Burger King is implementing “better testing protocols” to ensure its advertising and marketing initiatives are “well chosen and more impactful”, with the results of these new protocols to be seen in the back half of 2022.
The fast food chain has also been building “strong capabilities” within its new analytics and insights team, bringing “additional rigour” to all areas of the business, US and Canada president Tom Curtis said on a call with investors yesterday (15 February).
Curtis added Burger King has simultaneously been working on its brand positioning and how it builds relevance with all audiences.
“I won’t go into detail on that today, but I would note that we recently announced our decision to put our creative and accounts into review,” he said.
“Where we have the most opportunity is really redefining or defining who we are, [and] having a relevant and distinct voice.”
Burger King US saw a 1.8% year-on-year increase in comparable sales over the three months ending 31 December, a 340 basis point acceleration from the third quarter when sales declined 1.6%.
“This was driven primarily by the impact of simple, more powerful messaging around our key core platform initiatives for the quarter, as well as increases in both delivery and digital sales,” Curtis explained.
We’ll be focusing on our core, on The Whopper, flame-grilling, having it your way. Those are really the things that made us great and the things that will make us great going forwards.
Tom Curtis, Burger King
Curtis’s statements follow those made in October by José Cil, CEO of Burger King’s parent company Restaurant Brands International (RBI), who said the chain was working on a plan to reclaim market share and get the Burger King brand on track for long-term sustainable growth.
Cil outlined how the brand intended to make its marketing communications and media planning in the US more “thoughtful” and “consistent”, in order to better communicate its value proposition.
“For years, we’ve been spreading ourselves too thin across too many messages with mixed results. In fact, historically, we’ve consistently had the most value constructs in the market – three times as many as our lead competitors – which diluted our marketing firepower, and added to operational complexity,” he said.
Marketers praise Burger King but McDonald’s is more deserving
Burger King was the most awarded advertising client globally in 2021, according to the World Creative Rankings. The fast-food giant’s marketing strategy has included regularly goading its main competitors through high profile stunts and social media campaigns, with ads such as the ‘Mouldy Whopper’ and the ‘Whopper Detour’.
However, as Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson pointed out in his top 10 marketing moments of 2021, in 2020 the brand lost 5% of sales.
The “less loved” but more effective work of McDonald’s and Wendy’s maintained sales, Ritson said, with Wendy’s replacing Burger King as the number two burger chain in the US despite having hundreds fewer restaurants.
Digitalisation and a Whopper push
The third quarter also saw Burger King ramp up development of its digital capabilities, having previously said this will be “critical” to its restaurants.
Global digital sales across the entire RBI business, which also includes restaurant brands Tim Hortons, Popeyes and Firehouse Subs, grew over 65% in 2021 to $10bn (£7.4bn). The company attributed this improvement to delivery growth, an increase in mobile order and pay, and continued traction from its ‘Royal Perks’ loyalty scheme.
Technology remains a “key pillar” for the long-term strategy as it looks to create an “even more convenient and seamless experience for guests”. RBI has therefore added approximately 300 team members in the last three years across its consumer facing, restaurant technology and data analytics teams.
In the US and Canada, Burger King completed the rollout and utilisation of its outdoor digital menu boards, which over 70% of guests now use to make their orders. The business plans to equip 100% of its drive-throughs in those regions with these boards by mid-2022.
As the brand continues to expand its loyalty programme, it expects to see “synergies” from integrating loyalty into these digital boards, Curtis said.Burger King sharpens focus on digital for ‘sustainable growth’
“There’s no doubt [with] everything that I’ve seen at Burger King that we have a lot of opportunities to make it easier for guests to order from us online with way fewer clicks to complete an order and a consistent, easy-to-enjoy pickup experience,” he added.
Other changes made over the quarter include the first in two waves of menu simplification, in which low-volume items were removed so team members could focus on the most popular products. The first wave had “no material impact” on comparable sales.
“We are confident that the improved execution we’re starting to see will drive guest retention and frequency for our restaurants,” Curtis said.
The restaurant chain plans to focus on its “iconic” brand equities and assets, starting with a “more purposeful” highlight on what has differentiated the business over the past few decades – flame grilling and “having it your way”.
The business’s strongest brand equity, however, is The Whopper, which Curtis said is itself a multibillion-dollar brand.
“We need to treat it as such,” he said, promising new extensions and innovations around the brand, some of which have already “proven winners” in international markets.
“We’ll be focusing on our core, on The Whopper, flame-grilling, having it your way. Those are really the things that made us great and the things that will make us great going forwards. [It’ll be about] focusing on those things and doing it in a simplified way.”The Fernando Machado effect: Analysing Burger King’s brand health journey
Meanwhile, Curtis said another key priority for Burger King US and Canada now is to establish a strong value menu that will drive incremental traffic, as value “remains important” to customers.
Internationally, Burger King grew its comparable sales 19.4% over the third quarter versus 2019, a 320 basis point sequential acceleration. The international business comprised nearly 60% of the brand’s global sales in the quarter.
Plant-based products continue to be an important sales driver in Europe. RBI CEO Cil reported plant-based product “incidents” doubled in Europe over the quarter amid new product launches, such as the veggie version of Burger King’s Long Chicken burger.
There has also been a change of personnel to contend with. Last month, Burger King CMO Ellie Doty departed the brand after less than two years, having joined the fast-food chain in June 2020 to head up all marketing activities across the US and Canada.
Reporting directly to the president of Burger King North America, Doty had responsibility for $400m (£295m) of spend across digital marketing, food innovation, culinary, category strategy, media, insights, analytics and communications. Under her watch the business focused on shifting to an “insight-led mentality”, focused on “fewer, bigger, bolder actions to drive long-term outcomes”.