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Subway Positioning and Marketing Strategies

Subway was founded in Bridgeport, Connecticut on 28 August 1965, by Fred DeLuca and financed by Peter Buck. Since its inception, the core of Subway’s positioning has been based on the attributes of freshness, despite all the changes the fast food restaurant has undergone in its product and marketing strategy.

This American multinational fast-food restaurant was initially called Pete’s Super Submarines but was renamed in 1972 to Subway. The company has expanded over the years to become a global franchise specializing in submarine sandwiches (subs), salads, and wraps.

There are several marketing tools that have been used to determine Subway’s positioning in the market. The company uses a solid positioning strategy to market its product to a desired segment of customers. We will be discussing the company’s positioning and marketing strategies and how it has used them to stand out in the market.

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Subway positioning strategy

A company’s positioning strategy is a strategic marketing plan that aims to determine the defining characteristic of the company in the consumer’s mind in order to influence customer perception. It helps determine where the company stands in the market and how it should be positioned to attract more customers.

Subway’s positioning is about showing the audience how it wants to be perceived in the mind of customers, in order to differentiate it from competing brands like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc.

Competing against other brands is an integral part of a company’s positioning strategy. In order to ensure a position in the market that sets a brand apart from the competition, the brand has to ensure its products stand out from what is already on the market. This is why Subway works hard to make its product stand out by building its brand on the concept of ‘freshness‘.

Subway positioning slogan has always been “Eat fresh”. This tagline has been effective in attracting customers, especially those that want to eat fresh and good quality sandwiches at affordable prices. The company focuses on its consumers’ appetite for better healthy food and has positioned itself over the years, as a quick-service restaurant chain that delivers fresh, delicious sandwiches and exceptional service.

In order to position its products in the market, Subway emphasizes the distinguishing features (Freshness and customization) of its brand and creates a suitable image through its marketing mix.

Focus on freshness and customization

The Subway positioning strategy of making sandwiches on the spot in front of customers aims to instill a perception of freshness and hygiene in the mind of consumers.
The Subway positioning strategy of making sandwiches on the spot in front of customers aims to instill a perception of freshness and hygiene in the mind of consumers.

Subway’s positioning transformed the brand from a single sandwich shop to a global fast-food giant due to its consistent focus on health, freshness, and customization. By allowing customers to create their own personalized meals, the brand was able to transform the fast-food experience. Thus, offering a healthier and more satisfying alternative to customers.

Subway positioning strategy entails it offering a wide selection of fresh produce and low-fat options in an era where the rate of obesity and lifestyle-related diseases are on the rise. The brand’s alliance with several health organizations, and its involvement in initiatives like National Nutrition Month, shows its dedication to promoting balanced eating habits and wellness. This commitment empowers customers to make well-informed choices about their meals.

As Subway continues to embrace sustainability and adapt to changing consumer preferences, it remains innovative and provides a fresh perspective on fast food. Thus, continuously enticing taste buds and promoting a better way to eat.

Marketing mix used for Subway positioning

  1. Price
  2. Product
  3. Promotion
  4. Place

Subway uses the 4Ps (Price, Product, Promotion, and Place) for its marketing mix in order to determine its stand in the market and influence customer perception of its products.

The 4Ps used encompasses the key elements of Subway marketing strategy. This sandwich franchise has effectively combined price, product, place, and promotion to establish its brand and attract a loyal customer base. We will be discussing how this marketing mix is used in Subway positioning and marketing strategy:

Price

Subway’s pricing strategies vary based on certain factors like the current market condition, location, and promotions. The prices of its products are higher than its competitor in the market because the company ensures it serves high-quality products to its customers.

The company’s pricing strategy is based on a combination of quality and value which makes its prices slightly higher compared to the other traditional fast food options. This is one of Subway positioning strategies because it justifies its price by emphasizing the freshness and healthier aspects of its products. Thus, giving its audience the perception of its brand being the better choice for a healthier and fresher meal.

