McDonald’s Articulates Its Brand Promise

Sep 30, 2010

By Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

In 1948, McDonald’s established
the principle upon which fast food restaurants are built by instituting its "Speedee
Service System." However, as
Matt Biespiel, senior director of global brand strategy, told the Private Brand
Movement Conference in Chicago this week, the company’s biggest challenge is
bridging the gap between what McDonald’s is known for and what it stands for
— and to do so consistently and globally.

McDonald’s is in the midst of the
biggest transformation in store architecture, packaging, and messaging the
company has ever undertaken, and if they get it right, customers will be saying "I’m
lovin’ it" in more than fifty
languages, in 32,000 stores, and in 118 countries.

The company is known for offering
choices and for being playful and optimistic, according to Mr. Biespiel, but
those messages haven’t provided a strong enough focus. Management determined
that enjoyment — and more specifically, "simple,
easy enjoyment" — is an own-able and differentiated brand promise that
will get to "the heart of the brand," though only if it represents "more
than just words."

Some of the key elements of McDonald’s plan for making
that happen include:

Store Architecture and Upkeep: The emphasis is shifting from "more
is better" to "less is more." Using crisp word marks and having
everything in its place will demonstrate a renewed "sense of confidence." The
old version of a McDonald’s store refresh was to apply a new coat of exterior
paint every 15 years. Upgrades now involve repainting exteriors every seven-to-10
years and redesigning interiors every five years. It’s a change franchisees must
adapt to, but results have been positive in the reimaged stores, helping make
the accelerated schedules more palatable.

Improved Perception of Quality: The "outdated" perception of
McDonald’s quality has been a continuing "headwind," but the company
has been working to enhance its appetite appeal and to create intimacy through
close-up photography vs. full product shots. At one time, showing sesame seeds
that had tumbled off a bun was considered a sacrilege, but now it’s seen as a
sales tactic. McDonald’s revisited its packaging with the mindset that, unlike
consumer products, packaging doesn’t sell — it provides reassurance. It’s the
one thing every customer sees and interacts with, whether at the drive-through
window, while eating in, or when receiving a delivery.

Employee Brand Engagement: With a 70 percent turnover rate among its
1.6 million restaurant employees, maintaining brand consistency among these "ambassadors" represents
another opportunity. Incorporating "brand modules" into training will
drive brand experience continuity among employees, helping them better understand
the "simple, easy enjoyment" premise.

Streamlined Menu Boards: Menu boards are both "money-making machines" and
a problem. McDonald’s knows that too many choices can create an overwhelming
visual presentation — exactly the opposite of the "simple, easy enjoyment" concept.
McDonald’s simplified menu boards make decision-making easy and are designed
to drive additional transactions.

Increased Automation: McDonald’s has been testing ordering kiosks in
selected markets, and early results have been promising. The average check
is up $2.00 in U.S. kiosks and £3 in Britain. McDonald’s has learned that customers
want to be in control, and they will spend more to get it.

Consistent Store Merchandising: McDonald’s is looking at store merchandising
from a new perspective as well. Rather than planning each promotion as a single
event, they are driving visual continuity in order to present a "unified

Discussion Questions: Of the tactics mentioned in the article, which ones
will do the most to deliver on McDonald’s "simple, easy enjoyment" brand
promise? What challenges does its global reach present?

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9 Comments on "McDonald’s Articulates Its Brand Promise"

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J. Peter Deeb
11 years 7 months ago

I think there are two tenets that McDonald’s needs to work on to improve sales and consumer perception. They are quality of product and quality of personnel. As a long time road warrior, McDonald’s has always been an option for me for breakfast and lunch and in the past several years the quality of the food served and the service levels have, in my experience, deteriorated. While McDonald’s is supplying consistent product to its outlets, the cooking and holding of the menu items is still left to individual franchisees. This results in cold food, soggy fries, etc.

The service levels need to be picked up also as I have experienced wrong items, incomplete items, surly cashiers etc. This usually varies by level of management attendance and involvement.

