Leaders Connect 2023
Gut feel and data is what makes Shake Shack so successful, says marketer

Gut feel and data is what makes Shake Shack so successful, says marketer

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In 2001, Shake Shack was a humble hot dog cart located in New York City’s Madison Square Park. Today, there are hundreds of Shake Shack restaurants globally with the brand consistently opening at new locations globally in order to bring its delicious burgers and crinkle cut fries to the masses.

What’s interesting about Shake Shack’s rapid expansion though is the fact that it does very little in terms of advertising, according to Charles Frankievich, the director or consumer insights and analytics at Shake Shack who was speaking to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE at the Qualtrics Experience Management Summit in Salt Lake City.

“We began expanding in the late 2000s and it was interesting because as we were expanding, everywhere we went, people seemed to want a Shake Shack. And every time we opened a new shack, people were just there. But it wasn’t like we did anything other than simply building a Shake Shack,” Frankievich said in the media room of the Salt Palace Convention Centre. “I think it really was through word of mouth because Shake Shack delivers so aggressively on our guest experience, that we have this almost cult-like following that's kind of developed,” he said.

Frankievich continued by adding that in terms of guest experience, what was important was the quality of the brand’s food, it’s open kitchens and bright seating areas that are reminiscent of a park and the friendliness of its staff and team members. “We put so much time and energy into investing in those things and so far, we’ve been able to drive a ton of word of mouth.”

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Shake Shack was started by Danny Meyers, a restaurateur who used to own a fine dining establishment called Eleven Madison Park. “With a fine dining background, you're not going to see a big billboard for Shake Shack. You’re just never going to see that. What you are going to see is a massive influx of reviews and recommendations from friends and family. And we take that to heart. That’s really the origin of who we are,” he said. He added that the company treats itself as part of the fine dining space and that permeates through everything they do and why they are able to stay consistent across the world and get robust feedback no matter where they are.

Leading by gut-feel

Saying that, Shake Shack’s success lies not only in a consistent and high-quality global strategy. Rather, according to Frankievich, what really makes the brand so successful in comparison to its other fast-food counterparts is the fact that the brand leads by gut feel and data.

“So, if you think about a fine dining restaurant, there's so much art that goes into it. And that has never left our DNA. While it’s very important that we have fun and we think about what individuals want, you also want to always ensure that you are delivering a fun and unique experience that you might not get elsewhere,” he said.

He noted that gut led intuition is really what has driven this mentality and ensured that the restaurant can strike a balance. “You know, a lot of our managers and operators have been with Shake Shack from the early stages of the brand and so they understand the DNA of the brand and are able to look at things with their intuition,” he said.

He continued by saying that this kind of gut-led innovation is what has allowed them to stand out and create a brand that hasn’t been around before. “And we rely very heavily on that,” he said before adding that it is the idea of hospitality and relentless focus on the guest experience that they keep coming back to and that all this simply comes from intuition.

Being a guest first

Adding on to the idea of innovation, Frankievich noted that building a strong intuition lies in first being a guest. “I personally eat a lot of Shake Shack,” he said with a laugh. “So, I can honestly tell you what I feel when I’m in our stores and I am able to separate what I know with what I’m feeling. This is such an important aspect of our business.”

Frankievich noted that this kind of experience is very hard to replicate with data. “For sure you need science and data, but you need to back your decisions up with information that you actually know from the ground. So basically, being data informed but also backing it with your intuition at all times.”

He brought up the example of the brand’s iconic crinkle cut fries which used to be cooked from frozen in the past. After a few years, the brand decided to axe the frozen fries off their menu in an attempt to make them fresh just like its burgers and other items on the menu. However, shortly after, the brand had to bring back the frozen fries simply because making it fresh was just not working for them and their consumers.

“That’s an example of something that we might have avoided had we had a little bit more customer data to pressure test some of the intuition we had about the fries at that time,” said Frankievich. “Sometimes, intuition does not always lead us in the right direction. So, it’s important to validate our decisions with both data and gut-feel so we feel good on both ends of the spectrum and can really drive them.”

Looking to the near future, Frankievich noted that after opening just under 70 new Shacks domestically last year, the brand is keen to continue building on its trajectory. He said that the restaurant plans to continue exploring opportunities in all markets and adhering to a growth mindset.

“There's always new challenges and new ways for people to understand what Shake Shack is as well as the competitors that they were working with or against. And just learning more about that is something that's really important to our business,” said Frankievich before adding that while it does not have a timeline, the brand plans to open its first store in Malaysia at some point this year.

Additionally, the brand is looking to find more ways to make Shake Shack more accessible to more people and one of the ways they plan to do this is by starting drive thrus, according to Frankievich.

“I was thinking that we would have a drive thru and you would get a communication device after you order. So, you have a shorter expectation of wait time or you can relax a little bit. It’s going to challenge the way our business is run,” Frankievich said before adding that at this point, no plans are in the works for drive throughs yet and that there is no expected launch date. “Ultimately, we are committed to learning and understanding how we can further our brand and deliver new experiences in the best way possible."

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