Wendy’s Finds Location-Based Search Is ‘Critical’

Think about it, says Wendy's Brandon Rhoten: what do you do when you start to get hungry? You search for what's close by.

“Who here knows where they’re going for lunch?” Brandon Rhoten, Wendy’s VP/head of Advertising, Digital/Social Media, asked attendees when he took the stage at the Mobile Marketing Association’s Location Leadership Forum morning session this past week.

Location plays a “gargantuan role” in the decision of what and where to eat, Rhoten noted. For Wendy’s getting customers to come into one of its 7,000 stores is the only focus for its mobile marketing.

“When it comes to food, you need to know what’s near you,” Rhoten said. “We’re not a ‘considered purchase’ at all. We’re one of those brands that has to catch you as you’re making a decision.”

Wendy’s Brandon Rhoten at the MMA’s Location Leadership Forum

To catch potential customers at the right moment, Rhoten relies on a mix of tools, including geotargeted ads, Snapchat Geofilters, and location-based search above all.

“Search is old hat for a lot of brands,” Rhoten said. “Retailers aren’t particularly good at search marketing and [quick service restaurants] have been notoriously terrible at the practice in general. For Wendy’s, location-based search is critical.”

Think about it, Rhoten said to the audience: what is your action when you start to get hungry? You search for what’s nearby.

“Location-based search lets me push you to a specific product and a specific restaurant,” he said.

Wendy’s ran a beta test of Google’s Store-Visit measurement that looked at search results and whether a particular device entered one of the brand’s locations. One-fifth of people who conducted a search related to selected keywords showed up at a Wendy’s.

“Those are numbers I can’t ignore,” Rhoten said. “Search has become a huge, essential component of how we generate business.”

Location Is The Key

In the past, the relationship between the ideas of location and marketing in the QSR space simply meant having a restaurant strategically placed in certain population centers. Now, the topic of “location” means telling consumers where there’s a physical location close to them and serving ads that encourages them to show up.

With location advertising, Rhoten doesn’t worry about online industry issues like “viewability” because, in his view, “Most ads suck.” As a result, people don’t watch them. The value of location-based advertising — when done right, at least — is in its inherent relevancy to the place and mindset of a prospective walk-in customer.

In Wendy’s use of location-based ad networks and marketplaces like NinthDecimal and Foursquare, Rhoten cited performance numbers showing that “between 2- and 27 percent visitation lifts occur when we advertise with location as a variable in our advertising.”

In ads for a specific menu item targeted to Hispanic consumers in tighter markets, Wendy’s saw a 27 percent change in the individual behavior, pre- and post, based on whether they were served an ad.

“The fact that we can get 27 percent more people showing up to our restaurants is significant, its gargantuan — we don’t see that in any medium,” Rhoten said. Ever.”

Rhoten also pointed to other pre- and post visit studies that say running location-based advertising, on average, increases foot-traffic by 123 percent versus the general population.

As for location’s value in intersecting a consumer’s mindset and place, Rhoten pointed to work with Spotify on geotargeted ads.

“Spotify gives us a lot of information about preference on moments: dinner, commute,” he said. “People in the suburbs use Spotify in the car. That’s perfect moment for us to capture.”

Snapchat: It’s Not The Cool Factor

In conversations with his marketing counterparts at other brands, Rhoten said there are two reasons most advertisers have gravitated toward Snapchat as a platform: because it’s “cool” to be on social messaging app and “that’s where the kids are.”

“I don’t care that the kids are doing it,” Rhoten said. “I care that everyone in Snapchat using a Geofilter is telling their friends that they’re in one of our restaurants right now. I want that friend to see that and show up and eat lunch with them.

“Snapchat is a significant part of our marketing right now,” he added. “A lot of people are avoiding Snapchat because of lack of measurements. The only measurement I care about is that a person showed up.”

The author tries out a Wendy’s Snapchat Lens for its spicy menu items in April 2016.

Wendy’s was an early adopter of Snapchat. In April 2016, to promote a “limited release” of Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich and Ghost Pepper Fries, the brand used Snapchat Lens that let users star in an spot that they could share with friends.

“The Snapchat campaign for our spicy sandwich reached 3 million people and increased purchase intent by 3x over our average program as a result,” Rhoten said. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters to us as marketers.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.