Five Reasons to Love In-N-Out

by Mark Fordice

Four hundred and ninety eight hours.  That’s how long I must wait until I can once again dive into a delicious Double Double cheeseburger at In-N-Out.  The Redding, California store, to be precise.  My kids will be with me and they will have no say in the matter.  I’m seriously crazy about this burger, this company, and this brand.

What’s so special about In-N-Out?  I can name five reasons at least.  Let’s take a look at each one, and see what we can apply to our own brands:

1. Incredibly good burgers.  While the french fries at In-N-Out only get marginally good reviews, the burgers are off the charts.  Since the company’s founding in 1948, In-N-Out has focused on providing top quality product, and this has translated into a great tasting burger.  Studies only confirm what I have enjoyed in my own experience.  In 2011, Consumer Reports asked several thousand readers to rate burgers from 18 different chains.  Over 36,000 people responded, and In-N-Out came out on top.  It’s a burger I have literally dreamt about.

Takeaway:  Have an awesome product or service.  Challenge your own company if what you make is a me-too product or second-class service.

 

2. Word of mouth.  Among other things, people like to talk about movies, sports, music, and food.  In-N-Out enjoys incredible word of mouth promotion.  On the “Likelihood to Recommend” scale, which runs from 1 to 10, I’m a 10 who voted twice and wished there were an 11.  I’m an In-N-Out evangelist, and I don’t cost In-N-Out a penny!  Loyal fanatics like me and countless others means that In-N-Out can spend less on other forms of advertising.

But why am I a fanatic?  Yes, I love the burgers.  I haven’t even mentioned the shakes.  And if the food were just so-so, I wouldn’t be writing this article.  Yet for me, it’s so much more than just the food they make.  It’s the whole experience, including reasons #3-#5.

Takeaway:  Figure out who your promoters are, and why they are crazy for your brand.  If you don’t have many promoters, do the research to find out why.  Ultimately, by developing a sizeable number of your own fanatics, you’ll have the best possible promotion available:  honest and free!

 

3. The Secret menu.  What is not on the menu is an important differentiator for In-N-Out.  The so-called Secret menu, replete with options including  Animal Style, Flying Dutchman, and Protein Style code-names, is actually widely known among customers.  Knowing about the secret menu and ordering from it makes me feel cool.  Information is power, and knowing the secret menu makes me an insider.  I’m one of them.

Takeaway:  This is a tough one.  If you are a marketer for a telecommunications company or an association or a nonprofit, a secret menu probably seems like a long way off from your world. Maybe the closest thing is sharing “inside info” with your customers, members, and donors, and finding creative ways to make them feel like they are part of your team.

 

4. Happy employees.  If you walk into In-N-Out, you will be greeted by a friendly employee, guaranteed.  They will smile and it will be genuine.  They will do whatever they can to make sure you have a wonderful experience in their store.  If I’ve been to In-N-Out one hundred times, then I’ve had that same great experience one hundred times.  Never a lapse!

In-N-Out hires people who are warm and friendly, and pays them well above the industry average.  At a recent store opening, there were more than 600 applicants for only 60 positions.  This shows that the company treats their employees very well.  In turn, the employees treat the customer well above the norm.  This is because In-N-Out doesn’t think about burgers as a commodity business — they correctly view it as a service business.

At Pivot, we have an account executive who has tremendous positive energy and friendliness.  We’ve even had clients say, “Well, I don’t know Pivot yet, but because of <this person>, we want to do business with you.”  That’s the sort of employees who you want on board!

Takeaway:  The people on your team are impacting your customers, your prospects, and your internal staff.  It can be like In-N-Out, where the positive energy is flowing, and it’s a huge benefit to your brand, or it can be the opposite.  So hire really friendly people.

 

5. Iconic Branding   In-N-Out is iconic.  They have combined the a number of wonderful concepts:  Clean restaurants, sharp uniforms, timeless American food, and classic cars (seen on their popular t-shirts).  Their logo is sharp and fun, and feels like a 1950s diner. But they’ve also rolled in the ever-popular coolness and hip of Southern California, seen in the silhouetted palm trees they employ in their stores and merchandise.

Takeaway:   This is another tough one to emulate, but do notice how In-N-Out selected some popular concepts, such as palm trees and classic automobiles, and made that a part of their brand.  Some aspects of the brand are timeless and unchanging, and yet at the same time a new t-shirt design is rolled out each year, and the shirts are worn everywhere.  Consider how your brand might tie into timeless and popular concepts.

 

Okay, I said I’d cover five reasons, but I have three bonus reasons, and I’ll be brief:

Bonus #1: Keep it simple.  In-N-Out has a simple menu:  Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Double-Double and French Fries. And drinks.  That’s it.  It’s easy to order and the quality is high.  Is simplifying a possible strength for your brand?

Bonus Reason #2: Clear mission.  In-N-Out’s mission hasn’t changed in 60+ years. Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.  In-N-Out consistently delivers on this mission.  Is your company’s mission clear?  Are you delivering on that mission?

 

Bonus Reason #3: Pricing.  Consider the following pricing comparison:

 

In-N-Out

Five Guys

McDonalds

Best Burger

Double Double $2.65

Bacon Cheeseburger $7.49

Big Mac $3-$4

In-N-Out does not demand a premium price for what many would consider a superior burger.  This is another reason why I love this brand.  I can afford to take the whole family, multiple times, during a California vacation.  How does your pricing compare to your competition?  Do your customers appreciate your pricing or use your products and services despite your pricing?

All right, there you go — eight reasons why I love In-N-Out.  If you’ve never been there before, definitely give it a try. I’ll think you’ll have a great time.  As for me, I can’t wait to go back.

Four hundred and ninety seven hours and counting!

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  1. Very good story. Being in Western Kansas I rarely get an opportunity to go to an In-N-Out but I make it a priority if I am in Vegas or Arizona. The food is great and the service is better. Getting that fanatical customer base is very difficult but word of mouth is by far the best advertising a company can hope for.

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