Product

The customization of products caters to diverse palates and dietary preferences, which improves Subway positioning as a preferred option for health-conscious consumers
The customizability of products caters to diverse palates and dietary preferences, which improves Subway positioning as a preferred option for health-conscious consumers

Subway’s product line consists mainly of submarine sandwiches, veggie salads, wraps, paninis, bread, foot-long, snacks, breakfast items, and drinks. The brand develops and provides various healthy food products on its menu and uses high-quality, fresh ingredients like farm-fresh eggs, artisan loaves, Angus roast beef, etc which sets it apart from competitors.

In front of its customers, Subway sandwiches are made on the spot to instill the “freshness” of the product. Its Sandwich artists are trained to prepare and serve guests on the spot while maintaining food safety and sanitation. This is to ensure that the sandwich prepared is fresh and hygienic.

This concept is another Subway positioning strategy because it aims to determine the characteristic perception of freshness and hygiene in the consumer’s mind for the brand.

The brand also offers sandwich customization wherein customers choose what they want to put in their sandwiches. That is, customers are allowed to personalize their orders through various toppings, cheese, sauces, etc. This customizability helps to ensure that each visit of a customer to the store yields something different than before.

This concept of customization caters to diverse palates and dietary preferences, which gives Subway a competitive advantage over its competitors.

Promotion

Subway’s “Eat Fresh” slogan is very effective in attracting customers and influencing their perception. Its slogan aligns with the brand’s core values, and appeals to health-conscious consumers that seek nutritious and wholesome meal options on the go.

Apart from its tagline, the brand uses several marketing campaigns and strategies to promote its products such as national television commercials, celebrity endorsements, targeted social media posts, etc.

The brand also makes use of Limited Time Offers (LTO) to drive sales among both one-time and loyal customers. For instance, Subway offered a “Buy one take one” promo for its products during National Sandwich Day.

Place

In order to ensure profitability, Subway does market research and establishes its branches in premium places where customers are health-conscious and are able to afford its product. It has more than 40,000 stores in nearly every country across the globe offering takeout, dine-in, and catering services.

These stores are usually found near residential areas, shopping centers, universities, transport hubs, hospitals, and several other places where people tend to congregate and commute. This ubiquity contributes to Subway positioning in the market and gives it a competitive advantage over its competitors.

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What is the positioning of Subway?

The positioning of Subway is based on the freshness attributes of its products. In the fast-paced restaurant industry where convenience usually outshines quality, Subway has been able to position itself in the minds of customers as a brand of healthy, customizable sandwiches.

The brand made far-reaching changes in the fast food industry by offering endless customization options, a wide range of fresh ingredients, and promoting healthier eating choices. It recognizes the importance of catering to health-conscious individuals and has positioned itself as a healthier alternative to traditional fast-food chains.

By introducing a unique build-your-own sandwich concept, Subway distinguished its products from competitors in its industry. Unlike traditional fast-food chains that serve standardized meals, this innovative concept allows for a personalized dining experience that empowers customers to select their veggies, bread, vegetables, and condiments.

The fast food restaurant offers a vast array of choices to accommodate customer tastes and nutritional needs, be it a gluten-free option, a vegetarian delight, or a protein-packed sandwich.

This customization feature sets the brand apart from the competition in the market because it provides a sense of control and freedom to the customer and also caters to various dietary preferences and restrictions. This enhances Subway’s positioning because it makes the brand’s product stand out from what is already in the market.

Subway’s competitive advantage is, therefore, its steady commitment to freshness. Right from the onset, the brand emphasized the use of freshly baked bread, quality ingredients, and crisp vegetables. The concept of assembling sandwiches right in front of the customers reinforced the dedication of the brand to delivering a superior product.

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Subway marketing strategies

  1. Strong brand identity
  2. Targeted marketing campaigns
  3. Co-branding initiatives and celebrity endorsements
  4. Digital Marketing
  5. Continuous innovation and menu expansion
  6. Seasonal and limited-time products
  7. Differentiated value proposition
  8. Social responsibility

Subway’s effective marketing strategies play a major role in the company’s success in the competitive market. This sandwich franchise has consistently implemented a range of strategies that have helped it gain a competitive advantage.

