Marketing, Animal Style: 4 Lessons from In-N-Out Burger

Introduction: That California Vibe

In-N-Out Burger, the popular American west coast burger chain, is a marketing force to be reckoned with. Last summer, one of In-N-Out Burger’s famous “pop up shops” opened for one day only in front of a restaurant in Toronto, and hundreds of people arrived 5-7 hours early to wait in line before the 11 am opening. An eager man told The Toronto Star, “When you go to one of their locations, you really just get that California vibe.”

What gives In-N-Out Burger that “transporting” quality? Even countries away, people feel like they are sidling up to a booth in California when they eat the company’s product. What is it about In-N-Out’s brand that captures the attention of so many, and creates a following wherever the burger chain decides to open? They’re a company who knows exactly who they are and what they’re about. Here’s four marketing lessons you can learn from In-N-Out Burger: 

Lesson 1: Remember Your Roots

In-N-Out founding family, Harry and Esther Snyder, in 1948.


One of the secrets of In-N-Out’s success comes in the brand’s dedication to their California “birth story.” The company was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948, and is widely believed to be the first drive-thru burger shop in the U.S. Since this iconic moment, In-N-Out’s marketing efforts have revolved around the culture and environment surrounding the burger chain’s birth. Bloomberg Businessweek writes that In-N-Out, in “playing up its roots as a drive-through” is “echoing the days when roadside diners attracted travellers with their kitschy neon architecture, stores strategically placed along free-way off-ramps”. In-N-Out Burger makes sure to infuse a back-story into every marketing strategy. Without even realizing it, you’re not just buying a three dollar burger, but 80 years of road-trips and family memories.

Lesson 2: Sacrifice Makes for Beautiful Simplicity

Current In-N-Out Burger locations.

The AdAge article “What Doesn’t Your Brand Stand For?” notes, “It’s easy to stand for a lot of things, which is where a brand usually makes its biggest mistake. A brand becomes bloated and fuzzy when it tries to stand for too much”. In-N-Out Burger, however, is hailed for its “courage and discipline” in making sacrifices in the name of their brand. “They’ve given up aspects of their business and turned down opportunities that others might have considered vital. But, through their sacrifice, they’ve become [a] worshipped brand”. With a firm grasp on who they are as a company, In-N-Out is able to make calls about what aspects of their brand are crucial to showcase and what others can be saved for another space, or done away with all together. Continuing with their quaint California road-trip feel, In-N-Out elected against rapid expansion, instead seeping ever so slowly into a single state at a time (they only operate in five).

It can seem a bit of a contradiction, but representing less in a marketing strategy can actually garner more attention. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin; trying to represent the interests of everyone will only make your company seem scattered.

Lesson 3: People Remember Quality

The In-N-Out motto.

Quality of ingredients may be what In-N-Out Burger is best known for, and is one thing they absolutely don’t sacrifice. They famously don’t have microwaves or freezers in any of their locations (one explanation for their slow expansion, as they must be located near a distribution centre). A woman who waited in line at the pop-up shop in Toronto said “it’s the freshest burger I’ve ever tasted” while another explained, “I haven’t had one in five years…but that’s how memorable it was.” IN-N-Out Burger’s mission statement talks about serving the highest quality foods, the best service, and a “sparkling clean” environment. The company’s commitment to high quality extends beyond just food: they also support a happy working environment with higher pay and by calling each of its workers “associates” rather than “employees.”

Quality people, quality service, quality product. Sound like your goals? Putting in quality time to perfect your digital marketing strategy is important. Trust us, people remember that stuff. They remember prompt email responses, mobile friendly sites, and eye-catching investor presentations. Every piece of material online with your name on it represents you. Make sure you like what it’s saying.

Lesson 4: Know what you do Better than Anyone Else

In-N-Out’s simple menu.

IN-N-Out resides in an overwhelming market; one where competitors have tried everything to make their burger stand out as the best. We’ve seen square patties, cactus burgers, and half-naked women on TV spots munching away in efforts to stand out from the crowd. In-N-Out, knows, however, that they’re not just selling a burger. They’re about the experience, and about trust. There’s a reason that in the 70 years they’ve been operating, In-N-Out has stuck with their simple menu of double-double, cheeseburger, hamburger, and fries (not counting their secret menu with the famous Animal Style burger). They know what they do best, and they know what people like to see.

So what do you do better than anyone else? What is the one message you really want to get out with your digital marketing strategies? One strong, amplified message gains a lot more traction than several scattered ones. The “don’t spread yourself too thin” lesson works here too. Figure out what you do better than anyone else and don’t only highlight it. Specialize in it. Lead with it.


Marika Hirsch
Marika Hirsch

As Blender’s Content Manager (aka ‘Resident Wordsmith’) Marika enjoys bringing readers the latest and greatest in both digital trends and IR tips. Follow along on Twitter: