FEATURE3 June 2013

The meat of the matter

x Sponsored content on Research Live and in Impact magazine is editorially independent.
Find out more about advertising and sponsorship.

Features Impact

Research and insight play a central role at McDonald’s, helping to keep the company focused on better serving customers. Its insight VP Lauren Cody tells all to Joe Fernandez.


“McDonald’s is a customer-oriented business, and research and consumer insight are our lifeblood,” says Lauren Cody, vice president of business strategy and insight for McDonald’s UK. “It runs right through the heart of our planning process, the development and testing of new products, and the introduction of changes to our operations and customer experience in our restaurants.

“Our strategy is built and shaped using a range of research and insight methods; from collating qualitative and quantitative research to garnering insight from unprompted customer feedback and engagement on social media. But overall, we take a 4-Cs approach with the aim of producing insight which encompasses and adds value to all key pillars of our business – customer, competitor, company and (trading) context.”

That’s the McDonald’s of today: confident, successful and in tune with customers. Ten years ago it was a different story – 2003 was a watershed year for the fast food chain. That was the year it made its first quarterly loss and, smelling blood, the health lobby ratcheted up the pressure on the firm.

Jim Cantalupo, who was CEO at the time, said: “McDonald’s has lost momentum… and lost what it takes to make customers feel special.” He started implementing a turnaround plan but died suddenly in 2004. Jim Skinner, his successor, evolved the Plan to Win strategy that has turned McDonald’s into the business it is today.
Here, Cody picks up the story to tell us first hand how research and insight makes a real difference to the company.

Lauren Cody

Lauren Cody

Cody on… research and the turnaround

“Over the past decade, we’ve embraced change and used it to drive our turnaround – from changing the way our restaurants look and feel to evolving our menu and building an industry-leading training programme for our employees.

“There’s no doubt that research and insight played a pivotal role in our turnaround; it’s what gave us the confidence to change and it guided us as we navigated new, uncharted ground. We learned the hard way what happens when you stop listening to your customers and it left us determined to keep our finger on the pulse and keep in touch with what our customers want.

“Back when we realised we needed to change our approach, to start listening to consumers and engaging with them, we started looking both externally and internally to see what we could do better.

“In all of our studies, focus groups and other consumer-led research, one thing stood out above everything else – the need for us to rebuild consumer trust and drive reappraisal of our brand. To do this, we had to go back to basics, scrutinising everything that was causing distrust in our brand and tackling all the ugly, negative stereotypes head-on.

“By the time I joined the company in 2007, the recognition that we needed to put the customer at the fore had taken root and was well understood by the leadership. The challenge
now was to show our customers that we were listening, that we were ready for conversation and that we were prepared to respond.”

Cody on… insight and the planning process

“The process of involving customers really begins at the start of our planning cycle. To kick off our annual planning process, myself and other executive team members go out and about to see what’s new in our marketplace, to meet our customers in person, hear their thoughts on our brand and business – what they think works and what doesn’t.

“This exercise allows us to get a feel for how our customers make decisions – why they visit our restaurants, what they are feeling and what they think when they see our menu. Speaking to customers face to face makes a huge difference. You get a far greater connection by spending time actually talking to a customer and watching their body language and behavioural responses.

“To be as comprehensive as possible we also visit competitors and discuss similar feedback. The process helps us understand where we need to make changes and how we can create a better restaurant experience. The whole exercise demonstrates how consumer expectations are always changing and that you have to stay in touch with them.”

Read the full article
in the digital version of Impact, the new quarterly magazine from the
Market Research Society.

Includes more of Lauren Cody’s thoughts on:

  • Customer experience
  • Supporting suppliers
  • Health and nutrition
  • Rolling insights
  • Technology
  • Rules to live by

Joe Fernandez is a freelance journalist and former deputy editor of Research magazine