Commentary

COVID Put McDonald's 2020 Plan To Emphasize The Customer On Back Of Rocket Ship

In one of the better presentations given virtually, Catherine Thacker, Director of CRM at McDonald's elegantly explained to Wednesday's Email Insider Summit how the fast food giant pivoted when the COVID-19 crisis hit back in March.

But, first, let's laugh along with her at a video she shared starring Jimmy Kimmel talking about getting emails from tons of companies assuring him that their health and safety was of their utmost concern. Singling out McDonald's, Kimmel read its subject line on health and safety and then added, "Now how about a double quarter-pounder with cheese and extra bacon?"

"It's a funny example of how we all went the form-letter approach," she said. "We needed to create a space to talk to customers about what was happening." Ad dollars flew out of paid and direct channels became the conduit. "Real-time research allowed us to make quick pivots to meet customer needs." What they needed was reassurance, accessibility and affordability messages. So McDonald's provided them.

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Post-form letter, the company sent an email highlighting its safety practices, using email as a quick tool to communicate system-wide change such as play place and dining room closures. "We could drop in copy and deploy to our email base," Thacker said. Next up was an email supporting local communities since so many McDonald's are locally owned and operated and were stepping up to help. Those emails highlighted what was being done, from free Happy Meals to thank you meals to first responders.

Emails went out delivering messages about openings, availabilities and closures at the local level and then the company turned to "new ways to experience our food. There were messages  around getting delivery while working from home, Happy Meals for parents homeschooling children, a DoorDash collaboration and even custom McDonald's Zoom backgrounds. Thacker called it a "holistic digital experience."

The interesting aspect of this is that McDonald's had looked to 2020 to turn from a product-based messaging approach to a consumer-centric approach and the crisis put the plan on the back of a rocket ship.

Now, it is thinking about cross-channel messaging in new ways, she said, not only considering email and push messages but app and the dot-com experience as well. "We're planning and orchestrating in advance, leaning in to the roles of the channels to provide a utility that the customer expects."

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