How Raising Cane’s Raised the Bar for QSRs (HBBIP #11)

Alex Rawitz
Alex Rawitz
Nov 30, 2023

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It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and the last thing you want to hear about is more poultry. But I think you’re going to want to know about this.

At HBBIP, CIQ, and the USA at large, we love our Quick-Service Restaurants. How could we not? Those are three great things right there in the name of the vertical. 

If you asked the average consumer to name America’s biggest QSRs—by revenue, number of franchises, or portion size—they’d probably come up with the usual suspects: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A. All legends, all delicious.

But there’s a name right below those other iconic names that’s rising at a quicker rate, and seems poised for fast-food domination. It might not have the same recognition as those heavy-hitters—but it might not be long until it does. 

Take a look at this chart of the top 10 QSRs by EMV from January to October 2023. Does anything stand out?

Top 10 Quick Service Restaurants 2023 so far, with McDonald's and Starbucks leadingTop 10 Quick-Service Restaurants by Earned Media Value from January - October 2023

The main takeaway is that by sheer EMV total, McDonald’s and Starbucks are in a league of their own—as discussed in this newsletter series previously. Otherwise, this seems like a pretty standard, pretty tasty list.

But what if we took a look at the YoY EMV growth rates for these top 10 brands?

Top 10 2023 Quick-Service Restaurants Year-Over-Year Earned Media Value Change with Raising Cane's in the LeadTop 10 2023 Quick-Service Restaurants Year-Over-Year Earned Media Value Change

Now we’re seeing something special. Raising Cane’s is raising some serious buzz online: at 268% YoY EMV growth, America’s premier purveyor of chicken fingers is blowing away the QSR competition. And with respective 244% and 305% YoY surges in Impressions and Engagement, this success is translating across other metrics, too.

What is Raising Cane’s doing right? I’m glad that I’m pretending you asked.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that in the end, it all boils down to community. Raising Cane’s’ progress on that front is even more pronounced than its EMV momentum. After all, the other top QSRs all improved their EMV YoY—surely the same holds true for community size?

Top 10 QSRs Creator Community Size YoYTop 10 Quick-Service Restaurants Creator Community Size Change YoY

Not necessarily. And don’t call me Shirley.

At a 74% community expansion, Raising Cane’s is standing well above other brands, which tended to see declines or just small growths to their communities. (Just to prove that they weren’t deleted from the above graph, Chick-fil-A saw a 0% change.)

Not only does Raising Cane’s have more people talking about them, they’ve got the right people talking about them. People like top overall EMV-driver (and top overall driver) Toni Breidinger. When she’s not racing in various motorsports or modeling for Victoria’s Secret, Toni is posting faithfully about her favorite fast-food brand. From January to October 2023, she powered $3.6M EMV across 69 posts. 

Toni’s total was notable not only because it was $2.6M EMV more than Raising Cane’s’ No. 2 earner, but because Toni hadn’t mentioned the brand from January to October 2022. To have a new brand partner come in and make such an instant impact shows the hard work done by Raising Cane’s’ creator team.

Or take the brand’s ongoing collaboration with musician and tattoo inspiration Post Malone. After debuting a range of limited-edition Post Malone-themed cups back in June 2023, Raising Cane’s took its partnership to the next level in October. The artist collaborated with the Dallas Cowboys to open a themed Raising Cane’s restaurant in Dallas, Texas, featuring signature branding, merchandise, and displays highlighting significant moments from Post Malone’s career and the Cowboys’ history. Which mostly don’t overlap, since the Cowboys last won the Super Bowl when Post Malone was six months old, but I digress. (Our sports coverage might have been last week, but there’s never a bad time to poke fun at Dem Boyz.)

Anyway, all my snark aside, the people loved it: Post Malone helped Raising Cane’s achieve $7.6M EMV and $7.2M EMV in June and October, respectively—the two highest-grossing months in the brand’s history. 

As evidenced not only by Toni Breidinger and Post Malone, but by a powerhouse creator community that includes everyone from Theo Von to Kim Kardashian, who are about as different as two brand ambassadors/human beings can be, Raising Cane’s has successfully permeated a wide range of audiences. Even Mama Kelce has been getting in on the fun, tying Raising Cane’s to the biggest and most important story in global news right now, and possibly human history at large. When it comes to uniting people around glorious chicken, Raising Cane’s is more than able. (That’s right, I do Bible humor too.)

These dedicated ambassadors, innovative campaigns, and winning products all add up to unmatched contemporary success in the QSR space. Because again, nothing says ‘contemporary success’ like the Dallas Cowboys (alright, I’ll stop).

Want to know a handy research shortcut I use to gauge the strength of a brand’s community? Hashtag figures. If a brand’s top community-based hashtag is at or above the EMV generated by #[BrandName], then that brand is on the right track. And if #Ad is ranking No. 1, then something probably needs work.

This theory checks out for Raising Cane’s: since 2017, the brand’s No. 1 hashtag is #CaniacAmbassador, with $17.7M EMV. Coming in at No. 2 is #RaisingCanes itself, at $16.0M EMV. There’s a big drop toNo. 3, which is—you guessed it—#PostMalone, with $2.4M EMV. As for #Ad, it’s all the way down at No. 29 with $519.2k EMV.

