Brand Drivers in QSR: All About the Experience

Brand Drivers in QSR: All About the Experience

New study highlights the sharp contrast between stated intent and actual drivers of brand choice in QSR

Lunch is about menu selection, familiarity and comfort; dinner is a chance to seek out new experiences

A new report by Catapult Marketing finds the experience-driven marketplace includes consumer selection of where to dine out. By using proprietary research methods to uncover the drivers of brand preference in the quick-service (QSR) and fast-casual restaurant industry, Catapult’s “Unmasking The Drivers of Brand Preference in QSR” sheds light on a variety of experiential factors that are likely to determine the winners in the category. For more information and to download the study, please visit

“The back and forth about ‘where to eat?’ isn’t a rational or functional conversation. There are deeper emotional layers that drive brand selection,” says Doug Molnar, VP, senior director of planning at Catapult.

A two-part research study isolated the stated intent of restaurant selection from the true drivers of brand choice. In phase one, a Catapult ShopperLab survey of over 1,000 U.S. consumers, revealed a pattern of selection driven largely by practical factors such as type of food, choice of cuisine, location and affordability. In phase two, a SolutionScan survey of over 2,000 diners, many of those factors fell to the wayside, replaced by a variety of influences related to the type of experience that diners were seeking.

“Universally, people claim that the primary drivers of restaurant selection are affordability, great tasting food and a satisfying meal,” Molnar explains. “But when we determine what actually drives brand preference, those attributes are replaced by factors such as offering traditional flavors and a home-made taste (for lunch), and seeking new food options or a trendy place (for dinner).”

Millennials Stand Out

The research revealed that diners in the Millennial and younger age groups are a complex target for restaurant marketers. On the one hand, these are particularly cost-conscious consumers, placing affordability at the top of the list of stated purchase intent. However, the SolutionScan survey revealed deeper experiential forces (e.g., seeking a trendy place to eat) driving the restaurant choices of Millennials.

“Millennials came of age in an experienced-based culture, so their expectations with regard to customer experiences are much higher than those of other groups, and that is part of what’s driving them to constantly try new things,” observes Brian Cohen, EVP, senior group director and head of digital integration at Catapult.

Cohen contends that QSR chains need to think about ways to dial up the “experience and experiment” factor in order to win over today’s younger consumers. That can be achieved through menu innovation or by making the order-ahead process more fun and expedient through an exciting new mobile program. QSR and Fast Casual chains can also look to the broader food industry for ideas — such as promoting healthier menu items — that will appeal to Millennial customers.

Key Takeaways for Marketers

The takeaway for the QSR and Fast Casual category is, put simply, it’s not just about the food. We live in an experience culture, and the dining out experience must live up to the standards that consumers have set in all aspects of their lives. With that in mind, here is a summary of the imperatives for marketers in the category:


  1. Offer quality food at a fair value.
  2. Move beyond functionality and connect to the unique emotions of the dining experience: It’s not just about the food.
  3. Introduce value-added content that enhances the overall customer experience.
  4. Spread innovation from product development to menu design to staff training up and down the organization.
  5. Add subliminal cues to nudge customers inside the restaurant: Atmosphere counts.

Catapult is a conversion marketing agency, where branding and buying are part of a total solution. We can do this because like any good agency, we understand consumers. But we also know what drives purchase behaviors, and the hard realities of retail and transactional channels, where brands must win. Our data-driven approach identifies the core, actionable insights that inspire brilliant creative with the power to convert consumers into shoppers, shoppers into buyers, and buyers into loyal advocates. Headquartered in Westport, CT, Catapult leverages the expertise of more than 350 employees across 12 offices located near the HQ offices of major retailers across the U.S., and globally.

Catapult is an independent subsidiary of Epsilon. Visit us at, LinkedIn, follow us on Twitter @CatapultMktg or call 1.203.682.4000.