QSRWeb profiles how BrandIndex tracks consumer perception data for dining chains

>Branding & Franchising

BrandIndex offers insight into consumer perception
Christa Hoyland

23 Sep 2009

Regional chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's and their 3,100 stores wouldn't seem like much of a threat to McDonald's prominence in the burger category. But the chains chose to bring out the heavy artillery after McDonald's launch of its Angus premium burger line.

To draw consumer focus to their longevity in the premium-at-a-value category, the sister brands pulled out their versions of McDonald's Big Mac from their research and development stockpile. They supported the launch with snarky comparison ads, promoting the Big Carl's and Big Hardee's bigger size, better quality and lower price.

According to data from YouGov's BrandIndex daily consumer perception research, the ads hit home. The data shows over a period of less than a week, from Sept. 11 – Sept. 16, Carl's Jr. value perception shot up nearly 5 points from 4.6 to 9.4 with adults 18 and older. Hardee's value perception grew more modestly, from 8.8 to a 9.4.

At the same time, McDonald's value perception scores took a nosedive, falling from 25.1 on Sept. 11 to 10.9 on Sept. 16.

Ted Marzilli, global managing director of BrandIndex, a service of YouGov, said the survey results indicate that the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's campaigns seemed to be hitting their mark.

"The short-term data shows that the ad campaigns for both Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have been impactful and that they've improved the value and quality scores for those two brands" while having a negative impact on McDonald's scores, he said. "To some level, that's not surprising because the ad campaigns are very much head to head comparisons with McDonald's on price and quality, so I'd say that the campaigns are having the intended effect to a certain degree."

But those scores don't tell the whole story. During that time and into this week, McDonald's satisfaction and "likely to recommend" scores went up, from 35.6 on Sept. 9 to 41.7 on Sept. 21 for satisfaction. Likely to recommend scores went from 2.7 points on Sept. 9 up to 17.5 percent on Sept. 21.

With those scores improving over that period, it demonstrates that consumers are having a good experience at McDonald's and that advocates of the brand are continuing to recommend it, Marzilli said.

Choosing how to respond

Watching a competitor's results can help a brand choose whether to respond or to wait a few weeks to see if the consumer perception returns to prior levels.

So should McDonald's be worried? Probably not, especially since a look at BrandIndex's data for McDonald's over the last year shows that the brand's quality and value scores have actually improved, he said. But it would be worth it to the brand to keep an eye on the short-term results to determine if the campaign would be having any reaching effect. (By yesterday, McDonald's value scores were up to 28.9.)

And McDonald's is not too concerned about the blip in value scores but remains focused on overall value as well as quality food and convenience, said the company’s spokeswoman Danya Proud.

"Today, we're serving more customers than we ever have. And, according to research from NPD Crest, despite QSR traffic declining among 18-34 males, our share among this group continues to grow," she said. "Additionally, our research shows that we consistently rank among the best in the industry, in consumers' perceptions of value.

"We continue to be focused on long-term growth vs. short-term gains. And business results speak for themselves. As previously reported, the Angus Burger contributed to positive comparable sales growth in both July and August."

Self-service tools, periodic analysis

For BrandIndex clients, which don't include Carl's Jr. or McDonald's, the consumer perception survey service provides brands with data that can be used in a variety of ways, including as a campaign planning tool, a barometer of that campaign's impact, a measurement of brand health and a glimpse at how a brand is standing up to its competitors.

BrandIndex interviews 5,000 people each weekday from a representative U.S. population sample. Respondents are drawn from an online panel of more than 1 million individuals. Results have a margin of error is of +/- 2 percent.

Participants answer questions such as "Is the brand high quality or low quality?" or "Does it give good value for what you pay?"

Marzilli said the service provides breadth of coverage by measuring top brands as well as two years of historical data. The data also can be broken done demographically, allowing brands to determine how it is doing in target segments.

The daily data also can help companies going through a public relations crisis by allowing them to compare their results to other brands that have had similar crises. "They can use it as benchmark so see how serious a crisis they're going through to help decide them decide whether they want to lay low few weeks or act now," he said.

Clients use the service for their daily data mining as well as for receiving periodic reporting and analysis. Subscribers can access the BrandIndex database and can use online tools to create charts as well as note significant and meaningful movements. That service is particularly helpful with campaigns like Carl's Jr.'s to determine their effectiveness.

"You get a very early read on if you're making an impact with consumers," Marzilli said. "The real test is, over the next week or two or three, does that campaign bring more people into the restaurants purchasing the new products or making any purchases? Because ultimately the advertising is made not only to drive awareness but to drive sales."