drive conversions into Krispy Kreme stores.
“I’m just amazed,” Chambers said of the response to the app. The company has about 250 U.S. locations, he said, which makes the 300,000 domestic downloads impressive.
Krispy Kreme also doesn’t plan to other apps any time soon. “Most of our energy is going into the Hot Light app,” Chambers said. “You could come up with a doughnut game, but with games, people get bored and kind of move on. We have a practical app.”
That practical approach may make sense for some brands, according to Sandelman & Associates' Miller. Finding a restaurant is the No. 1 way quick-service consumers use their smartphones to engage with restaurants, he noted.
“While there’s clearly an opportunity to engage with your customers on smartphones, the most important thing you can do is to make your locations easy to find,” he said.
The Krispy Kreme app, he said, is a good example of this function —“combining both that location finder and updated, relevant information.”
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