How One Insight Can Win a Customer for Life

McDonald’s and I are similar in many ways, the most being that we are both extremely passionate about what we do.

When I first began working on the McDonald’s account, I did what was the equivalent to a wellness visit with your doctor. I do this every single time I get a new client. I research and become an expert on the brand and their products, analyze past campaigns, listen to pain points, get a pulse on the client/agency relationship, and inherit their vision of where they would like to go.

I managed the Raleigh Region of McDonald’s, a section of the country that included Virginia down to Florida and everything in between, when I worked at Moroch. I absolutely loved working on McDonald’s because of the passion that they had for their brand. I worked with owner operators and they had a very large stake in the game. The passion they have with McDonald’s, they told me at our first meeting, runs deep. So much so it’s called having “ketchup in your veins”. Loved that. Still do.

It was also at our first meeting that I learned about a decade-long frustration of not being able to lock down a sports partnership with their local colleges –Duke and the University of North Carolina. Year after year the rep for the schools submitted proposals that were essentially logo inclusion for an exorbitant price.

It was a challenging first assignment, but I was up for it.

The first step I took was to educate myself on the two schools to learn where I could play in their space. As an engagement marketer, I hate logo inclusion. It is, more often than not, a complete waste of dollars and, I believe, a lazy marketing tactic. Logos are like wallpaper. A consumer expects to see them and reads right over them. They feel nothing. This is especially true when your logo is grouped together with five other logos. In fact, when I value out proposals, I give $0 to logo inclusion and will run it as a last resort.

Would the students even care about a partnership with McDonald’s?

Absolutely. Nothing speaks to the heart of a college student more than cheap (ahem, inexpensive) and fast. Not only that, but the heart’s there. They have a strong tie to McDonald’s. McDonald’s has been there their whole life. Many of them learned the letter M from their sign and every kid has been giddy with excitement when their parent finally handed over their Happy Meal. It’s called a Happy Meal for goodness sake.

OK so they’re receptive. But how can we engage them?

After many hours of research and reading all the latest articles on the elusive millennial, I came across a great tidbit. People decide which brand of coffee they will be loyal to in college. We know that millennials aren’t brand loyal. Working on P&G, I know that many college kids will automatically buy Tide. Not because they’re brand loyal, but because their mom is. They want that feeling of home that the smell of Tide brings. But food choices are different. Especially if that food isn’t something that they were a part of when they were sitting around the breakfast table. College meant that they were grown up and what beverage is more grownup (and can’t get you arrested) than coffee?

I brought this insight back to McDonald’s and asked them to reconsider using their core products and instead test out the McCafe line. Think long-term. McDonald’s had the opportunity to seat their product at the very beginning of a customer’s life cycle.

Win them now and you win them for life.

Now to get the reps on board. For one, I didn’t want to talk to them about their cookie-cutter proposal. You know the kind. It gets ferried out to every brand and shouts “Be a part of the team!” This program includes everyone’s logos on banners in the stadium and on all booklet handouts (that people surely devour cover-to-cover). All for “just” a couple of $100k.

Not only did I not want logos, I wanted a customized partnership program from each school that included both traditional and digital elements as well as both experiential and engagement marketing. I wanted actual presence. I didn’t just want the college kids who went to the games, I wanted all students. I wanted all usage occasions. I wanted brand ambassadors. I wanted Ronald appearances. I wanted to put the product directly into our customers’ hands out-of-store. With coupon distribution. And Prizes. I wanted to give our customer’s a reason to go to McDonald’s and not just for items on their menu. This incremental trip would increase sales. I didn’t want to support the team, I wanted to be a member of the team.

Whenever I come across this clash between what a rep wants to sell and what I want to buy, and it’s with virtually every campaign I plan and execute, I make sure that the rep is as excited and emotionally invested as I am. I give them a responsibility in the outcome because it is in this dual ownership that we create our best work.

Through strong collaboration with my vendors our campaign developed into a much bigger partnership than anyone had anticipated. Our excitement about Brand Ambassadors, and our desire to include not just students going to the games but all students, morphed our program into presence on campus year-round. Working in tandem with the Universities led to bringing well-known players into local McDonald’s for one-on-one engagement.

