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🧠 Brand Salience: How coffee saved McDonald's

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Hi there - Jen here :)

When most businesses think marketing, they think "stuff":

  • Emails

  • Meta ads

  • Social Media posts

But when the best (and most successful) think marketing, they think "strategy":

  • Who are our customers?

  • What are the buying occasions we can own?

  • What is our value?

All this strategy isn’t just to make us feel good.

It helps us define what our brand stands for and make that brand memorable to potential customers.

The importance of brand is down to MANY psychology and behavioral science principles.

Today we’re going to focus on Brand Salience and how this concept helped McDonald’s generate tens of billions of dollars in additional revenue.

Today you’ll learn:

  • How coffee helped save McDonald’s flatlining sales

  • What is Brand Salience and what is the psychology behind it?

👉 But before we get started, I wanted to let you know that I’m holding a 60-minute live workshop called “Digital Product Psychology Essentials” on June 28th.

The key to a digital product that attracts a massive - paying - user base is baking psychology into every moment of the user journey.

I'll show you how in this live workshop - click to learn more and register. 👉

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How coffee saved McDonald’s

In the early 2000s, McDonald’s was struggling.

Its sales were softening and they were facing increased competition for peoples’ fast food dollar.

McDonald’s was searching for more sales everywhere, and they found a glaring hole in their own business: breakfast.

You see, people loved their Sausage McMuffins and hashbrowns.

But when it came to their coffee, McDonald’s was bottom of the barrel.

Worse than a gas station, worse than Burger King.

Buyer research discovered that having crappy coffee was actually a HUGE psychological barrier for folks who were considering McDonald’s for breakfast.

Everytime they wanted to grab a McMuffin they thought, “But I’m going to have to put up with their nasty, burnt black coffee.”

(This was a time before you could grab a mocha latte or a Frappacino on every street corner, and most convenience coffee in the US was filtered.)

Throw in competitive pressure from Starbucks, who was at the height of its popularity, and the answer was clear:

McDonald’s had to transform its reputation for crap coffee.

Meanwhile, in Australia…

The origins of McCafe - the McDonald’s coffee sub-brand - started in an unlikely location - Melbourne, Australia.

Australian coffee culture is a result of the waves of Greek and Italian immigrants who relocated from Europe after the second World War. They developed a distinct, high-quality cafe and coffee culture that became entrenched in the national identity of Australia.

But Ann Brown, a McDonald’s franchisee in Brisbane, was frustrated. Her store was losing foot traffic to the coffee shops and cafes nearby and she knew the reason why:

People just weren’t thinking “McDonald’s” when they had craving for coffee.

So Brown got in touch with McD’s corporate office in Sydney with an idea:

McDonald’s should launch its own coffee concept and call it McCafe.

They agreed, and the first McDonald’s with a McCafe was opened in Melbourne, Australia in 1993.

James - stock.adobe.com

Why McCafe did more than just sell more coffee

While McCafe was created in Australia, the US team didn’t take notice until they discovered an interesting data point:

McDonald’s stores with a McCafe were bringing 15% more revenue than non-McCafe stores.

That data point - along with stagnating sales and customers’ psychological barriers around “bad McDonald’s coffee” - made it clear that McCafe should be adapted to the US market.

So the first US-based McCafe concept opened in Chicago in 2009, and quickly rolled out to most stores.

Pretty soon breakfast sales were on the up and overall McDonald’s sales in the US were recovering as well - in large part due to McCafe pumping up the breakfast daypart and a ripple effect that nudged sales across every meal of the day.

Why did all McDonald’s sales see a bump when McCafe was launched?

It’s down to Brand Salience.

What is Brand Salience?

Brand Salience describes how easily a company comes to mind when customers have a need for something they sell.

For example, before McCafe’s arrival the only time people considered McDonald’s was for a quick lunch or a maybe a cheeky drive-thru dinner.

But when McCafe was launched, they started to think of McDonalds when they thought about fast food breakfast options.

When you’re building a brand, you’re really just building memories in peoples’ minds that make it easier to choose your brand when the time is right.

(“Easy to mind, easy to find” as the saying goes.)

Marketing can’t manufacture demand. We can only keep our brands top of mind so that we capture demand when it’s triggered by something going on in the buyers’ life - like getting hungry at breakfast or needing a new sofa after moving into a new place.

But capturing this demand only happens if you’ve consistently built those memory structures of what your brand is, and what you sell in your customers’ heads.

And if your brand is salient for more occasions - like how McCafe made McDonald’s more salient during breakfast… and lunch and dinner - the higher the chances someone will buy from you.

Thought of the Week

👉 Conversion is based on four things:

  • Trust

  • Attention

  • Simplicity

  • Emotion

That’s why they’re the basis of my Choice Hacking Triple S Blueprint™.

Sounds simple.

But they’re not easy to achieve.

Read, Watch, Listen

  • The Psychology Behind Panera Bread’s Wildly Successful Unlimited Sips Coffee Subscription [Read]

  • Jones Road Beauty: Welcome Email Psychology Breakdown [Watch]

  • The Choice Hacking Podcast wrapped up Season 5 a few weeks ago, but will be back for Season 6 soon. Click to catch-up before the new season starts → [Listen]  

Until next time,

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA
Founder & MD Choice Hacking
Courses, Coaching, and Consulting to help brands use psychology, behavioral science, and AI to grow

Want to use behavioral science, psychology, and AI to grow your business? Choice Hacking has worked with start-ups, scale-ups, and Fortune 500 brands like McDonalds, AT&T, Starbucks, Adidas, and more.

👉 And when you’re ready we can help you, too:

  • Courses: Skill up and stand out with video courses.

    • Check out all of my consumer psychology, behavioral science, presentation, and sales courses or get 100% access to every single current and future course - forever - with a Lifetime Membership.

  • Coaching: Join the waitlist for 1-on-1 support.

  • Consulting: Get your biggest challenges off your plate and into the hands of an expert.

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