Many of the largest quick-service restaurant chains maintained favorable consumer brand perceptions in the first half of 2011, with Subway garnering the highest “buzz score” and Chipotle boasting the largest year-to-year growth in positive perception, according to a new survey.
The latest report from consumer research firm YouGov BrandIndex shows the top 10 highest-ranked quick-service restaurant chains, including Subway, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A, based on one-question consumer brand surveys. The New York-based firm calculates what it calls “buzz scores” by surveying 5,000 people each weekday and asking whether they have heard anything positive or negative about a brand. The firm subtracts the number of negative responses from the number of positive ones and finds a score. The score’s moving average ranges from positive 100 to negative 100, with zero representing equally positive and negative feedback.
Looking at January through June of this year, the highest-ranked brands in quick service were:
Each brand maintained a positive perception ranking with Subway ahead of the group at 41.9, and Chipotle rounding out the top 10 with a score of 9.8.
Ted Marzilli, senior vice president of YouGov BrandIndex, surmised that Subway’s large lead in buzz scores over the rest of the pack likely results from “heavy advertising, large scale and the fact that they’re somewhat differentiated from most of the other QSRs.”
He did note that scale may have played a larger role than Subway’s positioning as a healthful or fresh alterative to quick-service fare.
“If there were something about fresh food fast being the differentiator, I’d expect to see Chipotle and Quiznos up near the top, too,” Marzilli said. “Chipotle and Quiznos are in the same ballpark, but don’t have the same perception … Subway also spends a lot of money on advertising. Scale plays a role, as one thing that gives Subway an advantage is that it now has the largest number of stores in the country.”
Chipotle ranked No. 1 in terms of largest improvement in buzz score compared with the first half of 2010, improving from 8.8 a year earlier to 9.8 in 2011.
The top 10 most improved year-to-year perception scores for the first half of 2011 were:
While improved, even the leader, Chipotle, saw just a one-point uptick in year-to-year scores, which, according to Marzilli, speaks to the quick-service segment’s steady marketing success during the downturn.
“QSRs hit a sweet spot for people who were trading down at the start of the financial crisis, stepping up their advertising and rolling out new products, and they had a great run,” he said. “Maybe people are trading back up. There are more brands competing for consumers’ attention, so maybe now it’s harder to break through the clutter. It’s hard to continue that run forever.”