McDonald’s Deborah Wahl: Marketing Is About Context, Not Screen

As the lines between online and offline continue to blur, it's time to rethink what it means to be 'mobile' as well.

In an age where every brand seems to be talking about its mobile strategy, McDonald’s CMO Deborah Wahl has a slightly contrarian point of view: Stop thinking about marketing only through the lens of targeting “mobile” consumers, period.

That’s not to say mobile isn’t important; it is, in many cases, a consumer’s first screen — and it’s a highly effective targeting tool.

But, “let’s say I go to Twitter on my iPhone in my living room while watching Billions on my TV,” Wahl explained at last week’s IABMixx conference. “Define me. Am I mobile then? Or what If I’m watching YouTube on my laptop over WiFi at McDonald’s. Define me. Am I digital?” Essentially, Wahl posited, thinking about consumers as “mobile” or “digital” or “offline” reintroduces the exact silos that marketers in the “omnichannel” era are striving to break down.

“When we thought about things [that way], we realized it’s really not about screen; it’s about context,” Wahl said. “By putting human beings at the center of our marketing instead, we’ve prioritize our content and their needs. And that informs what we say, how we say it, and where we say it.”

Wahl backed up that claim with three examples of how McDonald’s is prioritizing “people-first” marketing — this year and beyond.

  • In terms of erasing the boundaries between the digital and the physical, it can be a smart bet to tie a restaurant location directly to a digital platform such as Snapchat. “This is one experiential tactic that proved widely successful for us in terms of moving the needle on people and brand connection,” Wahl said, referencing McDonald’s branded geofilter campaign that ran in 14,000 restaurants — generating 12 million uses and 308 million views. “So it wasn’t just having fun with branding french fries,” Wahl said. “We approached it as inserting some playfulness into a culture of creating [authentic] moments.”
  • The idea of humanity is at the core of people-based marketing, and getting to know consumers as individuals requires data. McDonald’s is relying on first and third-party behavioral and location data to underly all of its marketing efforts. “All data… represents tiny bits of human behavior,” Wahl said. “It really changes the old way of relying [solely] on demographics.” Location data is the key to being able to rely on context, not device, as Wahl stressed in her opening remarks.
  • The third key is “speaking with a unified voice,” across channels and platforms — and this involves listening to what consumers are saying everywhere, too. It’s all about building a relationship: For example, Wahl referenced the number of social posts over the past years praising McDonald’s breakfast, which influenced the brand’s decision to launch its all-day breakfast initiative. And before the end of the year, McDonald’s will add new items to the all-day offering — and try to respond to consumers’ tweets individually to tell them about it. “We have to move much faster,” Wahl concluded. “It’s required in our business to provide a real-time response; life and, therefore, the customer’s journey is fluid and in constant flux.”
About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.