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From burger joint to more: McDonald's smart evolution

Posted by: Tom Kowalski on May 17, 2011

As someone who keeps his finger on the pulse of the QSR industry, I feel like the “breaking news” of McDonalds spending US $1 billion dollars to renovate its restaurants is so “2000-and -late!” Design and experience is something McDonald's has been paying close attention to for some time. Way back in 2008, while doing global tours of QSR concepts, it was clear that McDonald's had discovered that investing in the brand experience would pay off.

A visit to its freestanding prototype in Munich proved to engage customers of all ages with an innovative and comprehensive collection of experiences under one roof. The MacCafé space had a modern but friendly vibe with comfy seating, dramatic lighting, and even highly productive working space for those Wi-Fi squatters. A kids zone, with its whimsical décor and private party rooms created a place just for youngsters. Finally, the over-the-top play area appealed to kids and teens with a climbing structure, basketball hoop, and rideable video games.

In fairness to all the “other guys” McDonald's has triple the locations of the number two burger chain and boatloads of cash. And these Taj Mahals are lab restaurants where many of the innovations will not be rolled out. What is impressive to me is that for an industry where speed of service and operations are such a laser focus, it is still willing to think creatively about the “front of the house” – in other words, what matters to the customer. Over the years it has been methodically exploring through prototype after prototype: What will make customers pass up Panera and the other fast growing fast casual players, in favor of a burger joint. Well, in case you haven’t noticed, McDonald's is not a burger joint any more.

Great consumer insights, experience design, product innovation, brilliant marketing, all continue to evolve the McDonald's brand. This is what keeps it on the right path and my guess is that it will pay for itself faster than the Wall Street pundits think.

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