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Case Study: A McMaster Class in Digital Engagement

Written by 
Brad Davis
November 14, 2019

To call McDonald’s the most successful restaurant chain of all time would be an understatement. There aren’t too many chains out there (no matter what industry we’re talking about) that are opening a new branch every 14.5 hours.

Every day, McDonald’s feeds approximately 1% of the world’s population (69 million; give or take a couple meals). With 75 burgers sold every second, and nine million pounds of fries served every day, McDonald’s is rapidly approaching 38,000 restaurants spread across more than 100 countries.

Food aside; McDonald’s is also the world’s largest distributor of toys (by a long shot) and spends almost $1 billion annually on direct media advertising.

McDonalds marketing to kids
Image Source: McDonald’s

So… why is McDonald’s so ridiculously successful? One word: marketing

The McDonald’s Corporation is extremely good at marketing. Every decision McDonald’s makes ultimately hinges on two basic principles:

- Increase frequency of visit (FOV)

- Increase average transaction value (ATV)This has been the case since the fifties. The advancement of technology has simply given McDonald’s the means to amplify this process.

While McDonald’s has long been the world leader in fast food, the mymaccas app has completely revolutionised the way the restaurant engages its customers. Here are the “surface level” aspects of the mymaccas app that help to make it extremely effective, before we dive into the stuff that’s not quite as easy to notice.

1. Simplicity

simplicity of mcDonalds rewards program

McDonald’s has always been big on the “less is more” mantra. Just like any McDonald’s restaurant outlet around the world, the mymaccas app is simple, uncluttered and easy to navigate – without being basic.

This might seem like a contradiction, but McDonald’s has put a lot of effort into making sure the mymaccas app is remarkably complex without overwhelming users (and plenty of big brands have failed at this).

2.     Convenience

Just because the app has a simple layout for ease of use, don’t think it lacks all the bells and whistles.

Through the mymaccas app, customers can order and pay for their meals, find their nearest McDonald’s, customise their own burgers and sides, redeem free coffees through the McCafe Loyalty Program, and enjoy numerous other features that make the McDonald’s dining experience more convenient.

3.     Enticing offers

Every time a customer places their order, redeems rewards or selects their nearest McDonald’s restaurant through the app, this data is collected and stored.

So, what does the McDonald’s Corporation do with all this information? It uses this data to tailor your offers more and more with every transaction, until you start receiving notifications like:

  • an exclusive offer to purchase your favourite burger for half-price before 2pm today only
  • an invitation to replace your fries with McNuggets next time you buy a meal, seeing as you tend to buy a lot of McNuggets
  • an enticing offer that “conveniently” gets sent to your phone right as you happen to be walking past your most frequently visited McDonald’s restaurant…

This is referred to as targeted marketing, or “below the line” marketing.

Push notification to gain customer engagement

4.     Effective promotion

McDonalds billboard advertising
Image Source: Clear Channel Outdoor

McDonald’s also invests a lot of money in 'above the line' marketing; or mass advertising. Just about everywhere throughout the western world, you’ll come across the Golden Arches via TV ads, bus benches, billboards, radio ads and so on.

If you’re seeing these ads, you’re probably seeing promotions for the mymaccas app as well.

If that fails to engage you, the app is also heavily promoted in-store. In fact, the restaurants are increasingly designed to discourage you from ordering and paying at the counter.

effective marketing for fast food chains

It’s clear when you visit any McDonald’s restaurant that the fast food chain wants you to order and pay via the wall-mounted tablets, or better yet – download the mymaccas app!

There are now more digital ordering tablets than staff, and they are usually located directly as you come in, or in front of the main counter.

The other highly effective method McDonald’s uses for promoting the mymaccas app comes in the form of their staff. The McDonald’s staff are well-trained in how the mymaccas app works, what its benefits are, and how to encourage customers to download it.

How does the mymaccas app increase FOV?

The McHappy Meal has always been a magnificent FOV tool for bringing in families. This is especially the case once McDonald’s started doing cross-promotions with major films, creating urgency among children everywhere. The kids nag the parents, the parents give in, and McDonald’s wins.

There are also campaigns like the $1 “loose change menu”, which becomes extremely tempting when you’re strolling past McDonald’s and happen to have some loose change in your pocket.

