The following is the first in a series of articles that I wrote as Retail Wire’s delegate to the IIR Private Brand Movement conference. (You’ll find a link to my roundup of comments from the Retail Wire Brain Trust panel at the end.)
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Improved Perception of Quality: The "outdated" perception of McDonald's quality has been a continuing "headwind," but the company has been working to enhance its appetite appeal and to create intimacy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 narrative."