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The notion of brand intimacy refers to how consumers form affect-laden, emotional bonds with brands, even reaching the level of love. Measuring it can be informative for market analysts, marketers, and brands, so various service providers issue reports. A recent one offers specific insights into the fast-food sector, highlighting the dominance of Starbucks on multiple relevant measures and thus identifying consumers’ love for it.

Among 15 different industries studied, fast food ranks sixth, suggesting that its positioning on brand intimacy measures has not changed much in recent years. Furthermore, the study specifies that of all the fast-food brands available, Starbucks is consistently on top, whether the ranking reflects survey results or social media listening efforts. It is particularly beloved among men, millennials, and people older than 35 years.

In addition to earning its top ranking, Starbucks is notable in that food is not its primary product offering. Rather than coffee, the other brands on the list serve more actual food, including Chik-fil-A in second place and McDonald’s in third. The other brands included in the intimacy ranking based on the direct survey of consumer impressions are Dunkin, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut, in order of diminishing intimacy.

However, some shifts emerge when the researchers reviewed commentary in social media, rather than gathering direct measures. For example, chatter about McDonald’s often trends toward negative comments and allegations that it prioritizes money over employee well-being. Other insights arose from considering the respondents’ demographic characteristics. For example, whereas people who earned less than $100,000 annually embrace Chik-fil-A, those who earned more than this level felt greater intimacy with KFC.

Finally, despite the meaningful insights that brands might glean from these rankings, they do not correlate perfectly with performance. For example, Domino’s enjoyed substantial increases in both its sales and its stock performance, seemingly due to increased orders by consumers during the COVID-19 lockdown. In response, it hired around 10,000 new employees. Then it initiated an advertising campaign directed toward people who had been forced to cancel their weddings due to the pandemic, empathizing and offering solutions for their party planning. With these developments, we might predict that it seems likely to move up in the brand intimacy rankings for next year.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why might Starbucks rank so high among fast food chains on brand intimacy measures?
  2. Do you feel a sense of intimacy with any fast food brands? Which ones? How would you explain this bond?

Source: Dianna Christie, “Starbucks Leads in Forging Emotional Connections Among Fast Food Brands, Study Says,” Marketing Dive, July 10, 2020; MBLM, “Fast Food Ranked Sixth Among 15 Industries Studied in MBLM’s Brand Intimacy 2020 Study,” PR Newswire, July 8, 2020