We will be discussing each marketing strategy listed above and how they have contributed to Subway’s positioning and continued growth.

Strong brand identity

Strong brand identity is a major marketing strategy of Subway. The franchise leverages its brand image to create emotional connections with customers. It uses a value-based positioning strategy to build a lasting brand image in the minds of consumers by emphasizing some of its values like freshness, healthy eating, and customization.

The brand’s increasing visibility among the minds of its targeted customer has contributed to increasing Subway brand equity to a great extent. The company always uses nutritious ingredients and sells the narrative that customers can have health-related benefits by consuming their products. This has helped to drive sales and has enhanced a strong brand identity that is focused on health and healthy products.

A strong brand identity is, therefore, one of Subway’s competitive advantages because in as much as the brand’s products are suitable for everyone craving a delicious sandwich, its products are also very attractive to a certain group of customers that are keen on a healthy lifestyle and fitness.

Targeted marketing campaigns

The "Eat Fresh Refresh" is one of the most recent marketing campaigns that has helped to reinforce Subway positioning as a healthy fast-food option.
The “Eat Fresh Refresh” is one of the most recent marketing campaigns that has helped to reinforce Subway positioning as a healthy fast-food option

One of Subway’s marketing strategies is the use of targeted promotional and marketing campaigns. The brand strategically targets its marketing campaigns toward specific consumer segments. It usually tailors its campaigns to resonate with different segmentations (demographic, geographic, behavioral, and psychological).

For instance, a Subway-targeted marketing campaign would be highlighting its low-calorie and healthy options to attract health-conscious individuals like in the “Eat Fresh” and “Eat Fresh Refresh” campaigns. Such targeted marketing campaigns help to create a positive brand image for the company and reinforce Subway positioning as a healthy fast-food option.

Popular marketing campaigns that reinforced Subway positioning

  • Eat Fresh campaign
  • Eat Fresh Refresh campaign
  • Five Dollar Footlong campaign
  • Make it what you want campaign
  • Chuck and Community (Promotional TV series for Subway)
Eat Fresh campaign

In 2005, the “Eat Fresh” campaign was launched and focused on promoting the company’s fresh and healthy menu options. This campaign emphasized the company’s commitment to using fresh and nutritious ingredients and promoted its product in the market.

Eat Fresh Refresh campaign

On July 13, 2021, the company launched the “Eat Fresh Refresh” campaign which involved legends across the sports world like Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Steph Curry, and Megan Rapinoe. The campaign included one of the biggest changes in Subway’s history, such as improvements to almost every core product on the menu and a better in-restaurant and digital experience.

“Five Dollar Footlong” campaign

Another example of a Subway-targeted marketing campaign would be promoting the brand’s value meals to budget-conscious customers like in the “Five Dollar Footlong” campaign.

The “Five Dollar Footlong” campaign was launched in 2008 during the great recession for cash-strapped customers. Customers were offered any sandwich of their liking for a discounted price of $5. This was one of Subway’s marketing strategies to navigate through the economic downturn.

This “Five Dollar Footlong” campaign helped increase Subway’s market share. The campaign was a huge success that by the end of August 2009, the company generated about $3.8 billion in nationwide sales which enhanced Subway positioning, ranking it among the top 10 fast-food brands in the U.S. for that year.

Chuck and Community (promotional TV series for Subway)

Chuck and Community were TV series aired on NBC that was almost off the air before Subway came to the rescue. Fans of these shows had done everything they could to save the TV series, which included fans ranting and raving on social media, as well as bombarding NBC and Warner Brothers with petitions, and emails.

Subway saw this influx in interest and decided to offer the show money to start featuring its product on the show. The company spent millions of dollars for a well-placed mention of its product in these TV shows to advertise its product and to also keep the shows on air.

The investment in the show was enough to buy the show more seasons on the NBC network and got a bunch of fans patronizing Subway as a way of saying, “thank you” to the brand for saving their favorite show.

