Brand Strategy Unpacked - #McDonald's Secret Sauce

As part of our #BrandStrategyUnpacked initiative, our mission was to uncover how effective and impactful strategy had led to sustained growth for McDonald’s in the UK.
20 May 2024
McDonalds webinar team image
Lindsay Gorton-Lee

Brand Consultant, Brand Strategy, Insights Division, UK

A few weeks ago, Tom Lees and I had a hugely energising and inspiring morning chatting with Hannah Pain and Fainareti Schortsaniti, heads of McDonald’s UK Marketing and Insights respectively; and Tom Sussman, Deputy Chief Strategy Officer at Leo Burnett UK, McDonald’s long-term agency partner.

As part of our #BrandStrategyUnpacked initiative, our mission was to uncover how effective and impactful #strategy had led to sustained growth for McDonald’s in the UK. Kantar BrandZ data revealed exceptional UK brand growth for the brand over the last 10 years and Kantar BrandDigital showed a more recent upward surge in search volumes triggered by proactive McDonald’s brand evolution and activation. Kantar Marketplace’s LINK testing confirmed the short- and long-term effectiveness of the new creative campaign and Kantar’s NeedScope AI revealed a remarkably consistent emotive tone of voice across time and touchpoint.*

Our big question, ‘How do they do it?’

We came away with a treasure trove of incredible ingredients, summarised into six McDonald’s brand strategy mantras:

1. Ensure marketing strategy is heavily socialised, stuck to and used to prioritise against.

Hannah Pain explained how beyond shared understanding, socialising strategy created shared responsibility. Not deviating from the plan creates, "a level of calmness and stillness around that strategy which really grounds us", enabling clear,"prioritising against that strategy", avoiding distraction.

2. See customer insight as an investment in competitive advantage.

Fainareti Schortsaniti talked about how fortunate they are to work for, "a business that really understands the value and the competitive advantage that insight brings" which allows them to be, "relentlessly curious about: what’s happening in the market, what's happening with their customers, what are the drivers of business performance"."Really sticking close to the customer, the market and the competition", means they can, "put the customer at the heart" of the McDonald’s organisation and its strategy.

Insights also protects advantage by, "ensuring that media efficiency is hit for every single pound that we're spending", says Hannah Pain.

3. Start with the brand, stay true to it, and leverage your ‘superpowers’.

"Being very clear on our strengths is the first starting point", says Fainareti Schortsaniti. Then it's important to, "evolve our offer staying true to what we are but also adapting where we need to, to remain relevant" Fainareti talked about how they had created McCrispy, McSpicy, Best Burger to support McDonald’s iconic taste; how McDonald’s Rewards kept them accessible, when everyone is feeling the economic pinch; and how an evolved channel mix kept them convenient and advanced the McDonald’s experience.

4. Build true partnership to fuel mutual brand understanding and forge consistency.

The long-standing partnership at a brand team level that extends from marketing and insights to the creative agencies empowers the team to work through challenges together, proactively push each other further and build the brand consistently together, holding each other to account.

"I look at our team and think it's one-of-a-kind. They're passionate, they're curious, but first and foremost they're brand fans, [and] that creates that kind of level of kind of excitement that really just pushes us forward."

Hannah Pain

"Working on the account for years, the thing you're all working towards is a great brand rather than just one great campaign. One of the things that surprised me when I first started working on McDonald's, that it's very different, is there is no sell, because that suggests that there is one team with a better idea of what's going on than the other. And that's just not what this is about at all. It's about working out what the right solution is as a team, as a partnership. It feels consistent because we involve lots and lots of different people who all care deeply about the brand and understand it inside out."

Tom Sussman

5. Make moving on just as important as protecting your brand.

Tom Sussman talked about the importance of being, "professionally anxious about moving things on and making sure that we are reacting to the changes that are out there". He means not sitting still, anticipating change and being ahead of the game to drive growth. It means constantly living on the edge, which might sound stressful, but talking from experience he warned that, "things go wrong when we don't."

Enabled by the strong Leo Burnett / McDonald’s partnership, moving on sometimes means "We break a lot of rules", he said. "I mean, Raise Your Arches doesn't have a single burger or restaurant in sight. We could have just played the hits, worked out what is right, what is always been right for the brand and attempted to recycle it. But we never would have gotten back to the rate of growth we've gotten back to, which is amazing."

6. Believe in the power of creativity; and combine this this with accountability and a dollop of contagious fun!

Hannah Pain says, "everyone [at McDonald’s] has bought into the power of creativity and its ability to unlock not only short-term sales but long-term sales too. That's from our exec team, that's from our franchisees and indeed from our suppliers". But the "killer combo", she says, is their passion and energy for creativity blended with a results driven culture, making sure that every marketing pound is delivering back to their franchisees. They’ve done this by "investing in insights, investing in creativity, investing in partnership and holding each other to account", Hannah says.

But far from feeling like that discipline creates a straight jacket, she urges people to have fun, because "it’s contagious!". "Logic and reasoning get you to the same place as everyone else. Go make some magic. That's where something different happens."

So, stick to your strategy and invest in insight. Stay true to your brand, but make moving on just as important. Build true partnerships that enable you to be creative and have fun, while staying consistent and holding each other to account.

To watch the full discussion, click here.

*Sources: Kantar BrandZ, Kantar BrandDigital, Kantar Marketplace LINK, Needscope AI.