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A side of branding with your burrito

We’ve all heard the “perception is reality” phrase before. And unfortunately for some businesses, like Qdoba, that can start to hit home in unflattering ways.

I was reminded of this just recently when the fast-casual chain announced they were going to retool their brand – and that included everything from food to furniture, from app to employee apparel. Turns out even their bathrooms are getting a pretty sweet makeover.

Ever the curious mind when it comes to the intersection of food and marketing, I did some digging. And while playing detective, I came across several articles touching on the Qdoba rebrand (like this one, this one and this video).

Like many organizations (regardless of industry), the Mexican eatery was suffering from an uninspired and dated image. Through their customer research, Qdoba executives discovered they were often viewed as a “me-too” copycat of market-leader Chipotle. They learned customers simply weren’t engaging with their brand as they hoped – and as a result, register sales were suffering.

But, to their credit, they decided to take action. In fact, they decided to rebrand as the anti-Chipotle – even creating a fictional customer profile named “Quentessa” to stand in as a sassy, charismatic figurehead for their target customer base.

And Quentessa doesn’t do Chipotle.

So, whereas Chipotle restaurants are very spartan with mostly steel accents, Qdoba would feature Mexican street art as its décor with colorful designs, posters and callbacks to lucha libra wrestling and the candy skulls of Dia de los Muertos. Whereas Chipotle focuses its menu around the burrito, Qdoba would embrace the street taco craze sweeping the country and make seasonal tacos the centerpiece of its adjusted menu. And though Chipotle charges for “extras” like guacamole and queso, Qdoba would encourage customers to include such addons free-of-charge on any entree.

But the rebrand didn’t stop there.

The primary Qdoba logo was also updated, the full name was changed (Qdoba Mexican Grill became Qdoba Mexican Eats), their digital footprint (web, app, social) got a facelift and bland employee polos were replaced with colorful t-shirts, hoodies and plaid button-ups.

Going even further down the rabbit hole, employees now have the freedom to engage with customers on their menu likes and dislikes, and are encouraged to make recommendations of personal favorites. And as previously teased, even bathrooms turned into gothic chic powder rooms (women) and quirky luchador locker rooms (men).

In short, Qdoba is looking to inject authentic personality into its brand – in almost every facet imaginable.

So far, the results at the register have proven promising. Whether it yields long-term success remains to be seen. But what is clear, customers will no longer perceive them as a wannabe Chipotle.

And that’s a great start.