Starbucks leads in forging emotional connections among fast food brands, study says

Dive Brief:

  • Starbucks ranks as the most intimate fast food brand, according to results of the MBLM Brand Intimacy 2020 Study revealed in a press release. Brand intimacy examines how consumers emotionally bond with their favorite brands.
  • Chick-fil-A comes in at No. 2 and McDonald’s No. 3. on the list. Dunkin’, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Domino’s and Pizza Hut rounded out the top 10 fast food brands on the list. The fast food industry ranked sixth out of the 15 industries studied for the report, with an average Brand Intimacy Quotient of 32.1, just above the cross-industry average of 31. The report is based on a survey of 6,200 conducted in 2019.
  • MBLM augmented the research with social listening research during the week of June 15 for the top five brands and found that Starbucks’ strong emotional connection remained; Chick-fil-A received mixed reviews; McDonald’s was viewed as caring more about profits than employees; Dunkin’s pandemic response had people talking; and Subway received mixed consumer mentions.

Dive Insight:

While MBLM’s report is based on a survey conducted before the pandemic, the agency says in the press release that brand intimacy has become more important during the health crisis as brands adjust how they connect with consumers and that positive emotions can support performance during crises as brand intimacy helps consumers feel connected and pampered even in challenging times.

However, the impact of positive emotions on performance has been mixed during a crisis that has had an unprecedented impact on the QSR space, with many locations forced to close and companies having to quickly ramp up takeout and delivery offerings. Some companies saw growth while others faced challenges as the crisis sent consumers into lockdown.

Starbucks was the top brand in the industry for millennials, people over 35 years old and among men. MBLM’s social listening research suggests the positive emotions have continued during the pandemic. But while Starbucks may have earned fans’ love with the highest ranking status of brand intimacy, the chain lost $3.2 billion during its fiscal third quarter, which it attributed directly to the pandemic, CNBC reports.

McDonald’s, also high on the brand intimacy list, suffered revenue losses as well. Pizza Hut has also struggled, with its largest franchisee NPC International Inc. filing for bankruptcy due to shutdowns.

Some QSRs have fared better, in part because they were among the only restaurants to remain open during the pandemic because of their established takeout and delivery infrastructure, leading to a spike in sales and the need to hire more workers. Domino’s, for instance, benefited from lockdowns as housebound consumers ordered more from the chain while they could not go out. The company saw comparable-store sales increase more than 20% in April and May, and its stock was up 26% for 2020 as of July, MBLM reported. Even as restaurants in general were hit hard, Domino’s association with home delivery helped the company thrive. Domino’s hired 10,000 workers to meet the demand and recently kicked off a campaign targeting couples whose weddings have been canceled.

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