“To Take On Chipotle, Qdoba Enlists A Sexy, Badass, And Imaginary Friend.” So begins the Fast Company article by Mark Wilson about Qdoba’s plan to unseat the incumbent leader in the Mexican fast-casual segment.
Chain president Tim Casey explains in the Fast Company interview why Qdoba developed The Quentessa, a fantasy-woman hybrid of Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis and Uma Thurman:
“When we delved into the consumer research, what we heard was the consumer viewed Qdoba as a me-too brand and a me-too brand to Chipotle. No brand wants to be in that place. The more we learned, it occurred to me that the brand need to take a pivot to own a white space in the industry.”
This pivot, it seems, is to redesign stores, menus, uniforms and marketing to reflect the desires and needs of the Qdoba-chewing Quentessa.
“Imaginary” customers are not a new phenomenon. Big Lots, famously, has Jennifer. Creating customer archetypes is nothing new. In fact, it’s not the revolution Qdoba would have us believe. Yes, it is important for the leadership team to know who they are targeting and for the ad buyers to know where to spend their money, but it’s not a strategy that is going to unseat Chipotle.
As Wilson puts it, “The Quentessa served as a thematic compass in navigating towards Qdoba’s ‘white space,’ where each new element was the anti-Chipotle.”
This, of course, is troubling. Ensuring you are the anti-Chipotle does not make you something better or something that is demanded by customers. It just means you won’t be Chipotle.
The strategies and tactics Qdoba mentions in the Fast Company interview are just that: strategies and tactics. They might help craft a more targeted ad campaign, but they won’t help staff members understand how to behave, and they won’t help corporate chefs make innovative menu changes. Will The Quentessa help Qdoba make the tough decisions when necessary?
Consider the incident that Chipotle took charge of: A routine audit revealed that one of Chipotle’s large suppliers wasn’t fully complying with the restaurant’s guidelines concerning the treatment of pigs. Accordingly, Chipotle’s supply of pork was diminished, and the company decided to stop selling carnitas at one-third of its restaurants (around 600 locations) until the shortage could be remedied in a way that didn’t force Chipotle to sacrifice its standards.
“We could fill that shortfall with conventionally raised pork, but the animal welfare standards fall well short of our requirements, and (we) simply aren’t willing to make that compromise,” Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold explained, according to Reuters.
Chipotle was able to make that tough and costly decision not because they knew who their target audience was, but because they knew their purpose–Chipotle was not founded to sell a great hulking mass of meat, beans and rice, but rather on the back of its founder’s passion for cooking and his goal to change the way people think about fast food.
I’ve read each piece of news coverage on The Quentessa since the first reports of her creation, and nowhere can I find a reason for the marketing move beyond profit. That’s great for the boardroom, but not so great for everyone else. What does Qdoba stand for? What does it stand against? What benefit is it to customers to know that Qdoba knows how to target better? Does it mean better food? Better working conditions for staff? Do the communities housing the restaurants improve?
The Quentessa is an interesting story from a marketing perspective, but if Qdoba wants to beat Chipotle they’ll need to do so by leading with a purpose, a movement, a rallying cry and a “why,” and then organize their people, products and processes around that. Until then, they may win wallets and make a sale or two, but they won’t win hearts and make sales for life.
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Barry Chandler is the co-founder of Storyforge, a brand strategy company focused on helping companies discover their purpose to allow them to achieve their vision, build preference and drive margin. Barry has been building award-winning businesses since launching his first company in Ireland in 2003. His last company, a digital marketing agency, was acquired in 2012 by a California-based publicly traded entertainment company which then hired him as Chief Marketing Officer. It is his belief that the greatest brands seek to change the world, improving the lives of their associates, partners and customers.