These collaborations also benefited the brand more than expected and enhanced Subway positioning in the market. According to the Chief Marketing Officer at the time, Tony Pace, Subway experienced double-digit gains after showing up in Chuck and Community.

Make it what you want campaign

The “Make it what you want” campaign was one of Subway’s marketing strategies. This campaign was part of the company’s ‘Fresh Forward’ business remodel which calls for a healthy life and also offers a customization option to customers wherein they can easily design their own sandwiches.

The launch of the ‘Make It What You Want’ campaign introduced a new and improved menu, giving customers more ways to customize their lunch exactly the way they want it.

Alongside all the old favorites, the brand’s re-vamped menu featured 21 new and improved ingredients such as crispy onions, sriracha hot chili sauce, and chili & paprika bread.

Co-branding initiatives and celebrity endorsements

Another subway marketing strategy is the use of co-branding initiatives and celebrity endorsements. This marketing strategy plays a huge role in expanding the brand’s visibility and customer base.

Its strategic partnership with popular brands, like Disney and PepsiCo has created cross-promotional opportunities, that have helped to expand Subway’s reach and strengthen its brand. For example, in 2012, the brand collaborated with Disney on movies like Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, etc.

In the U.S., there was a Brave” promo for Subway’s Fresh Kit for Kids meals. This kid meal came inside reusable Brave-themed bags that contained codes to win free tickets to see Disney Pixar’s “Brave” movie in cinemas. This helped to drive the sale of Subway’s Fresh Kit for Kids meals during that time.

Subway also utilizes celebrity endorsements to promote its products and brand. It has partnered with athletes like Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Howard, Mike Trout, Carl Edwards, etc to promote its positioning as a healthy brand.

Such endorsements appeal to customers that aspire to live the healthy lifestyles of their favorite athletes. Thus, helping to create a positive positioning of Subway in the mind of the customer.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is one of Subway’s marketing strategies used to engage customers and promote products. The brand uses social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These digital platforms have been beneficial for reaching and engaging with Subway’s target market.

The brand’s active online presence enables it to share updates on new products and promotions, gather feedback, and connect with its customers. Through digital marketing, the brand is able to build relationships with its target audience, respond to customer inquiries, and showcase new menu offerings.

As part of its digital marketing strategy, the brand also has a mobile app that allows customers to earn rewards as they place orders on the app.

Continuous innovation and menu expansion

Subway expansion of its menu to offer a variety of food options contributes to the positioning of Subway in the market
Subway expansion of its menu to offer a variety of food options contributes to the positioning of Subway in the market

Another subway marketing strategy is the brand’s continuous expansion of its menu and innovation. Due to its innovation and menu expansion, this brand has been able to maintain its position as the largest sandwich chain globally despite facing stiff competition from other fast-food chains.

In order to adapt to changing consumer trends, this sandwich chain introduces new menu items and expands its digital and delivery services. The company keeps its menu fresh and exciting by introducing new flavors, ingredients, and limited-time offerings. This marketing strategy piques the interest of potential customers and encourages repeat visits from existing customers.

The company’s commitment to innovating new menu items has been a prominent competitive advantage of Subway. Its menu is revitalized to ensure that it remains relevant, catering to evolving consumer preferences, such as gluten-free alternatives or plant-based options.

Here are some of Subway’s innovations:

  1. Subway series
  2. Subway Fresh Forward
  3. Beyond Meatball Marinara Sub

Subway series

In 2021, the company introduced a new line of sandwiches called the Subway series which features a selection of eighteen different sub sandwiches. This menu includes new sandwiches that have been created from scratch specifically for the latest Subway Series menu and improved versions of previous sub sandwiches. The aim of this innovation was to reduce dependence on custom orders that may detract from the brand’s quality.

Subway Fresh Forward

Subway partnered with FRCH Design Worldwide to launch the Fresh Forward concept. This innovation was introduced to create a distinctive and welcoming space for customers. It includes transforming every aspect of the customer experience; digital, food, and dine-in experience.

