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Customer Comparison: Whataburger vs. Chick-fil-A

Jun 24, 2019 | Insights

StatSocial has executed a side-by-side analysis of the customers of two fast food chains regarded in our nation’s south as longtime rivals. One is the snake to the other’s mongoose, one the Muhammad Ali to the other’s Joe Frazier. We are referring to Whataburger and Chick-fil-A.

By analyzing the data generated by each restaurant’s most loyal customers, we can predict how this competition might play out on the national stage. With Whatburger soon expanding their operations to potentially match Chick-fil-A’s reach, our insights will be essential to marketers, media planners, and customer insights teams.

WHATABURGER

San Antonio headquartered fast food chain, Whataburger, has recently been making headlines. On June 14 of this year, the Dobson family — descendants of Whataburger founder, Harmon Dobson (who passed away in 1967) — sold their majority stake in the company to BDT Capital, a Chicago-based investment firm.

A Whataburger Christmas sweater.

This deal was pursued with an eye on expansion. The company’s current leadership will remain in place, and its HQ will stay put in San Antonio. What will change, however, is that a vast many more folks north of the Mason-Dixon will not only know of the chain’s name, but they’ll know how the joint’s assorted menu items taste (delicious, of course).

Those who have journeyed Lone Star-way may already have partaken. If you have ever so much as known a Texan, however, you’ve surely heard tell of the gastronomic marvels to be found under that orange W.

CHICK-FIL-A

In regional terms, the debate over which fast food chain is best continues as it has for decades. This, of course, is an argument over the relative merits of each establishment’s food. In terms of dollars and cents, the victor is for the moment clear.

Chick-fil-A’s largest single restaurant, occupying 12,000-square-feet of prime Manhattan real estate.

College Park, Georgia-based chain, Chick-fil-A, has — over the past decade or so — expanded its reach and then-some, with over 1,900 of its 2,200 locations residing within 47 of our United States. As of this writing, it is the third largest fast food chain in the country (behind Starbucks, the current holder of the runner-up slot, with some predicting Chick-fil-A may ascend to that perch, just behind McDonald’s, before long).

On Earned Social Media Audience Data

StatSocial’s data is culled from the earned engagement profiles (e.g. what people like, follow, share, talk about, etc.) of over 1.2 billion social media users. Our analysis considers over 80,000 unique attributes per person. As a result, we provide an in-depth breakdown of an audience’s interests, affinities, media preferences, hobbies, allegiances, to which of our Digital Tribes they belong, and thanks to our partnership with IBM Watson™ and the integration of their Personality Insights™ service into our reporting, even personality types.

Our reporting reveals things that could not feasibly be learned through hundreds or, truthfully, hundreds of thousands of surveys and focus groups. StatSocial peers beyond the manicured and curated identities of social media, and digs into what really makes the various segments of any given audience tick.

While what you’ll find below may seem like a lot of data, it is only the tip of the iceberg of the insights StatSocial has on offer, regarding these audiences.

An Explanation of the Insights Below:

The insights below are mostly sorted according to our index score. The score shows, at-a-glance, the degree to which the corresponding demographics, behaviors, and/or affinities being reported either exceed, are in line with, or fall short of the of the baseline. For this study, the baseline we’re using is the average American social media audience.

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AGE

Whataburger

EXPLANATION (THIS APPLIES TO ALL CHARTS IN THIS ENTRY): The number to the far right is the Index score. It summarizes to what degree the corresponding audience percentage is in excess, or falls short, of the baseline. For example, above, the portion of this audience aged 18 to 24 exceeds the baseline by 1.48 times.

According to a recent survey (the results being readable here), Chick-fil-A is the favorite fast food chain among teens. Not to make this blog entry a toe-to-toe battle, but it bodes well for Whataburger that such a great portion (38.53%) of their most dedicated diners are members of Gen Z.

The current king of the national fast food mountain, McDonald’s, is ranked lowest among teens according to the same survey. Chick-fil-A’s ascent could be owing to a number of factors, but their popularity with youths bodes well for their longevity.

