966Chick-fil-A has pulled off major marketing promotions before, like the 13 times (so far) it asked people to show up in cow outfits to get an entrée, gratis. The chain's new free food promo is a lot easier: download the phone app to get a breakfast. It's certainly better press than getting into hot water over gay marriage.

Before I get into the business aspects of it all, let's cover the practicalities so those of you who are looking for a morning meal can get on with it. The Chick-fil-A announcement says that people who already have the app, first available in June 2016, or who download it now, can get one of three different breakfast items through September 30, 2017.

The app offers the ability to order ahead to skip the line (although there might be another line for pick-ups, if it's popular), get new ways to customize meals, pay through the app, and earn free stuff over time.

Why the promotion now?

All this raises an interesting question: What is the rationale of timing for giveaways for people who download or have the app? Last year the company did the same, giving away free food during a period to promote use immediately after the launch and then, again, about this same time last year with another breakfast giveaway.

That leaves a significant time between promotions. There are a number of possible reasons. One possibility is that Chick-fil-A wanted to work out potential bugs with the app over time. You can only do that through seeing how it works when used by people on a variety of different devices and on different mobile networks.

That's true for any app from what I've heard over the years speaking to many companies and app developers. Once the kinks are ironed out a bit is when you consider an additional promotion, so you don't underscore a situation where you might get negative reactions via social or conventional media. Who at a company would want the story to be, "Crap App Zaps Promo".

There's also the back-to-school timing, where people are more focused on getting things done. It seems like a natural time for marketers to look for attention.

And, clearly, if you run promotions all the time, it becomes something expected, a problem that retailer JC Penney has faced over the years. Once people expect something free, they wait for it.

More on the negative side, though. According to an email I received from the company, , Chick-fil-A had a different app in 2014. The 2016 version was updated and relaunched.

But how long have such companies as Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, and others had apps that let people order ahead, pay, and even accumulate points for free food? Plus, some give advanced notice of and access to new items. Plenty of food companies have offered freebies to download their apps: Dairy Queen, Panera Break, Chili's, California Pizza Kitchen, and plenty of others.

Competitors are ahead

Chick-fil-A is playing catch-up at this point. The company boasts of this promotion being a thank you for customers making its app "one of the top downloaded" during the June launch. Chick-fil-A has a big and loyal customer base. Of course it was going to get a lot of downloads.

But a 2016 promotion for its app, according to a report and analysis by SurveyMonkey Intelligence, which collects usage metrics for apps, showed some interesting information. An 11-day campaign resulted in 3.4 million total downloads. However, while one of the top three at the time in downloads (Starbucks and McDonald's were the other two), it was well below both in the number of days per month of use. From that standpoint, out of the top ten quick-serve restaurant apps, the Chick-fil-A app was seventh in terms of the amount of usage.

Furthermore, if you check Apple's App Store, Chick-fil-A's app has 9,663 ratings across all versions. Dunkin Donuts has 125,008 ratings and Starbucks has 322.416 ratings, as of the date of this post. More ratings would indicate greater engagement by consumers.

The issue is the way consumers use apps. Many will download new ones, but relatively few get put on a home page or used on any frequent basis. Chick-fil-A has to break through existing customer habits and get people to give them "appshare," the mobile tech equivalent of mindshare.

Perhaps the additional promotion is a regular practice that makes sense. Or maybe the company still doesn't see the results it wants, with the lack of appshare an major issue.

Consumers might get a good deal for the download with this new promotion. We'll have to see if Chick-fil-A does as well.

Published on: Aug 31, 2017