Tim Hortons Uses In-App Messaging to Gamify Their App in Record Time

Few things say “Canadian” more than massively popular fast-food chain Tim Hortons and the sport of hockey. When the NHL playoffs were suddenly slated to begin in August of 2020 following a pandemic-driven pause, the quick service giant needed to rapidly ramp up an app-based promotional tie-in game. With Braze in-app messaging, it was game on.


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Oh, Canada! There are many institutions that define Canadian life, from the natural beauty of British Columbia to the acting stylings of the one and only William Shatner. Two titans, however, stand astride the North American nation like a pair of colossi: Fast-food restaurant Tim Hortons, and the sport of ice hockey. How fitting, then, that this dynamic duo should come together for a promotion that demonstrates the power and flexibility of in-app messages to support unique, impactful brand experiences.

Founded in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, Tim Hortons has risen to iconic status in Canadian culture over the past several decades by serving up coffee and donuts to the nation that devours more of the latter per capita than any other country on the planet. Launched and named after a professional hockey legend who played 24 years in the National Hockey League (NHL), the franchise has always had a connection with what’s considered Canada’s national sport. So, it makes sense that the franchise would want to tie their promotional efforts to the goings-on in the NHL, which tends to be avidly followed by their customers.

Tim Hortons’ Promotional Power Play

Tim Hortons’ marketing team knew they wanted to create a challenge promotion within their mobile app that linked to the NHL. When it seemed like the 2020 season would be scuttled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the company targeted the start of the 2021 season for their effort. When it was announced on short notice that the Stanley Cup playoffs were back on and would be starting in August of 2020, however, the brand decided it wanted to launch a gamified promotional experience in as little time as possible in order to capitalize on the excitement around the sport’s triumphant return.

Designing the game, in which users picked three players they thought would win their matchups, was the easy part. The challenge was to rapidly create a seamless experience within a mobile app that wouldn’t require users to log into something new. What’s more, the typical time to release new app code was 2-3 weeks, and the start of the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup was a mere 2 weeks away. Fortunately, a solution was sitting on the bench, just waiting for the chance to hit the ice.

In-App Messaging Shoots, Scores!

That solution was in-app messaging. Typically designed to deliver promotional messaging to users engaging with a brand’s app, IAMs come with a degree of flexibility that made them the perfect delivery system for Tim Hortons’ promotional game. By mimicking the look and feel of the app within an IAM that housed the game, they could make it appear to users as if they were still interacting with the app itself rather than an overlay. Furthermore, it kept users within the app environment rather than sending them to a stand-alone presence elsewhere, meaning authentication and any other personalization data gathered by the app could be seamlessly carried over.

What’s more, the Braze platform made rolling out the promotion easier than shooting on an empty net. Just one front-end designer and one engineer were needed to create the product, with design and build time reduced to three to four days. At the end of the day, Tim Hortons was able to very quickly develop and push live an NHL promotional tie-in, and in the process created a template that could be utilized for different promotions 365 days a year.

“We’re always looking for ways to surprise and delight our guests with new features in our app and working with Braze helped us to quickly develop our NHL Hockey Challenge that many fans are loving to play every day,” said Matt Moore, Head of Digital And Loyalty at Tim Hortons.

Final Thoughts

When we think of messaging channels, it can be easy to fall into the trap of considering them a one-way conversation between a brand that wants to get the word out about something and its audience of customers. Tim Hortons’ use of IAMs to deliver a seamless and gamified experience demonstrates, however, that a creative approach to the messaging toolbox can not only improve the brand-consumer relationship, but also provide alternate, often more efficient ways to achieve typically time-consuming marketing goals.

For all the details on how IAMs can help you get in the game, check out the Braze In-App Messaging Guide.


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