As Whataburger embarks upon its growth, should the restaurant appeal to Yankee kids the way they do those (primarily) down south, they may find themselves in the same enviable position.

Chick-fil-A

We’ve already dug a bit into what these numbers may mean above. We’ll add here that both chains are under-indexed when it comes to diners between ages 25 and 44. Whataburger finds this segment of the population represented among their diners to an even lesser degree.

While those ages 45 to 54 are represented among Whataburger’s diners to a degree somewhat comfortably short of our baseline, that same demographic is represented to a degree nearly in line with the U.S. average among Chick-fil-A’s customers.

GENDER

Whataburger

This split is nearly even; about 53% male, which is a statistically notable if not dominant majority.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A’s audience skews decidedly female.

Innovative features, such as their “Mom’s Valet” service — where a harried mother who previously would have been trying to wrangle restless rugrats while ordering, can instead place her order from the drive-through window, and walk into the restaurant to find a set table awaiting her and her brood —actively court young mothers. Chick-fil-A has openly recognized the mother’s role in the household as decision maker, and has consciously catered to that.

Additionally, current second place fast food chain, Starbucks, according to StatSocial’s data finds 65% of their most devoted customers to be women (a portion exceeding the baseline by 1.3 times). Their current success and Chick-fil-A’s rapid growth indicates that there’s a lot to be said for appealing to women.

INCOME

Whataburger

Just about half the Whataburger crowd earns under $50,000 a year; a quantity ever-so-slightly exceeding the baseline. Given that 43% of their audience is between late-high school and post-grad/grad school age, this statistic makes sense.

The portion earning between $50k and $100k falls short of the U.S. average, but a little under 12% of their customers earn over $100k annually.

Chick-fil-A

With 47.5% of their audience earning under $50k, that segment is represented among Chick-fil-A’s diners to a degree very, very closed to being in keeping with the baseline.

The 12.71% of their audience earning at least six figures a year, however, finds that portion present and accounted for to a degree exceeding the average American social media audience by nearly 1 ⅕ times.

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DIGITAL TRIBES

You can read a blog entry detailing this very special set of data by clicking this link, but we’ll also summarize things here.

StatSocial Digital Tribes is a model of the U.S. population broken down into 100 distinct market segments. Seeing which Tribes are present, and in what proportions, grants our users quick, crucial, and unprecedented insight into the humans who make up a given audience.

Combining our demographic and affinity data, with our Personality Insights® (powered by IBM Watson), we have been able to gather these utterly singular segmentation models. Both sides of the data coin are factored in — the demographic and the psychographic — enabling StatSocial to provide brands, publishers, media buyers, and agencies a comprehensive, in-depth understanding of their target audiences.

Descriptions of all 100 of our Digital Tribes can be seen by clicking here. The below lists provide each tribe’s snappy names. We’ll provide a quick summary of a few below, and you can head on over to the links provided to learn more.

Whataburger

Country Sunday Warriors— a tribe whose members are found among Whataburger’s audience to a degree exceeding the baseline by 11.71 times —are rurally based, mostly male, 30-something fans of NFL football.

The Fandom 101 tribe consists of those whose primary concerns could be pinned up on a wall. Pretty boys dancing and singing harmony together, young pop divas, and charming YouTube stars are the chief concerns here. IBM Watson‘s Personality Insights™ adds that they’re both outgoing and neurotic. This is consistent with the portion of Whataburger’s consumer-base belonging to Gen Z.

Who Shot J.R.? is a tribe consisting of folks from the Dallas/Fort Worth region. Keeping Things Right is a group who are politically conservative. Kulture Kweens is made up of people interested, above all other things in life, in the comings and goings of our assorted Kardashians.

And so on.

Chick-fil-A

We got into it with Fandom 101 above, and as we stated there, the sizable teenage and early-20s portion of their customer-base makes this tribe’s prominence unsurprising.

