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January 27, 2012
I’m Lovin’ It - 6 Nonprofit Marketing Lessons from McDonald’s

Nonprofit Marketing Lessons

How often have you sworn you’d never eat fast food again only to be tempted after seeing an ad for the latest burger, burrito, or frozen treat? Most of us know that the food is never quite as good as it looks on the commercial, billboard, or magazine yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. So how do they make the food seem so irresistible? They do it through marketing.

McDonald’s has long been an icon of marketing success. In fact, a 2010 study by Interbrand ranked them the #6 most recognized brand in the world (and the first restaurant on the list). They didn’t get to this position overnight, but they did learn some lessons along the way.

Below are some strategies out of the McDonald’s marketing playbook. Let’s see how we can apply their approach to nonprofit organizations.

  1. Take a franchise model. McDonald’s provides training and monitoring to each franchisee to ensure that all adhere to the value propositions offered to the customer. 



    For nonprofits: You don’t have to have a franchise to apply this principle. Part of McDonald’s success is based on the fact that every franchise owner and employee is trained on the mission (to be the customers’ favorite place and way to eat) and values of the organization. They know what they are providing and how they are serving the customer. Everyone in a nonprofit organization should be trained in the same way. Leadership and staff (paid and volunteers) should all be trained and equipped to share the mission and message of the organization. Are your board and staff members able to clearly communicate what you are doing and the impact you are making? Take a quick survey and find out. If not, perhaps it’s time to train those involved with your organization on sharing your message and mission.


  2. Provide product consistency. McDonald’s expects all franchisees to create a similar customer experience (service, products, facilities, etc.) regardless of the location, time of day, or any other outside factor. 



    For nonprofits: You can walk into any McDonald’s in the United States and know what you will get. Whether you’re dining in Washington or Florida you will find the same menu, food quality, and service (or pretty close) at every location. You will also see the same Golden Arches and red and yellow colors whether you are in the United States, Europe, Africa, or Asia. Can your clients, donors, and volunteers say the same about your organization? Take a few moments and do a quick audit on your brand. Make sure your image (colors, logo, overall design) is consistent everywhere (website, social media, letterhead, direct mail, email). Also, ask for feedback from clients, donors, and volunteers on their experiences. Do they know what to expect when interacting with your organization? Are they satisfied? And do the experiences vary based upon who they talk with or which programs they are accessing? If so, begin working towards consistency. Set expectations, provide training, and begin providing the product consistency that has allowed McDonald’s to attract and keep customers coming back for more. 


  3. Act like a retailer and think like a brand. McDonald’s touts that its marketing efforts focus on delivering sales for the immediate present, but also protect its long term brand reputation.

    For nonprofits: Since McDonald’s was founded in the 1940s, it has grown exponentially. They have had numerous marketing campaigns and made many changes over the years. However, they’ve always fiercely protected their brand and kept their mission central to everything they’ve done. Nonprofits should take the same approach. When developing marketing and fundraising plans you should focus on strategies that will not only provide immediate results, but also enhance the long-term sustainability of the organization. Never do something that will sacrifice your brand, mission, or message - regardless of the immediate pay-off. 


  4. Know your customers. McDonald’s spends millions of dollars each year on market research, studying customer segments, perceptions, and expectations. 



    For nonprofits: I can’t think of a single nonprofit organization that has a marketing budget even close to that of McDonald’s. And for many, the term ‘market research’ automatically generates feelings of anxiety. However, you don’t need millions of dollars to get to know your ‘customers’. Spend time with your clients, donors, funders, volunteers, and other advocates on a regular basis. Find out how they view you and what they expect from you. Listening to your clients and responding to their desires will only strengthen your organization over time.


  5. Understand product life cycles. McDonald’s regularly evaluates its current products and launches new products based upon customer demand.



    For nonprofits: Recently, McDonald’s added new, healthier items to its menu - including salad selections, smoothies, and apples wedges. Over the years, they’ve also eliminated some products that didn’t go as well as expected (The Hula Burger, McPizza, Arch Deluxe, McLean Deluxe). These decisions were the result of customer wants and needs. Nonprofits must take the same approach and regularly evaluate their programs and activities. Some programs start by meeting identified community needs, but the need and support diminish over time. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to phase out the program and see if there are new services that should be added. 


  6. Know your competitors. McDonald’s is aware of it’s competitors, the products offered by each, and the unique value offered by its organization.



    For nonprofits: Some nonprofits don’t like to think in terms of ‘competitors’. However, the reality is you are always competing with other organizations for dollars, hearts, clients, and support. Look around your community and see what other organizations exist. Determine if there is anyone else providing the same or similar services and then consider how you can partner or support their efforts. Determine what makes you different than other organizations. Are you meeting a need that no one else in the community is meeting? Knowing your competition, understanding how you’re different, and communicating this effectively helps differentiate yourself in the eyes of potential supporters.

McDonald’s has undeniably built one of the strongest brands (and organizations) in the world. Though they are a for-profit organization, their experiences and successes can provide some good insights and ideas for nonprofit organizations. Consider how applying these approaches can enhance the impact of your marketing today.

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on January 27, 2012 at 12:12 PM
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