Subway Fresh Forward restaurants display fresh vegetables that are sliced daily and also offer new menu items like cookies, house-made pickles, pico de gallo, new sauces, and gluten-free bread.

A digital transformation like Apple and Samsung Pay options, self-order kiosks, and digital menu boards were also introduced.

The fresh forward concept also improved customers’ dine-in experience by offering curated music, comfortable seating with USB charging ports, and complimentary Wi-Fi. All these are combined with light and playful decor to create a welcoming environment for customers.

Beyond Meatball Marinara Sub

The company introduced an innovative product, called the Beyond Meatball Marinara Sub, to cater to vegan and vegetarian customers. This is a plant-based meatball sandwich wherein the “meat” is made from a mixture of mung beans, peas, and rice (plus some beet juice for color).

Vegetarians order the sandwich with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese, while vegans order it without the cheese. This innovation helped to improve Subway positioning as a good option for vegetarians and vegans.

Seasonal and limited-time products

Offering seasonal and limited-time products is one of Subway’s marketing strategies. These limited-time products that the company offers create a sense of urgency and encourage customers to try its new products. This strategy keeps customers engaged and interested.

For example, in order to celebrate National Cookie Day on Dec. 4, 2022, Subway introduced footlong cookies for a limited time at its cookie-only pop-up restaurants.

These footlong cookies were a combination of two of the brand’s most iconic menu items, the footlong subs, and Subway cookies. They came in four different flavors (The Mexicali, The Subway Cookie Club, The Great Pickle, and The Monster) and were available for only one day.

Differentiated value proposition

Subway marketing strategy revolves around offering a differentiated value proposition to its target market. The brand appeals to health-conscious consumers seeking a balanced and nutritious meal because of how Subway positions itself as a healthier alternative to traditional fast food options.

Compared to other traditional fast-food options, this brand offers customizable sandwiches, a wide range of fresh ingredients, and nutrition-conscious menu choices. This differentiated value proposition, therefore, improves Subway’s positioning in the mind of customers and drive sales.

What is the brand proposition of Subway?

The brand proposition of Subway includes several factors that combine together to demonstrate the brand’s uniqueness such as freshness of ingredients, healthy meal options, customization, and the benefits its products offer.

A company’s brand proposition is something that solves a problem for customers and showcases the features that make the brand unique. The brand proposition of Subway solves the issue of unhealthy eating habits for customers and offers the following benefits to its customers:

  1. Selection: The brand offers a variety of sandwich combination that covers each individual taste
  2. The well-being of customers: The brand is conscious about its customer’s well-being and its ingredient and as a result is only committed to delivering fresh and healthy sandwiches.
  3. Competitive pricing: Subway’s products are affordable to customers.

Subway’s competitive advantage can be attributed to its Unique selling proposition (USP). A company’s USP is that different offering that makes the company stand out among its competitors. It could be a product, service, design, technology, price, or a combination of factors.

For instance, the USP of Subway is its freshness; it offers sandwiches prepared in front of customers with freshly chopped vegetables and freshly baked bread. Also, all the sauces and dressings used for the sandwiches are made in-house.

The USP of freshness is therefore a key marketing strategy of Subway. It is what has carved out the positioning of Subway and its unique niche in the fast-food industry.

Social responsibility

One of Subway’s market strategies is its commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. As part of its social responsibility, the brand has implemented initiatives such as reducing waste, using locally sourced ingredients, and supporting communities through the Subway Cares program.

The Subway system is structured to provide a wide range of great-tasting food choices while creating a positive influence in the communities it serves and reducing its environmental footprint. Apart from saving the environment, Subway’s commitment to social responsibility also drives sales because it appeals to customers who prioritize sustainability.

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As competition evolves in the fast food industry, Subway positioning and marketing strategies continue to drive its success. The brand’s marketing strategies keep playing a crucial role in positioning Subway as a global leader in the fast-food industry.

In conclusion, positioning Subway in the market as the preferred option for health-conscious consumers has consistently attracted and retained a loyal customer base, thus, giving the brand a competitive advantage over its competitors.