Why did I start from 2017? Because this momentum has been a long time coming for Raising Cane’s. For as much as I like to stress YTD figures, it’s important to take a long view—especially when that long view is so impressive. 2023 has been the year in which Raising Cane’s has truly taken off. Just look at how far the brand has come:

Raising Cane EMV from 2017 to 2023Raising Cane's Earned Media Value from Jan 2017 - October 2023

Now think about where Raising Cane’s can continue to go.

You know where I’d like them to go? The westside of Los Angeles, so that I can actually try some of these chicken fingers for the first time.

Raising Cane's' Los Angeles LocationsRaising Cane’s’ LA locations

Just look at this Minesweeper-esque map of Raising Cane’s’ LA locations. Am I exhibiting some kind of chicken-repelling force-field over here? Why are you forsaking me, Raising Cane’s? What do Toni Breidinger and Post Malone have that I don’t, besides for bankable talents and legions of fans?

Please send me a chicken finger when you hit No. 1, Raising Cane’s. At this rate, it doesn’t seem like I’ll have to wait very long…


This Week’s Headlines

Snoop Dogg Shocks the World

Key Takeaways:

    • There are too few things you can count on in life. The sun rises in the east. These blog posts are funny. Snoop Dogg partakes in cannabis consumption from time to time. Well, one of these things is no longer true, and it’s hopefully not the bit about these blog posts.
    • Last week, Snoop Dogg shocked the world by announcing that he was “giving up the smoke.” He then shocked the world slightly less by revealing that it was all part of a marketing campaign. But boy, he really had us there for a second!
    • The initiative is part of Snoop Dogg’s partnership with Solo Stove, which manufactures nifty-looking smokeless outdoor firepits.

The CIQ Perspective:

    • If there’s one thing that this blog series hates, it’s fake-outs. Just kidding! We love them. And Solo Stove just executed an excellent example.
    • Snoop Dogg has proven himself a versatile and charismatic pitchman for a number of brands across multiple verticals—maybe a deep dive is in order to determine the cultural icon’s EMV footprint. 
    • Shoutout to CIQ client The Martin Agency for their excellent work on this campaign, which has already had a big impact on Solo Stove’s virality.

Kim Kardashian Bets on Truff

Key Takeaways:

    • Today in Mad Libs News: Kim Kardashian’s private equity firm acquires minority stake in truffle-infused condiment brand.
    • The deal represents Skky Partners LP’s first acquisition, a major step for the financial firm led by Kim Kardashian and Jay Sammons, a very talented businessman in his own right who probably has a lot of people Googling him now.
    • We’ve seen the success of Skims—now, Kim K flexes her private equity muscle, breaking into food and beverage.

The CIQ Perspective:

    • If you need further proof that creators are driving substantial business growth and outcomes across an ever-increasing number of verticals, here it is.
    • Obviously Kim Kardashian drives plenty of clout, but this is also a major victory for Truff. Look out for further analysis from CIQ in the future.
    • For what it’s worth, my girlfriend, of Erewhon smoothie fame, is also a big Truff gal. She’s 2/2 on her investment predictions, and she definitely exists. She goes to a different school, though—you wouldn’t know her.

Conor's Corner

If there’s anyone on earth who lives, breathes, and truly believes in the Creator Economy, it’s Conor Begley: CreatorIQ’s Chief Strategy Officer, and a burgeoning creator in his own right. When he’s not brainstorming ways to revamp (or really just to vamp) my social media presence, Conor shares his exclusive research on trending creator marketing stories with his followers on LinkedIn. But you can check out his latest findings right here.

This week, Conor provides some historical context on Black Friday:

Hope you had your credit cards ready: the biggest shopping weekend of the year just passed. 

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), over 130 million people planned to shop on Black Friday this year. Retail sales in November and December were projected to grow around 3% to 4% compared to last year, with holiday sales reaching up to $966.6 BILLION (up from $929.5 billion in 2022). Online Black Friday shopping, which has tripled over the last decade to $9.12 billion in 2022, was also projected to continue to rise, made even easier by more stores offering “buy now, pay later” and “buy online, pick up in-store” options. 

Social media creators certainly play an important role in generating hype—and sales—around the year’s biggest savings event, often by sharing their favorite Black Friday finds with their eager communities. Now more than ever, brands and retailers are looking to harness this posting power by partnering with creators to promote their stores’ top deals. 

So when it comes to EMV, which retailers can we expect to come out on top? While we don’t yet have Black Friday data for this year, let’s take a look at last year’s numbers in order to see if history will repeat itself in 2023. 

In November 2022, creator posts mentioning “Black Friday” and/or “#BlackFriday” accrued a combined…

  • $16.1M EMV for Amazon (which reported its biggest holiday weekend sales at the time)
  • $3.9M EMV for Walmart
  • $1.8M EMV for Target
  • $1.2M EMV for Sephora
  • $1.1M EMV for Ulta
  • $781.1k EMV for Nordstrom
  • $714.8k EMV for Macy’s
  • $608.0k EMV for Best Buy
  • $533.1k EMV for Kohl’s
  • $236.4k EMV for Home Depot
  • $171.9k EMV for Costco
  • $162.7k EMV for Lowe’s

Since Black Friday sales seem to start earlier and earlier each year, I also looked into last month’s data to see if any trends have already begun to emerge. Once again, Amazon came out on top with $595.7k EMV, but this time was followed by Ulta with $302.3k EMV, likely due to the beauty retailer’s early rollout of Black Friday savings. 

Excited to see what this year’s numbers have in store!

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