Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How In-N-Out Burgers Became the Underground Cult Favourite That Everybody Knows

in-n-out marketing strategy

Traveling to California? Don’t forget to visit In-N-Out to get the best burgers in America.

According to financial database Privco, In-N-Out’s estimated revenues is about $625 million last year. That’s a big deal, considering it’s only available in 5 U.S. states.

Why is it a cult favorite? How does it manage to attract A LOT of customers? Let’s take a look at the In-N-Out Marketing Strategy to see how its burgers became an underground cult favourite everybody knows about:

1. Word-of-Mouth Marketing

In-N-Out’s popularity stems from its brand advocates and word-of-mouth strategy.

Local fans love the business because of its contributions to their communities.  In fact, its social media pages are filled with posts supporting and sponsoring relevant causes and charities. Its website also highlights its commitment to “assist all communities in our marketplace to become stronger, safer and better places to live.”

Thanks to word-of-mouth marketing, the brand’s marketing budgets are a lot lower than most fast food restaurants. They maintain their popularity, with the least amount of time and effort.

Plus, have a secret weapon for their word-of-mouth marketing efforts – their “secret menu”.

2. “Secret Menu” –  provides custom options to customers

In N Out’s “secret menu” gives customers a lot of custom options to spice up their orders. You can ask for special customisations like a mustard grilled burger, extra toasted buns or even a quadruple cheeseburger.

The Animal Style burger is one of their most popular secret menu items. There’s just a perfect balance between the pickles, grilled onions and mustard-grilled patty, covered in gooey cheese. And this is just one of many secret menu items.

in-n-out burgers marketing strategy - secret menu

Source: Dustin Downing / Thrillist

Making it a secret gives the brand social currency, and helps it grow through word-of-mouth. It gives fans something to talk about and share with new customers, friends and family.

In fact, if you search for the secret menu, the official In-N-Out website isn’t even the top result — but there are literally millions of other pages devoted to sharing the secrets and obsessing over the items. Not bad for a secret!

3. Prioritizing Quality Over Quantity

Word-of-mouth, marketing and secret menus are great tactics to promote your food business. But if you really want to succeed in the industry, you’ll need good food to back it up. And that’s where In-N-Out burgers succeeds.

In-N-Out is legendary for delivering some of the best burgers in America. The company’s ingredients are produced from its own farm, they butcher their own beef and make their own buns. The burgers, fries and shakes are easily affordable—and the quality is superb.

in-n-out burgers marketing strategy - commitment to quality in-n-out burgers marketing strategy - commitment to freshness

Its dedication to quality is one of the main reasons for having only a few branches.  The founding family refuses to franchise and won’t build restaurants far from its butcheries in California and Texas.

While this limits its store footprint to just five states, its branding is incredibly concentrated within those regions – and in building a strong association with the West Coast.

4. Stays True to Its Branding

In-N-Out’s fame can also be attributed to its California branding.

“That would be the culture of southern California, where laid-back surfers lounge on beaches and palm trees abound. The interior of In-N-Out Burger location pays homage to its origins retro, LA-style neon signage. The exterior, wherever possible, includes a pair of live palm trees (echoed on the drink cups), which the chain first started planting at each location in 1972.” writes Al Eidson, President of Eidson & Partners.

in-n-out burgers marketing strategy - branding

The retro decor offers a connection to its origins – and keeps it recognisable.

The fact that In-N-Out is only available in 5 U.S. states (and avoids franchising) keeps the brand tethered to its SoCal origins and its focus on quality: “Do one thing, and do it well. A lot of tourists and travel websites even add it to their go-to places when traveling to these locations.

in-n-out burgers marketing strategy - branding and locations

The trademark colours and crossed palms. From: GreenbergFarrow

A Reddit AMA from an In-N-Out burger associate also emphasized the brand’s focus on presentation: there are even rules for placing food on trays (no more than four fries, or six burgers, or two burgers and two fries). It’s also purportedly why the brand will no longer assemble burgers taller than four patties — no more 100×100 burgers! — to avoid a less-than-perfect experience for their customers.

In-N-Out Marketing Strategy: What Have We Learned From The Burger Brand’s Success?

  • Leverage word-of-mouth marketing
  • Prioritize the quality of your food, over the number of branches you have.
  • Think about how you can tap into the power of social currency and use word-of-mouth to increase sales.
  • Never forget your branding

in-n-out marketing strategy

Monique Danao

Monique Danao is a writer and content creator with an expertise in marketing and SEO. When she's not writing, you'll find her enjoying funky food, listening to music and marketing startups.