Our campaign consisted of the following:

  • Radio
  • Digital
  • Geo-targeted Online Game Promotion w/ Coupon Inclusion

o Weekly prizes of team gear and McDonald’s food coupons that laddered up to a grand prize VIP experience – “I’m Lovin’ It Dream Seats to the Arch Rival” sold-out game

o Custom landing page

  • Social Media – Facebook and Twitter
  • Full-Page Print Ad in each school’s paper that drove to the digital landing page where the consumer could both enter into the grand prize VIP contest and receive a coupon
  • Product Sampling at games and events
  • Video Board Signage
  • Scoreboard Signage
  • PA Announcements
  • LED Product Recognition
  • In-Game Promotions that included prizes and signage
  • Home Game Season Ticket Ownership – McDonald’s could offer either a FREE Big Mac w/ the purchase of fries and a drink or produce artwork that would showcase the Ronald McDonald House Charities
  • Opportunity to have a tailgating event before the big game where there will be product displayed, sampling, coupons, and an appearance of our very own CHO (Chief Happiness Officer), Ronald McDonald
  • Brand Ambassadors on campus wearing a McDonald’s and Duke or UNC, depending upon the school, branded T-Shirt and distributing McCafe samples

o I negotiated to have these shirts worn not just at sporting events but at virtually every on-campus event including charity events, FallFest, Family Weekends, and even during stressful times when a pick-me-up was desperately needed (for example, midterms and finals), enabling McDonald’s to step in as their hero, ingratiating themselves into the students’ lives

o It was important to me that the shirts not just have McDonald’s branding but included both the double arches and the university. My rationale was that if you are given a t-shirt from a vendor, you might keep it a semester. But if you are given a t-shirt with both a vendor and your team, you’ll keep it well into your 30’s

o For UNC’s shirts, we were able to modify the team’s mascot, a ram, to have the horns be the Golden Arches. Changing the mascot in any way had been unheard of in the history of the college

o UNC alone had more than 2,500 t-shirts

  • Presence at other recreational events and sporting events through signage and sampling
  • Redesign on 125k Cups in McDonald’s Restaurants to include college logos, furthering the reach and awareness of the campaign and showing a true synergy between McDonald’s and Duke/UNC outside of a stadium or arena
  • Sampling and in-store player appearances were driven by high-traffic promotions

o Radio and Van Hits drove awareness of the programs

o Players were in-store for one-on-one meet and greets – taking photos and signing college memorabilia

o Giveaways included team apparel, tickets to sold out games, and McDonald’s products

  • Finally, with every package I put together for McDonald’s, I always tried to integrate support for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. This program was no exception

Our campaign over-valued 43% in media alone. And all the “extras” I negotiated as added-value. 100% free.

Talk about teamwork.

At the end of the day, our campaign was a great success. The client loved it. It was the first time that I ever received a standing ovation after a presentation. All that hard work was worth it when I heard, “I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to put a plan together in less than a month what we haven’t been able to do in 10 years.”

It wasn’t easy, but isn’t that the adage that Theodore Roosevelt spoke about? If it’s easy it isn’t worth it? That was certainly the case here.

It took time and diligence to dig deep and find the insight that coffee preference is determined in college. I gave McDonald’s the opportunity to not just sell their latest burger, but to seat McCafe, a new line item and product offering at the time, to customers who would become lifelong loyalists, something that wasn’t even on their radar.

The easy way would have been to commit my client’s dollars to a pre-existing logo package and call it a day.

But I love the due diligence. I love creating a package that is beyond what anyone expects and getting all partners on board and as enthusiastic about it as I am. This is the living and breathing that I was speaking about.

Let’s talk.

You can call me at 479-422-4132 or write me through my email [email protected]. I tackle each campaign with the same determination and fervor whether the brand is big or small, McDonald’s or Guylian (checkout another blog here where I wrote how I turned Guylian’s one-month budget into a year-long campaign).

I would love to bring my 15+ years of engagement marketing expertise to grow your brand.

OK, I have to share just one more thing.

Whenever I think of this campaign the two things that really stand out are the standing ovation (obvi) and I was slightly reprimanded and pulled aside by my boss post-presentation. I thought she was on the high that I was for the enormous amount of work that I completed for the client that was very warmly received. Instead, it was this:

My Boss: Rebecca, that was such a great presentation!

Me: Thanks!! I’m so happy they loved it.

My Boss: … … (there were two legitimate pauses where she would start to say something and then catch herself and try to rephrase). You mentioned Chick-Fil-A in your presentation and it was a very good comparison. I love how you used a relevant example of a brand that is engaging with their customers outside of the restaurants.

Me: Thanks; I was trying to personalize it and show them that engagement is more than a logo. That bringing Ronald McDonald on-campus and to tailgating events makes it more personal, a true one-on-one connection.

My Boss: Yep, all that was great. However… in the future… can you not use the phrase “Chick-Fil-A is out there pimping that cow out for a reason?”

Me: Ohhhh, so that’s frowned upon then? Got it. It shall never happen again.

And it hasn’t.
I am a girl of my word.

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