McDonald’s Needs To Pick Two: Cheap, Fast or Good



Marketing service people all know the old cliché: “What do you want? Fast, cheap or good? Pick two.”

A terrific piece that ran in the New York Times over the weekend, McDonald’s Seeks Its Fast Food Soul, reports that new CEO Steve Easterbrook is intent on accomplishing all three.

That will take some doing. He may be simply posturing for Wall Street to get the stock price on the rise, but it seems he’s serious. Last week’s announcement that McDonald’s will eliminate chicken products injected with antibiotics within the next two years was consistent with his tenure in England, where he is credited with turning the business around with similar quality and health-related moves, such as selling organic milk and reducing the sodium content in fries.

These kinds of tactics will put pressure on margins and mostly likely require price increases at some point. I wonder if the core McDonald’s customer really even cares.

My vote clearly comes down on the side of “cheap and fast.” Yes, the fries are tasty and the shakes are thick and delicious. But they never made a great burger. Let’s face it, it’s gray meet on a soggy white bread bun. Even Burger King is better. McDonald’s was always about convenience and value. Cheap breakfast on the run? You can eat your Egg McMuffin in the car on the way to work.   Quick, cheap fill me up for lunch or dinner? A burger and fries – good car food as well – does the trick.

Appealing to the Chipolte/Five Guys/Shake Shack crowd is a fool’s errand. The food will never be as good, at least not at a competitive price. Not to mention how far they’d need to move the needle on brand image to compete with that crowd.

Successful innovation for McDonald’s is not likely to come in the form of customized burgers, hormone free meat, farm to table ingredients or any other health or quality related initiative. The challenge is how to create consumer cravings for their legacy products – burgers, fries and shakes – on their own terms. There is, and always will be a place for cheap and fast, yet edible food. That’s where McDonald’s needs to place its relentless focus.

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