In 2018, Gen Z made 14.6 billion restaurant visits, accounting for a quarter of all the food industry traffic. The young generation’s preferences have inspired quick service restaurants (QSRs) as well as food and beverage brands to refine their offerings, experiences and loyalty programs.
So where does influencer marketing fit into QSR marketing strategy? Nearly three-quarters of all Gen Z and millennials follow influencers on social media and half of millennials say they trust influencers to give good advice about the brands and products they’re promoting. Gen Z trust, coupled with the fact that the demographic spend an estimated $143 billion a year makes it easy to understand why food and beverage companies are partnering with influencers. Ahead we examine how influencers’ roles in food marketing differ from that of beauty and gaming, and the best practices for QSR influencer marketing.
There are several ways a QSR or food brand can leverage influencers. The first is a sponsored social media post. In the case of Chipotle, the fast food giant turned to video content in 2019 when it partnered with YouTuber David Dobrik for a National Burrito Day challenge on TikTok, dubbed #ChipotleLidFlip. The six-day campaign was inspired by a video of a Chipotle employee that went viral. Dobrik recreated the video, which shows himself flipping the lid on a Chipotle burrito bowl container, then challenged TikTok users to create their own versions. The result was 110,000 submissions with the hashtag attracting over 230 million views in one month.
“The target audience for food-related campaigns tend to be more broad than other categories. While this gives a brand a larger pool of influencers to work with, it can make it more difficult to scale down to the specific ones that are most relevant to a campaign,” says David Neuman, head of influencer strategy at RhythmOne.
Neuman recommends identifying those who are already posting about the brand organically, and if they meet other criteria–like being brand safe, showing high engagement rates or high-quality content–add them to a list of potential influencers to activate for the program.
QSR and food and beverage brands are also engaging sponsored influencer posts with the budget-friendly approach of using nano- and micro-influencers. Wellness and food influencer and holistic nutritionist Remy Morimoto, who goes by “veggiekins” and has 113,000 followers, posted this picture detailing how a turmeric glow superfood latte mix from Pukka Herbs helps her stay healthy during her busy travel schedule. Though it doesn’t feature the product front and center, the vivid post shows an energized Remy in her kitchen holding a cat mug that would appeal to most Gen Z. Morimoto’s caption drives the sponsored post home as it details her tips for boosting the immune system, a natural Pukka Herbs tie-in.
The key takeaway for marketers here is providing your influencer with a campaign brief that encourages them to create content aligned with a brand’s voice. This helps generate more engagement, and when executed organically, will win over Gen Z and millennials, who appreciate when influencers appear authentic and genuine.
Additional roles influencers can play in a food marketing strategy include hosting an interactive in-store experience, becoming a brand ambassador or reviewing a product or dining experience via their website or blog.
“We’ve seen many food-related brands (and other verticals too) migrate away from one-off campaigns to brand ambassador programs. Leveraging a smaller pool of influencers throughout an entire year will provide more credibility around their usage of the product and will help to build an ongoing rapport with their followers. It’s also a great way for influencers to showcase the many use cases of going to a QSR–breakfast, lunch, dinner, celebrating moments, a quick meal, trying a new product and more,” says Neuman.
Neuman recalls partnering with a major QSR brand on an influencer program that involved five mom influencers attending an interactive NYC pop-up—designed by interior designer Nate Berkus—to test various items on the QSR’s new menu. With the new products front and center, the activation drove significant awareness and engagement around the brand and campaign, which ultimately saw an earned media value (EMV) or return on investment (ROI) of $22 for every $1 spent. In terms of measurement, QSRs should focus on targeting how influencers drive in-store visitation.
According to Neuman, another successful tactic is demonstrating value through promotion pushes or limited time offers. Incorporating multiple use cases in a single campaign, like going to a QSR to celebrate a family milestone or promoting the QSR as a destination for a quick yet high-quality meal, is another best practice Neuman suggests following.
Though QSR and food influencer marketing methods seem straightforward, like every vertical, there can be pitfalls to social content. “One challenge is ensuring that the food being made for the influencer puts the brand in the best light. Fast food brands can easily overcome this when creating a TV commercial, but when an influencer goes in-store and gets a sandwich on the fly, it might not always look as presentable as the brand wants it to be. We recommend keeping the store owner in the know about the campaign and coordinating the influencer’s exact arrival time to ensure everything is being made up to company standards and leads to content that puts the product in a positive light,” says Neuman.