In the world of positioning, the sandwich chain Subway is in an enviable place. In a February 2010 survey by market research firm Decision Analyst, nearly 1 out of every 4 consumers (24.2%) “completely trust” its nutritional claims – more than any other restaurant in the quick service category. The second in line, Chick-fil-A, had less than half that See chart.
And Subway is undoubtedly an incredibly successful fast-food brand, coming in second only to McDonald’s in 2009.
You might think that Subway, with an estimated $10 billion in sales last year compared with more than $30 billion for McDonald’s in the U.S. alone, doesn’t stand a chance of overcoming that behemoth bastion of serious and classic American fast food—cheeseburgers, shakes, and salty French fries.
I am here to tell you that it can—Subway had 4.2% sales growth last year vs. 2.9% for McDonald’s—but that for some reason it’s not leveraging the positioning opportunity that it has.
That opportunity is to grab and run with the “healthy decadence” position, which is slowly taking root but hasn’t really exploded yet.
You can see “healthy decadence” happening in a few scattered areas—La Crème yogurt “that is dessert,” for example—but the problem is that often these products aren’t actually all that healthy. One serving of La Crème, for example, has nearly 19 grams of sugar.
In scattered places there is “healthy decadence” that is actually healthy. Low-calorie, high-nutrition Vitatops muffins are a great example. So is the eatery Funxion, which bills itself as “the first FIT restaurant and bar in America.” (See photo of the cover of Funxion’s menu.)
Neither of these are really mass-market brands, because they’re too expensive. But if someone could capture the formula and get the price down, they would be.
Why can’t that brand be Subway?
Right now when I look at a typical Subway menu board, I see that the “heavier” aspect of the sandwiches is emphasized—choices like Meatball Marinara come first. And of course, most people are going to put sauce and cheese on dishes like that. Which is going to make the calorie count skyrocket.
Yet the company does little to glamorize the much healthier and very low-priced choices that are available. You can easily get a “loaded” (with vegetables and non-fat condiments) 6” Veggie Delight at Subway for just 230 calories. That is nothing for a sandwich. Add a scoop of tuna to make it more filling and you’re still only around 350 calories, by my estimate.
The company has other great choices in the “healthy decadence” area. Look at the breakfast menu—who else gives you egg white sandwiches for 150 calories? You can’t get that at McDonald’s!
I get the sense that Subway is struggling with how much to push the healthy aspect of its food. It’s like they want to be all things to all people—telling people that they’re the healthy alternative, but once they get people to go there, offering less healthy alternatives along with the really good stuff.
Further, although the printed materials on display are informative, I have found that the staff at most Subways, although amiable enough, totally does not push the healthy message.
In fact, one day when I asked for a Veggie Delight with mustard and one scoop of tuna (to cut the calories), the person behind the counter seemed to find the request annoying.
My suggestion to Subway, if they truly want to succeed, would be to do the following:
- Focus on the “healthy decadence” brand position and stop trying to be all things to all people
- Make the calorie count even clearer than it is now
- Expand the “Fresh and Fit” menu and perhaps even brand the heavier items with another name—then they can say that everyone has a choice of what to eat at a Subway
- Train and engage the franchisees
- Set a goal of knocking McDonald’s off their perch
And now…let the brand games begin!
The bottom line, though, is that anytime a consumer is strongly drawn to a popular culture phenomenon, that is an opportunity to sell them things. Especially, branded things. Because by and large, whatever it is you're watching on TV isn't a basic and generic need, but rather an escapist one. And escapist brands are ripe for charging a brand premium.
Right now I am aware that the Kardashians push at least two brands: QuickTrim diet pills and a clothing boutique called Dash.
To me these are both total loser propositions.
- QuickTrim has a very generic-sounding name and like all quick-fix diet pills, seems like a scam - unless you're the type of person who is desperate, or willing to believe anything. It's about on the level of "burger sliders," "mini-chop blenders," and a lot of the other stuff they promote on late-night TV. So it cheapens the Kardashian name.
- Dash is another impossible brand. Kourtney, who is most identified with this brand, doesn't have any special sense of style. They all pretty much dress the same. She's not passionate about it - in fact seems pnever there - and when she was there, in Miami, the store ended up very run down. Last season the TV audience saw her horrified face as she came back from a trip to find that her associates had to clean human waste from the wall of a dressing room. Triple uch.
Thinking about it I see at least 5 possibilities where the Kardashians could earn quite a bit by simply endorsing a product with their name:
- Nightclubs - as they are very much about experiencing life, enjoying life, having fun, etc.
- Luxury homes and home furnishings - as half the show is about watching them go from one family member's luxurious home to another.
- Baby clothing and accessories - as there is a frequent focus on Baby Mason. Last night it was all about his hat.
- New York and Miami - each one a place-brand. They could partner with the tourism boards of each of these cities to bring visitors in as the family has made these cities look glamorous and fun.
- Romance novels - the mother seems to tag along with the girls and complains that her husband isn't as exciting as she would like - she would be perfect to endorse "beach reading" for other women who feel similarly.