Business - August 31, 2017

Chick-fil-A’s Free Breakfast Promo Tries to Catch Up with Competitors

Chick-fil-A has pulled off major marketing promotions before, like the 13 times (so far) it asked people to show up in cow outfits to get an entrée, gratis. The chain’s new free food promo is a lot easier: download the phone app to get a breakfast. It’s certainly better press than getting into hot water over gay marriage.

Before I get into the business aspects of it all, let’s cover the practicalities so those of you who are looking for a morning meal can get on with it. The Chick-fil-A announcement says that people who already have the app, first available in June, or who download it now, can get one of three different breakfast items through September 30, 2017.

The app offers the ability to order ahead to skip the line (although there might be another line for pick-ups, if it’s popular), get new ways to customize meals, pay through the app, and earn free stuff over time.

Why the promotion now?

All this raises an interesting question. If they made the app available in June, why wait until now to offer a freebie for downloading or having the app? One strong possibility is that Chick-fil-A wanted time to work out the bugs with the app. You can only do that through seeing how it works when used by many people on a variety of different devices and on different mobile networks.

That’s true for any app from what I’ve heard over the years speaking to many companies and app developers. Once the kinks are ironed out a bit is when you consider a promotion, so you don’t underscore a situation where you might get negative reactions via social or conventional media. Who at a company would want the story to be, “Crap App Zaps Promo”.

There’s also the back-to-school timing, where people are more focused on getting things done. It seems like a natural time for marketers to look for attention.

More on the negative side, though, Chick-fil-A is incredibly late to the app game. How long have such companies as Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and others had apps that let people order ahead, pay, and even accumulate points for free food. Plus, some give advanced notice of and access to new items. Plenty of food companies have offered freebies to download their apps: Dairy Queen, Panera Break, Chili’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and plenty of others.

Competitors are ahead

Chick-fil-A is playing catch-up at this point. The company boasts of this promotion being a thank you for customers making its app “one of the top downloaded” during the June launch. Chick-fil-A has a big and loyal customer base. Of course it was going to get a lot of downloads. But competitors have had their apps out much longer.

In addition, this isn’t its first app. It had a different app promotion in 2016 for a previous version, according to a report and analysis by SurveyMonkey Intelligence, which collects usage metrics for apps. An 11-day campaign resulted in 3.4 million total downloads. However, while one of the top three at the time in downloads (Starbucks and McDonald’s were the other two), it was well below both in the number of days per month of use. From that standpoint, out of the top ten quick-serve restaurant apps, the Chick-fil-A app was seventh in terms of the amount of usage.

The issue is the way consumers use apps. Many will download new ones, but relatively few get put on a home page or used on any frequent basis. Chick-fil-A has to break through existing customer habits and get people to give them “appshare,” the mobile tech equivalent of mindshare.

The launch of a new app, rather than the continuous improvement of an original one, and the additional promotion suggests that things didn’t go as well as expected before, with the lack of appshare the likely major issue.

Consumers might get a good deal for the download with this new promotion. We’ll have to see if Chick-fil-A does as well.

CREDIT: Getty Images

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