- Chick-fil-A led quick-serve restaurant (QSR) brands in consumer word of mouth and social media conversations over the past six months, followed by Papa John's, Domino's, Starbucks and Panera Bread, according to a study from Engagement Labs made available to Marketing Dive. Chipotle, Taco Bell, Wendy's and In-N-Out all made their debut in the top 10 as well. Engagement Labs uses a TotalSocial scoring in its research, which combines social media listening metrics with ongoing measurement of offline word-of-mouth.
- Chick-fil-A took over the top spot from Starbucks in the six-month update — the last ranking was released in March — and improved its sentiment with consumers, along with posting strong volume scores, meaning people were talking about the brand more often and more positively. Engagement Labs suggested that some of that might stem from the brand's effort to avoid taking controversial stances.
- Engagement Labs also highlighted the declining conversation around Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, the two leading coffee brands: "In the case of Dunkin' Donuts, the company saw a decline in its sentiment scores, which is a concern because our predictive analytics show that sentiment is an important driver of future sales," Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs, said in a statement. "Meanwhile, Starbucks dropped in the ranking due to a decline in its brand sharing scores, demonstrating that consumers are sharing less of the coffee chain's content online, while also talking less about its marketing or advertising in offline conversations."
The QSR category has been a tightly competitive one for decades, but the drop in stature for both Dunkin' and Starbucks is surprising given that the two are frequently cited as having innovative marketing strategies, namely when it comes to mobile. Both have been leaders in building out their business and driving loyalty with the channel through branded apps and mobile ordering, but others in the space have quickly caught up in recognition of the amount of time consumers spend on their smartphones.
Chick-fil-A, in particular, has started to see a lot of success with its Chick-fil-A One app, which has driven sales conversions this year by adding more payments options. Beyond its business successes, Chick-Fil-A boosting positive chatter both on- and offline is interesting for a brand that's proven controversial in the past, including through comments made from its CEO opposing same-sex marriage.
Keeping the brand largely removed from politics and such stances has clearly been a benefit this year, and runs against the type of strategy enacted by Starbucks, which is known for championing progressive messaging in its marketing (a current holiday campaign features a same-sex couple, for example). Starbucks's frequently liberal-leaning messaging has led to some backlash that potentially affected its placement, especially in a year as sharply-divided as 2017.
Other examples of brands that upped their games in Engagement Labs's list include Wendy's, which increased online sentiment and volume in part by leveraging the viral #NuggsForCarter tweet and by reworking its social media strategy. In-N-Out Burger leaped into the ninth spot from 19 largely based on offline sentiment, transforming itself from what Engagement Labs deems a "Whisper Brand" into a "Word of Mouth Maven," creating more impactful face-to-face conversations.