Sonic jumped from the 22nd most popular restaurant chain to #5 in a matter of weeks. How can Sonic understand who their new customers are and retain that audience as the economy moves back to a new normal?
Sonic, the American drive-in fast-food chain, is one of the few businesses that have thrived during the restrictions of the pandemic. The restaurant’s unique format lends itself to success when dine-in is less popular, jumping from the 22nd most popular chain to the 5th in a matter of weeks according to foot traffic metrics captured by Ubermedia.
By fusing mobile movement data from Ubermedia with lifestyle segmentation data from Spatial.ai, we can build a Pre-Covid Sonic Customer Profile. This profile provides insights into the types of people visiting Sonic locations prior to stay-at-home orders. In other words, this is the restaurant’s original customer base.
Note on scores: 50th percentile is the national average. Therefore, a Praise & Worship score of 69.62 means Sonic over-indexes for that segment by 19.62 percentile.
By matching the Sonic visitation data with Geosocial segments, we immediately see ranked patterns emerge:
Now that we know Sonic’s original customer profile, how has their customer base changed since stay-at-home orders were given? Are they getting more of the same customer or a totally new audience?
We don’t see a heavy indication of change in the top and bottom five segments.
The top five remain both heavily urban and “social” in nature. The people coming to Sonic before COVID continue to go to Sonic afterwards.
Therefore, to the extent that Sonic is already focusing on their core segments in site selection, local marketing, and broad advertising, they should continue to nurture these segments in the same way.
When we look at the customer segments with the greatest change, a clear story emerges; one that is nearly diametrically opposite of their Georgia core customer:
So, how can Sonic capture and retain their newly found audience? We’ll now discuss possible strategies informed by this new customer profile.
Differentiate strategy by store profile
Each store has a unique customer base. At some stores, there is an opportunity to cultivate loyalist segments such as the Sonic at 1436 Moreland Avenue. At other stores, there is an opportunity to focus on the emerging customer base, such as 11960 GA-92, Woodstock.
Target Emerging Areas
Although likely an afterthought before, we have learned there is a “sleeper” audience in some suburban and rural segments that are showing new interest, and traveling greater distances after their traditional options have changed during stay at home orders.
Family Related Messaging
The data shows Sonic mattered to families before the pandemic, and now has become increasingly important during stay at home orders. There is an opportunity to focus on family-related messaging across stores.
A well positioned Sonic ad for families during the stay-at-home era.
Focus menu on larger ticket items
With higher income families going to Sonic, there is an opportunity to focus the menu to match the needs of these customers looking for satisfaction in a pinch.
This strategy is dependent on the customer profile of the trade area. We see Dog Lovers—one of our highest income segments—showing up at the 93rd percentile around the Cobb Parkway Sonic Location, making it a good candidate for this approach.
Sonic’s meteoric rise in popularity during COVID is a great test case for how a brand can stand to benefit from rapidly changing consumer behavior.
Using Geosocial, it is possible to capture the nuanced changes in customer profile and magnify that opportunity by designing strategies around customer interests.
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