Fireside Chat with LiveIntent and McDonald’s at Brand Innovators

McDonald’s recognizes that as its customer base changes, so too must its customer experience.

Jason Oates, our chief business officer, sat down with the fast-food giant’s senior director of brand and menu strategy, Elizabeth Campbell, for a fireside chat at Brand Innovators Austin in March 2019. We asked Jason to reflect on the conversation with Campbell – who is tasked with finding the way forward for customer experience at McDonald’s – and share some LiveIntent perspective on innovating to improve the customer experience.

What changes in consumer behavior are demanding the attention of consumer-centric companies like McDonald’s?

Jason: Consumers expect you to anticipate what they might want or might need. They expect you to make their lives a little bit easier. In the case of McDonald’s, consumers actually want the food to come to them. And so the question the company is grappling with is: “How do we create a great brand experience while satisfying the major change in the way consumers behave?”

One way, as Elizabeth mentioned, is through the McDelivery partnership it launched with Uber Eats in 2017 that has expanded to more than 9,000 restaurants in the United States. She said Uber is teaching McDonald’s about “fast fail and move forward.” What do you think of that approach?

Jason: That form of iteration, of working on something but not trying to make it perfect all in one shot, is really important to innovation. The only way you ever change the world is by being willing to fail, and you can do it a lot faster if you fail fast and move forward. McDonald’s went into it knowing it was going to be difficult and that they would hit challenges. And they’re perfectly fine not getting stuck in the mindset of, “Oh, that didn’t work and that was my fault or your fault.” I think Elizabeth found it very freeing to be in an environment where she could actually make mistakes and then take the learnings from those mistakes and wins and move forward quickly.

You two talked about how McDonald’s is breaking down internal silos and you said that when that happens, customers win. Can you explain why?

Jason: To react to the customer, you have to be able to work quickly. And with such entrenched silos, it’s really hard to work quickly. There are so many approvals and so many different groups, and if there are these massive silos, then the flow of communication and information and data gets slowed down or completely stops – to the point where you can’t really react to a changing consumer. You’re just going to continue to act the same way no matter what happens.

Can you point to examples of how different divisions can work together to create a better customer experience in the digital space?

Jason: Multiple groups can say, “What’s the best thing for this customer? No matter where they are in the customer journey, what’s the best way for us to act so that we can treat them really well and maybe win their loyalty over time?” So instead of having the acquisition team and the CRM team completely separate and not communicating with each other, they could do simple things like saying, “Hey, when we’re trying to find a net new customer, let’s not treat a current customer like a first-time customer.” What you need to do is get a constant update of the customer file and use that as a suppression list so you’re not sending the same advertisements to a current customer. It’s a very simple thing to do, but, for big companies, it’s often a very hard thing to do. The CRM team could be like, “Why do you need my customer file? Why should I give this up?”

You mentioned in the chat that the need to act differently to affect different outcomes can sometimes be painful. What kind of pain do you anticipate is on the horizon for digital marketers?

Jason: I think as the cookie goes away, one of the more painful things is attribution. The painful thing for people to realize is that to be customer-centric and leverage identity in a smart, legal, good way, they’re going have to rethink how they look at data, how they store data, how they access data, and then how they share data outside the borders of their own walls.

They’re probably going need a CDP – a customer data platform. They’re going to need an onboarding service to help them bring offline data online, create a customer graph, and then be able to push IDs into large people-based marketing platforms to reach specific people with specific messages. It’s a process that could take up to a couple of years to get down or more, and so the companies that start now and have a plan will have a leg up on the competition. But it will cost money and time and will take education. Any kind of change creates pain, even if it’s for the better.

LiveIntent is one of those companies that can help advertisers succeed in a cookie-challenged world, right?

Jason: Yes. Our foundation is built on email as an identifier. We do support cookies, which can be very helpful. So we can work really well within a cookie world while it still exists, but what makes us truly unique is that not only are we able to help people create one view of the customer, but we can also help them activate that graph to reach their customers.

A touching moment of your chat was when Elizabeth answered your question about her mentors. Why did you ask about people who have guided her?

Jason: In just about every show I go to, there is a real focus on what companies are doing to help support all of their people and diversity of thought, which covers everything including religion, socioeconomics, ethnicities, and gender gaps. I think part of the innovation we all need to be thinking about is how important diversity of thought is. Very different people do think very differently, and when you leverage the wisdom of the crowd, everything does seem to get better.