Those within the Keeping Things Real tribe are an agreeable and outgoing bunch, who enjoy immersing themselves in the antics of any number of ‘Real Housewives,’ originating from any number of cities.

Those within the Internet Inspiration tribe are admirers of some of Evangelical Christianity’s bigger names. Specifically those with a strong online presence.

Food Court Cult consists of unabashed fast food devotees. The Sports Must Be Reported consists of a bunch of rural men who are never far off from consuming some manner of ESPN related media.

And again, you can read more in-depth breakdowns of the whole lot of Digital Tribes by clicking here

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PERSONALITY INSIGHTS (powered by IBM Watson™)

As is stated above, the data StatSocial uses to calculate many of its insights is pulled every conceivable corner of the public web. This includes — among many other things — all manner of written words, from tweets to Yelp reviews to Instagram captions, and beyond.

IBM Watson’s sophisticated AI allows their Personality Insights™ tool to analyze our audience data and infer from the language and tone used — with extraordinary accuracy — the personality types of those behind the communications.

More about the below results can be read here.

Whataburger

Anger, in the context of Personality Insights™, does not necessarily mean that you’re dealing with a bunch of hot-heads. Falling under the Big Five Personality Traits banner of Neuroticism, Anger here refers to the tone employed to express opinions, etc. The traditional implication of being irrational or out of control is not so much applicable here. What that means is that 60.55% of Whataburgers diners are passionate and motivated.

Remember, not all anger is unjustified.

Chick-fil-A

We would hardly poke our nose into any discussions of the correlations between religious devotion and acts of decency and charity, and the like. We deal in statistics. We are truly neutral in that discussion (we’ll avoid saying we’re agnostic on the subject, as that seems needlessly loaded here).

Nonetheless, the religious affiliation of Chick-fil-A’s owners is no secret (nor is it a secret why the chain is not open on Sundays). As you see a little bit above, and will see more so below, a decent sized segment of the chain’s customers are outwardly Christian.

It is often said that Chick-fil-A’s unusually hospitable customer service is crucial to its success. These generally amiable personality traits are in line with that. “Southern hospitality,” if you will.

Morality, Altruism, and the like, are traits displayed among the devoutly religious (by no means exclusively, but frequently).

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INFLUENCERS

Whataburger

An eclectic bunch of influencers here, at first glance, but at least one common denominator explains how Ted Cruz and Travis Scott can reside so cozily among this list of influencers…

Yup. The U.S. senator and the multi-platinum rapper both call the Lone Star state home.

The top influencer here — who finds favor among this group to a degree exceeding the baseline by 18 ¼ times — is two-time Pro Bowl, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott.

Continuing along these lines, the second most prominent influencer here also graces the gridiron for his Texan fans. J. J. Watt — who finds affinity among this bunch to a degree exceeding the baseline by 17.38 times — is a defensive end for the Houston Texans. While raised in Wisconsin, he has proudly taken to his adopted home.

Of immense relevance here is the sentiment Watt expressed upon learning that Whataburger had been purchased by a bunch of Windy City folks:

Chick-fil-A

Fewer hip hop artists are to be found here, but Senator Cruz is also upon this list. He is joined by Vice President Pence and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’’s Chris Pratt.

As stated above, the religious affiliation of Chick-fil-A’s owners is nothing of which they are ashamed, so it is natural to observe it here. The one common denominator among nearly everyone upon this list (Jimmy Fallon, to our knowledge, withholds such information about his personal life) is a stated, and very public devotion to Christianity.

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INTERESTS

Whataburger

Rodeo? Well, they’re still doing a Texas thing primarily, so the fact that this interest finds favor here to a degree exceeding the baseline by 18 ⅗ times, while noteworthy, totally makes sense.

Fast food, again, is a natural interest to be found among a fast food chain’s audience. It doesn’t seem that riding bulls with a belly full of burgers is the wisest idea, but far be it from StatSocial to tell Texans how to live. Perhaps, as with swimming, you wait a half hour after eating before mounting a bucking bronco.