McDonald’s can clean up the buildings, streamline the choices, add kiosks all day but if the food and service are not consistent, nothing will change.

Al McClain
Al McClain
11 years 7 months ago

McDonald’s certainly has issues, but they have done a better job in my opinion of keeping their restaurants clean, fresh, updated, and consistent, especially relative to their very inconsistent competition.

With the proliferation of menu items, working to keep the menu boards streamlined is an especially good idea.

Going forward, I’d focus on quality, consistency, and a pleasant, quick dining experience.

Gregory Connolly
Gregory Connolly
11 years 7 months ago

I like the effort here. No one ever expects 4 star food at MD’s but keeping the focus on what they are very good at doing already is a good idea. Of course the food quality should always be good and is going to be a challenge in a franchise business model but a brand strategy (and everything starts with the strategy) is about claim and proof! Ronald is claiming it. Now go out a prove it, every day, every employee, every restaurant and every meal.

Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 7 months ago

Let’s be open about this. Frankly, McDonald’s is not Outback Steak House. The expectations should be based on what McDonald’s is and that is fast food at a moderate price. Yes, they can do a lot to improve on their image especially in quality of the product and customer service training of their employees. This has been lacking and ebbing over the past several years. I still rate them above most of their competitors in their field. But that is really not a public acclaim. They can and should be better at their service from greeting to thank you to clean up.

Paula Rosenblum
11 years 7 months ago

It’s going to be difficult to “engage employees” while the company is threatening to drop its health insurance plan.

From today’s WSJ: “Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.”

A brand promise is just that, a promise. Every company has to decide where it stands, and then make good on that promise. I’m not arguing for or against any decision here–just stating that mixed messages won’t fly.

Jack Kurek
Jack Kurek
11 years 7 months ago

The “mainstays” and attraction of McDonald’s are consistency of the product, service, and quality. This in the most part is embodied in the personnel in each and every McDonald’s and is demonstrated by the three locations I frequent in my immediate area. One of the three is clearly the best in my area and difference is clearly evident in the quality of the food served, the speed at which it is served, and the appearance and demeanor of the associates. One of the three locations is on my “to be avoided” list. And the third location is marginally acceptable. Clearly, as in most retail, associate and management staffing can and does make a difference. This is where McDonald’s will get the best return on their investment.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
11 years 7 months ago
I believe McDonald’s biggest challenges are store architecture and upkeep, quality/nutrition, and employees. A new look can be refreshing and the restrooms should definitely be part of that effort. I have never seen a McDonald’s restroom that is designed for a lot of traffic or has more than one counter or even a place to hang your purse. Restrooms should also be kept cleaner to build consumer confidence. Come on! It’s not hard to update–just ask your customers what they’d like to see. Quality can always be improved but they are pretty consistent in what they offer. Their biggest challenge is to make a meaningful effort in the obesity crisis. Considering the number of people, including children, who are overweight or obese, McDonald’s should make new efforts to introduce tasty, more nutritious foods. Oatmeal for breakfast is a vast improvement over their other choices. I’d like to see more of those meals for consumers as well as improved nutrition (i.e. less sodium and fat) in current choices. With 70% employee turnover and an increasingly diverse… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
11 years 7 months ago

“Simple, easy enjoyment” is an own-able and differentiated brand promise that will get to “the heart of the brand…”

Um, OK. Suffice it to say none of the ideas presented here–e.g. painting outlets more frequently–is revolutionary; but that’s OK, since (in this case) it’s sign they’re doing things right at present. McD’s challenge, of course, is adapting to changing conditions as they expand globally and as dietary habits change (both here and abroad)…so far I think they’ve done an admirable job and should keep up the good work. OTOH, if they really want to streamline their menu boards, I have one word: In-N-Out.

Christopher P. Ramey
11 years 7 months ago

McDonald’s will always be about acceptable quality of product delivered fast and at a reasonable price. Everything else is a supporting tactic.

Their success is due to their ability to execute.


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