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Got a number of reactions on Friday to the "Millennial Mind" guest column written by Chelsea Ware, a student at Portland State University, who talked about what she believes McDonald's needs to do in order to regain relevance with her generation.

One MNB user wrote:

It was great to read the commentary from your “guest blogger” Chelsea Ware on Friday.  I was reminded of a couple of things.  First, how Chelsea’s generation lacks the patience in terms of getting what they want quickly (as compared to my own generation).  It’s interesting to read how her generation makes assumptions about Brands based on a couple of experiences, rather than to understand what these Brands might be testing around the world. The other thing I was reminded of in reading Chelsea’s post is that I need to figure out millennials better / faster as they are (at a rapidly increasing rate) contributing to our Social Security system, from which I’m suppose to benefit in another dozen years.  (Or not.)

McDonalds was written about twice in your Friday posts, which hit a particular nerve for me.   I’ve been traveling throughout southern Spain this past week. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to do a cooking class with Dani Garcia just west of Malaga.  Dani is well-known in Spain and had a couple of restaurants in New York City (Manzanilla; closed after one year in business) and participates in the "Iron Chef" type competitions in Spain.  During the cooking class, Dani made mention of the fact that he had recently assisted McDonald’s –Spain by adding another burger to the menu.  He offered that McDonalds-Espana  needed to improve the taste of their burgers in Spain and felt that a boost from a well-known chef might help.  He said the item was only available in the Spain McDonald’s stores.

On Thursday, I made a trip to a local McDonalds to sample exactly what Dani had created.  There was absolutely no in-store marketing of the new burger, called “Extreme DG”. The burger sold for 5,00 on the menu but they were offering a “two for one” promotion.  The comparable cheap cheeseburger (identical in every way to the Dollar menu in USA) was 1,30.  The comparison of the buns showed a difference; the Dani Garcia item definitely wins on “looks”. However,  the taste of the hamburger patties was virtually the same. The Extreme DG item was swimming in a special sauce that wasn’t available in a condiment pack. The sauce on the Extreme DG burger definitely tasted more upscale than conventional mustard / ketchup on the “Dollar burger” equivalent.

There was no “supersize” messaging on the menu board, either online when one orders or when awaiting the order to pick-up.  In countries outside the US, “supersizing” (or even free refills) often leads to “ selling less”.  Giving away more French fries or soft drinks doesn’t work for many international franchisees.

Wifi was easy to access; one-click and it was “on” which is very quick vs the multitude of options one encounters if they frequent US McDonald’s locations.  The eating area (booths and seating) were nearly full and all was remarkably clean and well kept.  Consumers of all ages were enjoying their food.  Bathrooms were superbly clean; this is clearly a point of difference in Spain vs. competition.

Interestingly, McDonald’s Spain offers beer for sale (at least in the location I was visiting) but doesn’t allow for soda refills of any kind.  The order taking process is completely automated.  This made the purchase of the Extreme DG burger harder as one really has to look closely through the online menu to find it.  Most other aspects of a US McDonald’s were similar to what you find in the US, including the kids play area.

What’s this have to do with Chelsea’s guest column, you might ask...

McDonald’s is experimenting, albeit in countries like Spain, with how to improve the taste and localize.  Chelsea, don’t assume that because what you see in the US is the way it is everywhere.  There are some innovations being tested somewhere else that might be exportable.  The bigger question your generation needs to resolve is the appetite for risk; Brand localization costs more, at least in the short term.  And, in the case of McDonalds, are franchisees willing to invest in new concepts?  Any MNB viewers who have been involved in franchisor: franchisee business models know how hard / slow change is to implement, despite a shared objective to “sell more”.

“Ditching the clown” (as Chelsea suggested) is one of the key points of difference that got McDonald’s to the size / scale it is today.  That, itself, isn’t reason enough to keep the play area. In South Africa, McDonald’s doesn’t have the gym play areas, instead having a play area that includes electronics.  “Evolving the clown” makes sense; after all, many of us want to associate with different things than we did growing up.

As much as I hate to say it publicly, Chelsea’s comments will have more meaning to me when she gets away from academia and develops her own viewpoint based on her work experience. I appreciate reading her views; they are not unlike what I hear in my own household.  My own son, who is 20 and attends University, reminds me often of how much more he knows than I do, until it comes time that some real work needs to be done.  Faced with a lack of operational experience, he reluctantly migrates from advocacy to curiosity to deal with the task at hand – then becoming grateful for the scholarship that allows him to remain in University for another 24 months!

While his Dad keeps his fingers crossed the coming 24 months come / go quickly….. real world experience / understanding seems so under-valued / appreciated to him.

Similar to how I read Chelsea's commentary.  But, I need them to be successful so that my Social Security is safe(r).

I get your point, but...

It is critical to an understanding of Chelsea's point of view - or your son's, for that matter - that they are not necessarily taking an operational point of view. Like many consumers, they may not give a rat's rear end about the operational issues ... and yes, they want what they want, when they want it, how they want it.

Marketers can say things like, the clown helped make McDonald's what it is today. And that's not wrong. But ... most people, when they go to McDonald's, don't think about the company's international presence. They think about the unit in which they're buying their hamburger and fries. And what matters not is the issue of franchisee relationships, or whether beer is available in Spain, or what initiatives may be exportable to the US. What matters is whether that store and those burgers and fries are tasty and relevant to that consumer.

Furthermore ... it would be my argument that while millennials may not know everything, and may not know as much as they think they know, they also know a lot of stuff that I don't know ... and I'm better served by listening than dismissing.

Regarding the same column, MNB reader Mitch Hill wrote:

Can you please make Chelsea Ware a semi-regular contributor? She says what many in our business don’t want to hear, but need to.

MNB reader Clay M Whitney wrote:

The millennial I sit next to is not very forthcoming; please feature more of these insights.

From another reader:

Loved this article.  But I think that the real issue that McDonald’s has to address is what demographic they want to focus on. It has always been families but families are changing.  So do they want to be a hangout for millennials, families, baby boomers, etc?

From MNB reader Bryan Silbermann:

Brilliant! That’s both your decision to feature Chelsea Ware’s comments on McDonalds as well as her insight and clarity of thought.  Steve Easterbrook ought to hire her as soon as she graduates.

MNB reader Carl Jorgensen wrote:

Bravo (or brava?) to Chelsea Ware for a most trenchant analysis yet of McDonald’s problem and the way forward. I hope she stays in our industry, because she is exactly what we need in the next generation of business leaders.

FYI ... this is one the reasons I love being an adjunct faculty member at PSU's Center for Retail Leadership. The folks there - especially Tom Gillpatrick - turn out smart, thoughtful graduates who are a lot of fun to hang out with. That's why I'm going back this summer, for my fourth year of team-teaching a class with Tom. (As always, we bring lots of industry execs into class to talk to our students ... if you're interested in joining us, let me know.)

And MNB reader Doug Morales wrote:

Great read, solid comparison to what once was and what might be with the right direction. Very good Chelsea, best of luck to you.

Kevin, the force is strong with your young padawan.

Boom! Extra credit for a great movie reference! (And I should be so lucky to have her as my padawan...)
KC's View: