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If a loyal customer is asked why he always patronizes a certain fast-food restaurant, he is probably not able to give you an answer right away. However, if you probe further, you will more or less find some reasons behind this behavior pattern, also known a consumer behavior. The term consumer behavior is defined as the discipline “to study of how people behave when obtaining, using, and disposing of products.” (Kendall, 2010)
Take McDonald’s, one of the largest fast food chains in the world for example. The brand was as the most admired food service company 2008 Fortune Magazine’ ranking. With the most recognizable logo (the Golden Arch) and spokesperson (the Ronald McDonald clown), McDonald’s now owns over 67,000 restaurants ever since it opened its one first in 1955 (www. mcdonalds.com/us/). According to the Packard Children’s Hospital’s Center for Healthy Weight, “kids aged between three to five preferred the food in the McDonald’s packaging every single time “if they were given the choice of “food in the McDonalds packaging and same food without the packaging.” That said, there ought to be a justification that explains how consumer behavior is well understood and manipulated by the fast-food restaurant magnate.
The purpose of the paper is to explain how marketers create positive brand attitude among consumers by taking McDonald’s in North America as an example. In general, I start by introducing McDonalds’ current target audience and brand image. Next, I will delve into the correlation between consumer behavior and McDonald’s brand attitude. Thirdly, I will analyze McDonald’s previous major communication strategies and tactics by adopting consumer behavior framework. Last, a conclusion will be provided.
McDonald’s Target Audience and Brand Image
To begin with, McDonald’s strategy of market segmentation is quite broad and diverse. To figure out what the possible segmentations are, McDonald’s marketers started out by determining the customers’ demographic and psychographic factors that, in turn would influence values and attitudes of them. To begin with, the company segments on the basis of age, gender and dietary habits. In targeting different customer segments, McDonald’s focuses on kids, young singles, and families with young members. When it comes to gender, both genders are treated equally importantly. What deserves mention is that McDonald’s respect customers’ dietary habits out of religious reasons in the way that non-beef burgers are served in some countries, which shouldn’t be a big issue on US marketplace. In addition, it is known that McDonald’s restaurants are established within the rural and suburban communities although there may be less in the rural communities. Placing great emphasis on brand loyalty, McDonald’s focuses on their current customers to ensure that their customers will maintain their current purchasing and consumption behavior. For example, McDonalds launches Happy Meal with small toys in an attempt to attract kids, thus fulfilling their esteem needs of having fun while eating. Another vivid example is that some McDonald’s outlets have kid Playground where children can play air hockey and seesaw. In the meantime, this strategy also helps the chain store to attract the young families who are prone to spend quality time as a group while their children have fun at McDonalds.
Second, it is not hard to find that McDonald’s positioning strategy is about offering affordable, nutritious fast food and delivering a message of fun at the same time. The making of its positioning strategy can be reflected on functional values that are served to satisfy consumer needs. In terms of imagery, most McDonald’s marketing message revolves around fun, young and family time. In terms of product performance, based on an upgraded menu, McDonald’s fast food meets the expectation of offering necessary calories and harmless ingredients. In terms of judgments and feelings, McDonald’s restaurants offer relatively healthy food and a place of sharing with friends and family members. Lastly, with regards to brand resonance, McDonald’s target customers can yield a sense of belonging from the brand experience. Moreover, McDonald’s has been dedicated to link product or service benefits with brand attitude, benefits, value and personality respectively. In short, good brands need to build relationship with consumers based on emotional engagement, which provides an opportunity to share a dialogue with consumers as the basis for an evolving relationship.
McDonald’s Brand attitudeConsumer behavior
It goes without saying that there is an interplay between brand attitude and consumer behavior. This section aims to explore the interwoven relationship between McDonald’s brand attitude and consumers’ buying behavior.
As such, consumers’ attitude towards McDonald’s is closely related to the brand image, which is fun, convenient and affordable. Based on that, McDonald’s customers consider the lovely brand as affordable and always having something for everyone.
Brand loyalty occurs when consumers have learned that specific brand satisfies their needs better than others. First, it helps to better understand McDonald’s brand building strategy by looking at its brand pyramid. In terms of salience, the company blissfully owns the most recognizable logo (Golden arch) and spokesperson in the world.
According to the theory of reasoned action (Ha, 1998), if the antecedents of purchase behaviors are meant to measure one’s brand loyalty, consumers’ buying behavior will form a certain pattern. In McDonald’s case, the marketers are working their way to achieve product trial, customer retention and encouraging repeat purchase in the existing customer pool. For example, McDonald’s distribution channel mainly consists of drive-through places, brick and mortar restaurant outlets, (e.g., schools, amusement parks and shopping malls) and ordering online, some of which are 24-7 stores, aiming to satisfying the customers’ needs and wants, especially for exists their hunger. The fact that McDonalds own intensive distribution means that they can deliver particular product and service through different channels. “The easiest way they have done this is through successful franchise distribution channels.” (Eugene, 1994) Therefore, no matter where consumers go, they can receive the same kind of quality products and services, thereby being persuaded to engage with the brand. On top of that, McDonald’s restaurants have a comfortable and clean environment especially suited for families. Because of McDonald’s cleaning standards and their great attention to cleanliness that extends “from the lobby to the kitchen to the sidewalk and even immediate areas outside the restaurant”, (Penelope, 2006) customer feel at ease and satisfied when dining at McDonalds.
The partnership with Walt Disney is a good example of McDonald’s leverage on consumers’ persuasive communication. After nailing down the communication source and message, McDonald’s make their products available on some Disney theme parks, “their movies and their characters because customers can buy a Happy Meal at the Happiest Place on Earth.” (Anonymous, 2009) In this way, the marketing message recipient can effectively informed in a situation or context that he or she is involved in, in this case, their kid’s happiness and fun. It has been showed that Disney’s visitor tend to go to McDonald’s restaurants because their children love the quality food at a reasonable and it gives their children a place to play during the meal, despite the fact that the amusement park has a wide array of food and dining places. In a nutshell, it was ingenious for McDonald’s to join in a partnership with the Disney Corporation and eventually achieve their profit goals.
What deserves mention is that McDonald’s attaches due importance to its product packaging as part of their marketing strategy. Exhibit-5 shows the latest package of their beverage cups, doggie bags, and hamburger boxes. In an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, McDonald also turns to eco-friendly and degradable packaging materials, favored by many of customers as well. Figure-3 illustrates the vital role of packaging McDonald’s plays in promoting customers’ positive brand perception, which is in compliance with the modeling rationale, that is, creating customers’ perception by imparting both sensation and meaning from product packaging.
Brand Communication Objectives
In an attempt to further improve consumer’s brand attitude, McDonald’s embarked on setting communication objectives from the perspective of consumer behavior in the following ways. First of all, all the products should new and old customers’ needs so that they can meet their expectations and needs. Second of all, there should be an enhancement of brand awareness among target audience, whose ability to recognize and/or recall the brand, such as the logo and jingle helps a lot to put McDonald’s in their fast food considerate set. For example, the co-founder of McDonald’s is already famous, by expanding the role of Ronald McDonald with consumers of all ages will help create brand awareness. Last but not least, the recent slogan “I’m lovin’ it” will play the role of creating brand awareness when the consumer hears or sees the slogan, thus further changing consumers’ positive brand attitude and triggering their purchase intention.
Pricing and Communication Strategies and Tactics.
Consumers are usually good price interpreters based on their personal beliefs about price/quality relationship. In the meantime, price reduction comes as an important consumers’ acquired attention inducing stimuli such as sales promotion. For example, when targeting teenagers, McDonalds in United States prices several products quite aggressively because of the price sensitivity of this target market customer (Sandra 2011).
In order to save time and effort consumers will sometimes use simplified decision making rules known as “heuristics”. When it comes to buying inexpensive coffee, many customers’ top-of-mind choice will be One-dollar hot coffee with refill (on US market), which is probably the cheapest coffee you could find in North America. By extension, McDonald’s wisely implemented their price strategy of “coffee with good value for money”, thus putting the brand name in the considerate set of heuristics who will sometimes make a quick buying decision, As time goes by, it can effectively foster customer into a classical conditioning learning pattern in which consumers learn associations with valued end-states that are repeatedly communicated through in-store experience and advertising. McDonald’s prices its products in a way that a very large part of the US population can afford it even when the country is faced with the economic downturn. However, McDonald’s never sacrifices quality for value, which is a key in their long-term customer acquisition and retention strategy. A number of characteristics linked to the ability of brand stimuli to capture consumers’ attention are personal relevance attractiveness and consistent quality. As such, McDonald’s definition of value is broader than most restaurants to the extent that value at the branded restaurant is the total value enveloped in McDonald’s experience such as speed, quality food, a clean dining environment, friendly service and products priced for the biggest population of US consumers possible. In addition, restaurant managers will keep the restaurant clean and well-stocked by walking through the dining areas each and every hour to deliver a variety of comfortable seating arrangements to accommodate anyone who walks through the door – “from a single individual to a large family.” (Monokrousos et al, 2008)
Without doubt, promotion plays a pivotal role in delivering product or service messages to the intended audience, thus building an organizational identity. As of 1980s, McDonalds has been use a host of promotional mix that is featured by PR, sales promotion and advertising in different media such as print, TV, and Internet, to name a few.
As shown in Exhibit-2a from McDonald’s ad archive, this is McDonald’s print ad published in U.S. At the first glance, the concaved dots on French fries instantly remind viewers of the LEGO toy parts. The bottom text copy associates the fun message with LEGO toys that come with the kid’s Happy Meal, which explicitly grabs consumer’s attention. In Exhibit-2b the cheerful print ads promotes McDonald’s part in western holiday seasons, namely, Christmas. Again, the fries are arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree, indicating that the holiday is here to stay. If interpreted further, the ad injects one of McDonald’s values “family time” into the communication message.
When it comes to digital advertising, McDonald’s in States has launched a bunch of Internet and mobile ads ((Exhibit- 3c) to engage the target audience. The banner ad is another vivid example of McDonalds’ featuring the appeal of affordable and delicious double cheese burger that plays an important role in McDonald’s US staple menu. In the meantime, McDonald’s has spared no effort in its sales promotion by distributing a large amount of digital and paper coupons (Ries, 1997)
To fall back on the consumer decision making model, the need recognition of the consumer follow a problem recognition, pre-purchase search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase use and reevaluation approach. Take McDonald’s 2011 TVC in Australia for example. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkEXDWT-JZo) The 50-second TV ad features McDonald’s 40th anniversary in Australia, delivering the message of ensured and quality service to the customers, without leaving behind the enjoyment. Unlike regular TVCs that focus on product benefits, this ad encourages consumers’ repeat purchase by persuading and lubricated on their post-purchase and reevaluation stage. Moreover, television is a medium involvement media that is suitable for McDonald’s all-time product positioning strategy.
When it comes to McDonald’s adoption of motivation and involvement, we cannot help but mention its heavily implemented sales promotion program. Exhibit-4 shows the comeback of McRib Hamburger on US market that closely ties to digital quest on social media such as Facebook. With other tactics such as coupons and product sampling, McDonald’s aims to increase its sales and further establish customer loyalty. However, frequent sales promotion may lead consumers to only buy on deals, thus diluting the brand in the long run. Realizing that McDonalds’ belonging to the low involvement category, the company educates customers by escalating their brand engagement from cognition to attitude stage. Further, McDonald’s is adept at guiding consumer behavior in a given direction. It should be pointed out that purchase decision may be made without clear evaluation, brand attitudes or reasons for purchase, especially in selecting a fast food restaurant. With that in mind, McDonald’s knows how to capitalize on consumer’s learning/information process to help them understand its marketing message. A variety of techniques are used to help consumers learn, store and retrieve brand information. Two prominent examples are McDonalds’ catchy jingle and slogan (I’m lovin’ it.) and the invaluable, highly visual logo (the Golden arch) to facilitate brand recall and awareness. Clearly, repeated advertising on television or point-of-purchase help stimulate the retrieval of learned information.
For McDonald’s the high value brand is capitalizing on delivering afforable prices through no-frills operation in a manner that those new and returning customers spend a lot more than the average people. Therefore, having a loyalty program strategy will ease customers into a value chain that ensures a bilateral relationship that goes beyond the price itself. From the strategy standpoint, McDonalds aimed to stimulate trial purchase by 20% sales of the target market. In the meantime, McDonald’s had planned to use additional incentives for engaging in certain forms of behavior that included the use of coupons and premiums. There is no denying that the inserts of free standing inserts would allow the company to deliver the coupons. Last but not least, the all-time four colored images would significantly draw attention of potential and existing consumers. When it comes to direct mail program that becomes McDonald’s key area of distributing the coupons, their target redemption/conversion rate across the direct mail was expected to be around 8%. In terms of increasing customers’ purchase intention, the company spared no efforts in giving back to consumers when they purchase certain meal items on the menu. On top of that, McDonalds fully realized the importance that was acquired from past experience, that a holistic IMC program should be used for any new brands by trying to stimulate customers’ new product purchase intention such as employing the use of TV, Radio, and Bill Boards to convey messages. When it comes to integrated advertising strategy, tactic involved included but were not limited to introducing McDonalds brand history and brand loyalty by many consumers in promoting the aspects of evolving new Menu Items, nutrition, budgets and playgrounds through the media such as family convenience, and Ronald McDonald house. As a result, McDonalds could do a better job in implementing an objective that had a direct response of 10% by the target audience. In estimating the best timing for these tactics implementation, they should be guided by and based on overall cost and positive response from the consumers. What is certain is that the company would make these activities possible during certain good hours of the day on a monthly basis.
In sum, McDonalds is a community oriented, socially responsible company. As a global company operating over 23,500 restaurants in 109 countries, McDonald’s is still expanding in different regions and countries, which in turns entails them the strong ability to survive and thrive in the worldwide economic fluctuations. More importantly, they are good at areas by having an efficient food preparation in the style of a assembly like. This essay explained how marketers can generate positive attitude towards brands and applied several consumer behavior theories and models by taking McDonald’s as an example.
From the standpoint of consumer behavior, McDonald’s marketers did a lot to improve the brand attitude. Meanwhile, the company’s positioning strategy focuses on offering affordable, nutritious fast food and delivering a message of fun at the same time. The making of its positioning strategy can be reflected on functional values that are served to satisfy consumer needs. When it comes to McDonald’s promotion strategy, it has launched a bunch of Internet and mobile ads to engage the target audience. In the meantime, McDonald’s has spared no effort in its sales promotion by distributing a large amount of digital and paper coupons. To fall back on the consumer decision making model, the need recognition of the consumer follow a problem recognition, pre-purchase search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase use and reevaluation approach. Meanwhile, McDonald’s values its product packaging and distribution channels a lot in the way that consumers will be gradually educated to fall in love with the brand. With regards to McDonald’s pricing strategy, McDonalds in United States makes its products affordable by the biggest population of US consumers possible, a move that is in line with the brand imagery.
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