Baseball, football, country (meaning music), cheerleading… Given all that we know about this audience so far, these seem rather consistent with the picture.

If we can assume that the Whataburger appeal can translate to fundamentally likeminded people in all regions, they’ll have no difficulty finding diners who share in such interests… Apart from rodeo, that is (outside of Calgary, of course).

Chick-fil-A

Christianity is an interest among the Chick-fil-A audience to a degree that exceeds the baseline by 4.71 times. Given what we’ve seen thus far, this does not surprise. This audience also displays an affinity for Christian and gospel music.

A Chick-fil-A location residing on the grounds of Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park.

Beyond that, things don’t look too different from Whataburger’s audience.

Except, that is, for a perfectly sympathetic fondness for theme parks that exceeds the baseline by 2.60 times.

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NON-FAST FOOD BRANDS

Whataburger

Texas headquartered sporting goods store, Academy Sports, finds customers among the Whataburger bunch to a degree that exceeds the American average by 10.36 times.

A ‘Star Wars’ fan, dressed as Emperor Palpatine, brandishing a tray of Whataburger grub.

ColourPop, Fortnite, ‘Star Wars,’ and Nike are all brands with cross-generational appeal, but do hint at the degree to which this audience skews a bit younger.

Target, America’s classiest big box chain, finds affinity among this crowd to an extent greater than the baseline by three times.

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Chick-fil-A

Target here, however, finds love among the Chick-fil-A bunch to a degree that exceeds the baseline by 12.16 times.

The above referenced love of theme parks may, in part, be represented by the affinity this groups displays — 4 ¼ times greater than the baseline — for the Disney corporation.

A t-shirt that seemed appropriate to show here.

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FAST FOOD CHAINS

This seems a relevant enough area to give it its own category here.

Whataburger

Whataburger was, of course, the actual number one fast food chain among this audience (as Chick-fil-A was on the below list). But, skipping that as it goes without saying, we see rather boldly who number two is. Indicating that fierce loyalty to a brand doesn’t automatically exclude all others, Chick-fil-A finds love here to an extent that exceeds the average U.S. social media audience by over 20 ½ times.

Fast food joints not being mutually exclusive, of course, as man cannot live by chicken or burgers alone, this cross-appeal could very well be only good news as Whataburger finds its way into more and more of the regions where Chick-fil-A has set up shop in recent years.

Chick-fil-A

Whataburger doesn’t top this list, but it still finds affinity among the Chick-fil-A audience to a degree that exceeds the baseline by a little over 19 ¾ times.

The placements of Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, and Dairy Queen upon this list suggest an admirable sweet tooth among the Chick-fil-A faithful.

CONCLUSION?

There is a reason to believe that — while the two chains are somewhat different, in terms of the actual flavors on offer — where Chick-fil-A has found success, so too might Whataburger.

Chick-Fil-A’s role as a point of contention in the so-called “culture war” has done nothing to wound their bottom line. Indeed, here in New York City, where folks for the most part fall rather comfortably on the left side of the aforementioned “cultural divide,” they line-up for the chain’s food all the same.

Whataburger carries no such baggage, and by the account of a great many loyal customers, their food is every bit as excellent. Looking at the above data — which is only a hint of the insights available here — there’s a strong indication that Whataburger can easily find its way into the hearts, minds, and stomachs of fast food eaters from sea to shining sea, and parts heretofore unimagined, to at least the degree that Chick-fil-A has done.

The necessary data to market their food to the ideal audience can be found, readily, within StatSocial’s reporting.

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Take a Sniff Around

Insights on top of insights can be found by the curious reader who chooses to poke around the StatSocial blog here. Peruse the many entries, offering all kinds of insights, studies, and deep dives to better acquaint you with the capabilities of StatSocial.

Throughout the blog are many examples of the sorts of insights that can only be gained with StatSocial.

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