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McDonald’s Brand Strategy Framework Update

McDonald’s Brand Strategy Framework Update

This MVP of Brands Re-Focuses on Core Menu, Drive Thru

McDonald’s brand strategy framework continues to drive value by delivering excellence on core menu items.

McDonald’s is the undisputed food and restaurant brand value leader, as proven by its ranking in the top 10 most valuable brands, according to Forbes.  Not surprisingly, three of the four FANG technology brands (Facebook, Amazon, Google) are also in the top ten, along with Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Disney, Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton.

New Enhancements to McDonald’s Proven Brand Strategy Framework

The recently announced Accelerating Arches growth strategy emphasizes the brand strategy framework focus on the core classic products that drive 70%+ of McDonald’s food sales: The growth strategy pillar is:

“Commit to the Core by tapping into customer demand for the familiar and focusing on serving delicious burgers, chicken and coffee.”

Specific actions highlighted include toasting buns to golden brown and improved grilling for flavor:

What customers love most about McDonald’s menu is the classics – like the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Chicken McNuggets and World-Famous Fries. Core menu items, like these, represent the heart of the business, making up about 70 percent of food sales across its top markets… the Company believes these core classics will continue to be significant drivers of growth thanks to both their popularity and profitability. McDonald’s heritage is in burgers, and committing that customers get the best version of their popular burgers every time they visit is a priority. To improve upon the great taste of its burgers and to serve them hot and deliciously juicy, markets around the world are implementing a series of operational, process and formulation changes. These include using new buns toasted to golden brown and an enhanced grilling approach to unlock more flavor.”

McDonald’s Brand Strategy Framework Update

Along with Core Menu Items, Drive Thru Recognized as Key Factor in Brand Strategy Framework

A second growth strategy pillar is:

“Double Down on the 3 D’s (Digital, Delivery and Drive Thru) by leveraging competitive strengths and building a powerful digital growth engine that provides a fast and easy experience for our customers.” 

And for good reason, since drive thru was 70% of fast food sales prior to COVID and an even higher percentage today. 

McDonald’s has long emphasized drive thru, and sees its position in drive thru as “unrivaled,” with over 14,000 US locations offering drive thru.  While Subway has more restaurant locations than McDonald’s (over 20,000), it has only about 1,000 with drive thru.   In an attempt to provide more convenience in 2021 and counter this disadvantage, Subway launched curbside service in more than 10,000 locations.

The McDonald’s brand strategy framework focus on core menu items allowed McDonald’s to improve its drive thru times in 2020, becoming 25 seconds faster at the drive thru.  This improvement is meaningful in a category where the very fastest times were reported at three minutes 37 seconds (Dunkin’), and  the “slowest” of the fast was Chick-fil-A at five minutes 23 seconds. In this pre-COVID research, McDonald’s drive thru clocked in at four minutes 44 seconds, comparable to Hardee’s and Arby’s and 45 seconds slower than Wendy’s and Burger King.

Moving forward, restaurant industry experts are calling for more hybrid drive thru models to  enable even faster drive thru times.   In essence,

“one lane is for traditional drive thru and the second is for picking up app orders…even once people transition back to the office, you’ll see a lot of engagement with express lanes and app orders during the lunch break when employees don’t have much time to sit in the drive thru.”  

Dunkin’ and Chipotle were identified as brands offering this hybrid model.

McDonald’s can be expected to continue to make investments in drive thru. For example, in 2019 McDonald’s invested $300 million, purchasing Dynamic Yield, for improved digital menu boards. Recently, McDonald’s has been testing AI to take drive thru orders in Chicago,  

Customer satisfaction ratings of drive thru clearly indicate that time isn’t the only factor as Chick-fil-A with the slowest time gets the top overall drive thru ranking for 2020 on “overall experience.”  In addition to speed, other factors are:

  • staff friendliness
  • menu item availability
  • cleanliness and sanitation
  • quality of menu items ordered
  • order accuracy 

On this longer list of attributes, McDonald’s generally gets around 81-85% (satisfied or highly satisfied), while top-rated Chick-fil-A performs in the 92-94% range.

McDonald’s Brand Strategy Framework For Core Products

Delivering a consistent brand strategy using a clear brand strategy framework focused on the most important classic food items continues to be important to McDonald’s success with consumers. In our brand strategy work with the McDonald’s team, we focused on six core food equities:  

  1. World Famous Fries
  2. Big Mac
  3. Happy Meal
  4. Egg McMuffin
  5. Chicken McNuggets
  6. Quarter Pounder with Cheese (QPC) 

Given the current McDonald’s growth strategy focus is on burgers, chicken and coffee, it appears that QPC, Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets are currently receiving the most attention from the six brand equities that we originally focused on for brand strategy frameworks.

The McDonald’s brand strategy framework was designed to address the following objectives and business benefits:

Objective #1: Elevated focus on core product equities

Related business benefits: Leverages key strengths, provides a more balanced focus between new and core

Objective #2: Enhanced brand consistency and differentiation

Related business benefits: Strengthens consumer connection, impacting brand and business health

Objective #3: Guidelines for core equity extensions

Related business benefits: Increases brand consistency, optimizes development resources

Objective #4: Parameters for brand governance

Related business benefits: Provides marketing and development efficiencies

Objective #5: Coordinated resources for core advancement

Related business benefit: Optimizes resources

From the brand strategy framework toolkit elements, the McDonald’s brand strategy framework provided a brand equity pyramid and product pillars for each core equity, e.g., QPC, Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets.

The core product equity pyramid was the first deliverable, with five elements:

  1. product attributes
  2. functional benefits
  3. emotional benefits
  4. product personality
  5. product positioning

Together, the core product equity pyramid was used to drive core product communication guidance, to build consumer connection and brand differentiation.

The product pillars were the second deliverable.  These included product standards and how they are measured, for instance, does the product have an advantage compared with competition on taste, convenience, value or price.  These were used as guidelines for new product extension.

McDonald’s Brand Strategy Framework Update

The methodology to develop the brand strategy leveraged several factbases and included the following:

  • Data review of all existing relevant information, including packaging and advertising from the different major markets of the world
  • Interviews with branding and marketing leaders from different markets
  • Case study analysis of other global brands, focused on their brand strategy frameworks, applications and organizational guidelines. These included interviews with executives at these firms. The studied brands included: Nescafe, Gillette, MasterCard and Tesco.
  • Assessment of the current equity by the core team
  • Review of the overall McDonald’s brand framework and promise. Clearly, the core product equities need to align with the overall McDonald’s brand framework
  • Creation of the desired brand equity framework, and standards, specifically the equity pyramid and the product pillars
  • Guidelines for governance and implementation
    • Organizational alignment using RACI model
    • Communications alignment e.g., tools and resources such as online content library, reviews
    • Product alignment for new products and current portfolio
    • Measurable results with specific research hurdles explicitly outlined
    • Brand architecture and packaging guidelines
  • Creative briefs for each core equity product

Developing the brand strategy framework for the core equity products took three months from start to finish.  With the 12 deliverables in hand (two frameworks times six core products), the McDonald’s team and their agencies moved to implementation. 

McDonald’s Brand Strategy Framework Update

For more brand strategy examples, visit our brand strategy resources page or  contact us to learn more.