Feature Stories


McDigitizing Ordinary Marketing to Become Extraordinary Marketing

With 240 restaurants serving more than one million customers every day, McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in Hong Kong. Recognised internationally for its innovative marketing, McDonald’s digital marketing strategies are being geared towards personalising the customer experience through digital marketing interactions.

Randy Lai, CEO of McDonald’s Hong Kong

According to Randy Lai, CEO of McDonald’s Hong Kong, with the highest level of smartphone penetration and internet usage in Asia, Hong Kong presents digital marketers with innumerable opportunities to reach consumers. Various survey findings indicate that about 96 per cent of Hong Kong smartphone owners log on to the internet every day, and spend as much time as 180 minutes online. Hong Kong’s digital readiness, coupled with the transition from conventional to digital marketing, is opening up a broad sphere of opportunities and possibilities says Lai, who points out that the three key areas of marketing which have been transformed by digital technologies are the speed, relevance and targeted reach of campaigns.

Lai says delivering relevant digital marketing means integrating restaurant product offerings, service and the all-important customer experience. In this context McDonald’s is able to use digital marketing to evolve the customer experience by making the ordering process more convenient, connecting with customers on a personal basis, and even enabling them to create meals to suit their own tastes. “Digital marketing is part of our ongoing innovative spirit which is embedded in our DNA,” Lai says.

As part of McDonald’s Experience of the Future (EotF) service and digital marketing strategy, customers at some restaurants can place their customised order on a touch screen, take a seat and have their meal delivered to their table. “Customers will now even have the option of ordering via an app,” says Lai who adds that the famous golden arches firm’s digital marketing strategies are tied into updating interior design and restaurant facilities, expanding the choice of menu items and introducing service upgrades. “It is still early days, but our focus is on raising ordinary marketing to extraordinary marketing,” Lai says.

Avoiding tech for tech’s sake

However, because digital marketing technology is available, Lai explains, it is still important to be clear about business goals and outcomes. For instance, digital marketing needs to harmonise with McDonald’s existing marketing assets which include menu items that have been long-time Hong Kong customer favourites. The advancement in digital marketing presents many new possibilities for McDonald’s Hong Kong to promote localized products and meet the preferences of local customers.

Another example of how McDonald’s is embracing digital marketing is the use of programmatic marketing. Instead of “blanket” messaging which is less targeted and based on volume, by using programmatic methodology messaging, marketing can be delivered in a more precise and personalised way, or as Lai explains, the ability to realign the concept of one-to-many marketing to one-to-one marketing.

“Put simply, McDonald’s is able to send a relevant message, through a targeted channel to a targeted customer as a one-to-one message,” Lai explains. The benefits, she says, include building loyalty, making special offers based on individual preferences and building a personalised connection with customers who are willing to provide minimal, non-invasive personal details. In contrast, traditional marketing involves formulating a campaign syndicated through TV commercials, print and merchandising, with the goal of reaching potential customers based on volume.

“Programmatic marketing provides a cost-effective way to target segments of an audience or an individual with specific tailored messages at the right time in the right context,” says Lai.  A good example, she says, is the way McDonald’s utilises social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram to engage with different customer demographics. While McDonald’s website serves as the platform for promoting the company’s corporate image, Facebook is used for general mass marketing. At the same time, Instagram is used as a vehicle to target young working adults and college students who are typically McCafé customers. “Instead of receiving text-heavy messages, Instagram users prefer to receive interesting photographs they can share,” Lai notes. 

Digital marketing for all generations

Although millennials are often viewed as the demographic segment most likely to respond and engage with digital marketing, Lai says older people including the “silver-haired” generation also respond favourably to concepts of digital marketing. “A key benefit of digital marketing is that it can be channelled to any segment of McDonald’s market,” says Lai who points out that McDonald’s customer base includes students, people from the corporate world or customers, young adults, who use McDonald’s as a meeting point.

“I often say that McDonald’s is part of Hong Kong’s social fabric, where people can meet and chat like in a community center, in the eyes of many Hongkongers,” Lai says. While innovation involves modernising to reflect changes and trends to offer greater convenience relevant to customers’ expectations, McDonald’s still values tradition. “If customers prefer, they can still buy a Big Mac and French fries from our friendly restaurant staff, in the same way they could when the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Patterson Street in Causeway Bay in 1975,” says Lai.