McDonald’s outlines ‘principled’ approach it hopes will give the brand ‘meaning’ again

McDonald’s newly appointed marketer chief executive Stephen Easterbrook has unveiled the four principles that will frame his upcoming turnaround plan as recent marketing changes failed to stop its latest quarterly sales slide.

Leading the company’s earnings call for the first time yesterday evening (22 April), Easterbrook left analysts he has a long-term plan for the troubled Golden Arches. The troubles were laid bare by the worse than expected sales slump of 2.3 per cent in the first quarter and McDonald’s warned of another drop in April.

Easterbook’s tonic is for the brand to be seen as a “modern, progressive burger company,” delivering a “contemporary customer experience”. How this will be achieved will be revealed next month (4 May).

Such a mammoth transformation is easier said than done and the restaurant’s former brand chief outlined three principles to ensure its plan stays on the path to the consumer.

Firstly, there will be a greater emphasis on personal accountability, a move that belies the need for strategies, particularly in marketing, to make an impact now rather than take incremental steps. Easterbrook went on to espouse how the business needed to be “even more customer-centric” in order to be “the best at knowing what matters most to consumers”, whether that’s through “better listening”, “better segmentation” or “genuine sharp insights”.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is the attitude of “progress over perfection”. “We will try new things, move fast with what works and even faster from what doesn’t,” said Easterbrook.

“And when we find winning plays, we’ll be more nimble, much like with the roll of Apple Pay this fall, from first contact to going live to 12 weeks. We can make meaningful change for customers in weeks, we just have to do it more often.”

The fourth approach is simplicity, a condition Easterbrook’s predecessor Don Thompson had been striving for since early 2014. Using its scale advantage more effectively is how McDonald’s plans to achieve this moving forward, though like the previous principles, the business was tightlipped on how it would achieve this leaner state.

While big changes to the business - and no doubt the brand - are imminent, the company already has elements of its turnaround plan in play. It launched its revamped brand strategy at the turn of the year and has made structural changes to ease the transferral of global marketing concepts to local markets.

Easterbrook lamented the company’s inability to turn from the growth drivers that powered strong sales between 2003 and 2011 and focus on the “future pipeline and growth platforms”. Such initiatives include the introduction of premium burgers, a customisation service for food and an all-day breakfast offer in the US.

The fast food chain also took the time to issue an update on its global app, which is due in the second half of the year. It will initially focus on the experience, trying to make the day-to-day customer journey smoother and more convenient, while future iterations will introduce more engagement elements.

Easterbrook said: “We are moving, without a doubt, from a world of mass marketing to one I describe as mass personalisation. And clearly technology allows us to do that now, which allows us to build a more meaningful relationship with out customers, to shift from a transactional relationship into a far more engaging and meaningful, purposeful relationship where we can understand their needs on their individual basis rather than a generic basis”.

McDonald's is under pressure from all angles; from perception problems to tougher competition, the restaurant's will need to work on a myriad of fronts if it is to have any chance of success.

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