Jill McDonald, McDonald’s chief marketing officer in the UK and Northern Europe, hasn’t wasted much time since joining the company from BA in 2006.
She was named as the UK’s top marketer at the Marketing Society Awards in June, having helped to breathe life into the business and instigated more “rigour and discipline” in the way it goes about advertising.
Now, she tells us, the same thing needs to happen in its online activities. She says she wants to “take a step back as a brand and look at how we should be using the digital space”, and recently commissioned what looks like a fairly wide-reaching review of its web strategy.
We talk to her about what that might mean for McDonalds and how it measures success in the digital world.
As you're reviewing your online marketing strategy, how do you see digital's role within McDonalds developing?
We’ve just completed a pitch, which resulted in us appointing Avenue A/Razorfish at the end of March/early April. The brief they have been given is that I really want to understand the role McDonalds should play online.
We’re not an online retailer, but our consumers are spending more and more time online, so what is the appropriate way for McDonalds to manifest itself online and engage and entertain our target audience? I really want us to take a step back as a brand and look at how we should be using the digital space.
With Makeupyourmind [a site, launched in 2007, which allows consumers to pose questions to the company about its practices], I’m really happy with that. It’s a great use of the space, there’s a genuine role for us and it is getting lots of hits.
But with the rest of our marketing, we’re tending to use the medium just as a bit of display advertising space. It just doesn’t feel right. I want us to step back and have a proper debate about it, and I was keen that we have some real experts in the field to help guide us, which is why we conducted the pitch.
Do you have any specific concerns around display advertising online?
It’s more about what we want people to do when they engage with us online. Are they engaging with us? Click through is fine, but where are we taking them as a brand? Is that rewarding or engaging?
We spend a lot of time rigorously debating advertising strategy in TV, outdoor or press, and I just didn’t feel we were spending the same amount of time challenging ourselves on our objectives in the online space.
I felt we needed a bit more external expertise, and I’ve also appointed a digital manager last year to help bring the rest of my marketing team a little bit more up to speed on online marketing.
When do you expect to have some conclusions from the review?
I’m being shown some stuff later this month, so from September or October you should see a slight shift in how we market ourselves online.
Where does digital sit now within your organisational structure?
Our marketing managers are accountable for delivery of digital as parts of the campaigns they are developing and running.
We have now appointed a separate digital manager, who has a more holistic, strategic view of where digital is going and how it should play into our marketing strategy. Also, what McDonalds’ role is online. He shares his learnings and works with the marketing managers when they are executing tactical campaign plans, so that they are building their digital expertise.
I didn’t want to hive it all off into one person as we all need to be digital marketeers. But equally, I wanted to have a supercharged digital boost into the team from someone with a bit more experience.
How large is your digital budget? Do you see it rising as a proportion of overall spend?
It’s about 9% of our overall media budget. [Whether it goes up] depends on the outcome of the strategic review we are doing.
What aims have you been working towards with Makeupyourmind? What are its KPIs and how do you track them?
Makeupyourmind has been about supporting our strategy of being more open and transparent, and letting people make up their own minds about McDonalds.
It provides them with somewhere they can go to ask questions, and we’ve invited to look at our supply chain and report what they saw. They can go to the abattoir or patty-making place and report that unedited on the site. It plays a key role in contributing what we are ultimately trying to do, which is building trust with consumers.
In terms of digital metrics, we use it to build coverage and awareness as part of our overall marketing mix. But we haven’t had quite as much tracking. We have an advertising tracker that picks up online, but it’s a bit of a blunt tool. We have click through rates and that stuff, but I think we need more of a strategic framework in which to operate. We might get lots of eyeballs and click throughs but is it engaging enough and is it moving the brand forward?
We’re in the process of doing some specific research around how consumers think we have been manifesting ourselves online.
What lessons have you learned from the site? And how resource-intensive is it?
It’s not a cheap endeavour. It’s more about the time, rather than the cost of building the website. If you are going to engage in a two way dialogue with consumers, you need to make sure people inside the business that can answer the questions are giving their time to answer them.
If you are going to open up that conversation, you need to make sure the business is up for engaging in that conversation. You have to be able to provide the answers in a timely way, with the experts answering them.
Fortunately, we had anticipated that that would be the case. But you really need to work it back and think through the resource implications.
Are you looking at other ways to use the web for reputation monitoring and management?
It’s an interesting area and we may well be doing more on that. You need to understand what conversations about you are happening online. With a brand like McDonalds, there are a lot.
I have some facts here. At any one moment, there are 26,500 YouTube videos about McDonalds, 118,000 Google blogs and 900 blogs are posted a day. So we are a brand that is being talked about a lot online.
We spend money and time gathering insight from customers through group interviews, one-on-ones and internet surveys, but understanding the non-prompted conversations is as important.
I don’t want to say too much, but I recently had a very interesting proposal in that area, which we are thinking about implementing.
Should brands limit their involvement in ‘the conversation’ online?
I don’t think you have to stay out of it, but you have to be careful about how you involve yourself, rather than using it as just another channel. It can be appropriate for brands to engage, but I think you have to do it with a large degree of sensitivity. If you’re not welcome, you go.
How do you tend to respond to negative online PR?
It depends. There are some things that are just factually wrong. One example was something that came up through mobile last year. There were some texts flying around the Muslim community about our fries being fried in pig fat, which was not correct and was causing a lot of distress for customers.
We need to have a strong view on things like that, when there is genuine misinformation going round that is causing distress to customers and we need to put the record straight.
But people are free to have their views about McDonalds and we know that we are a brand that polarises. I don’t want us to be leaping in every five minutes to react to everything that is said about us online. You have to listen to what your detractors are saying, as well as your supporters. All insight is insight.
What experiences have you had with online vouchers?
We have done some vouchering online and it worked OK, but it didn’t blow the doors off. The main people using vouchers are from press or door-drops. We need to look at why that didn’t work so well. It’s still a bit of hassle to print out a voucher, rather than tear it out of a paper. We’ll continue to use it, but it isn’t the be all and end all.
I am interested in mobile marketing and that’s an area we will look to explore further. We’re doing some testing at the moment and we have to stay close to these things.