Why Leon is prioritising marketing as it looks to become an international fast food brand

Leon is hoping to make its marketing ‘as pioneering as its proposition’ as it appoints Kirsty Saddler as its first ever brand and marketing director.

Leon was founded in 2004 with an aim to make it possible for everyone to eat healthy food, and was the first to display nutritional symbols on its menus. Its proposition has proven successful so far, as the company reported a like-for-like sales increase of 22% in 2014 and an operating profit of £1.9m.

Saddler has been in her new role at the fast food chain for just over two weeks after leaving BBH where she was head of strategy.

She has been brought in as Leon looks to double in size next year. One way it is seeking to do that is through pushing its marketing more heavily – something the brand hasn’t prioritised before.

“The brand is a pioneer when it comes to its proposition and its business model, but not yet with its marketing. That for me is a huge opportunity,” Saddler told Marketing Week.

Gaining awareness using social

While Leon isn’t planning any above the line activity yet, the brand is looking at its social platforms as a way of building in-depth relationships with consumers.

“We’re not looking to make a big investment in above the line at the moment, as we want to establish stronger relationships with people digitally. We’re looking to our social platforms to develop content that we feel reflects the brand,” she said.

“We are exploring how we can use social to make people aware of our meal choices and the impact that it might have on them, particularly emotionally. We want to use more ways to share our brand and personality visually.”

Leon believes it is in a prime position to expand, and is now hoping to build brand awareness on a local and national level.

“The business is very strong operationally, and we have the momentum to gain brand awareness and increase our number of sites”

– Kirsty Saddler, Leon’s brand and marketing director

“It’s about creating a balance of localised and national awareness that actually begins to increase people’s attachment to brand. But there’s no point in driving national awareness if there are no local restaurants.”

Leon now has 27 restaurants across the UK, most recently opening in Birmingham and Cheapside. The brand ultimately aims to become an international fast food business. Leon plans to open five more new stores in 2015 and even more in 2016.

Healthy eating for the young

When it comes to the company’s growth, Leon hopes to meet a societal need as well as realise a business opportunity.

“Rising obesity figures and the amount of money that is spent on takeaways by a younger age group seems to suggest that young people are more disconnected with food. Our opportunity as a brand to make a difference has only grown,” said Saddler.

One way the brand hopes to make a difference is by promoting the emotional aspect of food instead of focusing on operational aspects like price points.

“At Leon, people tend to be served within 45 seconds. In that very short space of time, their interaction with the brand has to be emotive, positive and have a sense of humanity to it,” she explained.

“A lot of fast food services get to stuck on the operational side of things. But focusing on price points alone is not enough. We want to create more of an experience and atmosphere around that, which in turn will help build the brand and create repeat custom.”

  • Hear all about the importance of social media and engaging customers at this year’s Festival of Marketing. Taking place on 11 and 12 November there will be 12 stages and hundreds of speakers. Click here for information and to book tickets.
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