The convenience of the service and price of the product is enough to usher you into the Golden Arches’ welcoming arms.

cheap food promotion at fast food chain
Image Source: McDonald’s

With mymaccas, the world’s most famous fast food chain doesn’t need you to be walking past one of its restaurants to reel you in anymore; McDonald’s can send targeted push notifications and texts directly to your pocket right before breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Customers can even order and pay ahead of time through the app, so their food is ready when they arrive at the store. You can literally be sitting at your desk, receive a text from McDonald’s with an exclusive offer, order it, pay, and go grab it without waiting in line.

In fact, you can now retrieve your McDonald’s order in any of three ways:

  • grab it from the counter without waiting in line
  • opt for table service and have it brought right to your table
  • zip through drive thru without having to get your wallet out
McDonalds push notifications of free food

To be clear, these texts and push notifications aren’t your standard “don’t forget about us” messages. McDonald’s has very clear intent behind every notification and tailored offer you receive. For example:

- The mymaccas app will ping you right around the 10:30am-11am mark in order to plant the seed of McDonald’s for lunch.

- You might receive an invitation to try an exciting new product – be among the first to try it!

- McDonald’s is consistently on top of themes like International Coffee Day, and sends offers that coincide with them in order to be part of the movement.

- You might receive a social offer along the lines of, “Bring a friend and get 2 Big Macs for $6”. This encourages people to invite each other to go to McDonald’s for lunch; essentially creating brand ambassadors out of its mymaccas subscribers.

- Wording like “get in quick or miss out” creates a sense of urgency and plays on your fear of being excluded.

- Wording like “exclusive to you” makes you feel special and important; like you’re part of the McDonald’s family.

How does the mymaccas app increase ATV?

Golden arch brand recognition

As with FOV, McDonald’s has never struggled to devise remarkably efficient upsell strategies. From supersizing to heavily discounted upgrades and sides, the Golden Arches literally coined the term, “Would you like fries with that?”

McDonald’s is even upselling its own corporate social responsibility. You're invited to round up your total bill to an even dollar amount, whereby the difference is donated to a good cause.

Even if every customer donates one cent per transaction, 69 million customers a day would mean $690,000 a day in charitable donations! Upselling at its finest.

So with the introduction of the mymaccas app, upselling became a whole lot easier for McDonald’s. Customers can now place their order through the app before arriving at the store, and various pop ups will encourage app users to upgrade or add sides.

The creation of a digital loyalty app gave McDonald’s the capability to engage customers throughout the week, with ongoing communications that are tailored to each specific Maccas-lover based on their previous transactions through the app.

These offers reel you in, and the upselling comes at the time of in-app ordering.

The McMasters of Gamification

interactive marketing on food packaging
mcdonalds marketing on packaging

As for gamification, an increasingly crucial aspect of digital loyalty programs, no one does this better than McDonald’s. The McDonald’s Monopoly campaign has been a staple of the fast food restaurant for more than three decades now.

However, since digitalising the process by creating a dedicated McDonald’s Monopoly app, the annual promotion is proving to be more addictive than ever before.

In fact, the first year that the app was rolled out, it was the most downloaded free app during the promotion period. More than 2.5 million downloads occurred across Australia and New Zealand in just a handful of weeks.

push notification from game marketing

The mobile app takes the best aspects of the existing campaign that has worked so well for the last 32 years, and makes it an even more engaging experience for the customer.

The McDonald’s Monopoly app includes interactive mini games that are selected at random when the customer scans or enters their code. There's also a virtual game board to track progress and compare your winnings with other customers playing nearby. Competition is always a great tactic to get customer to engage.

interactive game marketing
Image Source: Facebook

On a social front, the fast food giant also encourages McDonald’s Monopoly players to share photos of their Monopoly Mo Selfies on various social media platforms, as well as their instant wins in an effort to increase referrals.

This app is perhaps the best form of “surprise and delight” marketing the restaurant world has ever seen. Registration is ridiculously convenient, gameplay is remarkably easy, rewards are instant, the competition requires zero commitment and the odds of winning are high enough to hold people’s attention (1 in 5).

Rewards like free burgers and discounted meals cost McDonald’s next to nothing (and the increase in sales more than makes up for it). It’s the lure of bigger ticket items like cars and holidays that keeps customers wolfing down burgers much more frequently during that six-week period than the rest of the year.

In fact, we’re confident that if you did the research, there would be a direct correlation between the McDonald’s Monopoly promotion and a few extra inches on people’s waistlines!

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