In 2017, Interbrand named McDonald's as the 12th most successful brand in the world.
Key to McDonald’s success is their uniformity: Whatever country you visit a McDonald’s in, you are assured the same quality, experience, and food.
But look a little closer, and you'll find plenty of local adaptations: you can opt for a cheesy rice bowl instead of a burger in McDonald's India. Walk into a McDonald's in the Philippines, and you might get a side of spaghetti with your crispy chicken. And empanadas are a tasty alternatives to fries at McDonald's Chile.
One brand - many interpretations
McDonald’s cultural adaptation also extends to how it communicates with its customers.
Compare the web design for various local sites and you’ll see that there are noticeable differences between many of them: McDonald's US, McDonald's China, McDonald's Brazil, McDonald's Finland, and McDonald's Turkey. Differences include the site's layout, the page length or the use of images over text.
In Communication Parts 1 and 2, we looked at various communication styles. We can use these to see how McDonald's keeps its brand relevant across cultures. The three values we'll be looking at are:
Value for money
Fun for the kids, friends and family
Employer of choice
Value for Money
A strong appeal of McDonald’s is its low-cost food offers.
Applications-first pages might focus its images around a single category (e.g. hamburgers), a few sub-categories (e.g. hot & cold drinks) or 1 predominant category (mainly hamburgers with sides).
Holistic and principles-first images typically seek more context and might express these offers spanning multiple categories and more menu combinations.
Fun for the kids, friends and family
Another important brand message for McDonald's is fun and connection between friends and family.
Trust-orientation (“Task-first” or “Relationship-first”) can play an important role here. The article Building Trust across Cultures explains the main features of both styles.
Relationship-first cultures typically seek to make a personal connection between people first before getting down to business. Cultures with this style are more likely to display images of people on their first page. They may even prominently feature images of people at the top of their landing page. include countries
Task-first cultures tend to get down to task first, and only later seek to make a personal connection with their business partners. McDonald's sites in these cultures favour product images at the top of their main page. They also have fewer images of people or groups of people on the rest of the page. include countries
The Employee Experience
93% of its employees say that McDonald’s is a great place to work. The firm is clearly committed to its employee experience, but how big a feature is this for its customers around the world?
McDonald’s Netherlands promotes both its customer and employee experience on its main page.
The US and Brazilian sites on the other hand have more customer-centric content on its front page. Employee benefits are moved to entirely different pages of the website.
Cultural differences around decision-making can shed more light as to why.
Decision-Making around the world
The article "Being the Boss in Brussels, Boston and Beijing" (HBR) describes two differing decision-making styles – consensual and top-down.
Consensus-oriented cultures such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan spend a considerable amount of time on reaching consensus amongst all stakeholders. A decision is only made once it is found to work for everyone.
People in those cultures are often concerned about the impact their consumption choices have on the well-being of employees, society or the environment.
In top-down oriented cultures such as the U.S., U.K. or Brazil, employees and other stakeholders might be consulted beforehand. But in case of differing viewpoints, whoever sits at the top of the “food chain” (e.g. the boss or customer) ultimately holds the most sway.
People in those cultures may prioritise customer benefits first, and consider the wider-reaching impact of their purchases at a later stage.
Employer of Choice & Corporate Social Responsibility
The below figure shows country scores along 3 cultural dimensions taken from Erin Meyer's Culture Map.
McDonald’s Japan and McDonald’s Sweden both have sections on sustainability and employee benefits on their main page (consensus-oriented).
The Japanese version is more holistic (understanding the big picture and how all the pieces fit together) and relationship-oriented (many images of people and content around the “connection to society”). The Swedish version keeps things short and applications-based (e.g. “A Greener McDonald’s”).
McDonald’s UK’s main page is more customer-focussed. In fact, employees on the UK page are only shown in so far as they directly enhance customer service (top-down approach).
However, in terms of length and level of detail, the Swedish and UK landing pages both keep overall content relatively short with 7 page sections each (applications-first approach).
Employer of Choice revisited
Figure 2 shows the scores on the same dimensions for 3 other cultures.
The Dutch and Swedish examples discussed earlier highlight the immediate, concrete benefits for McDonald’s employees such as “earn extra with the best team” or “gain the knowledge and experience of a lifetime” (applications-first approach).
The Czech and Italian versions provide visitors with more contextual information first (principles-first approach).
The Czech example addresses the question as to “why” you should join McDonald’s, whilst the Italian case invites visitors to make a more relationship-oriented & personal connection with individual staff members (“discover our employee’s stories”).
Both the Italian and Filipino instances emphasise personal connections and relationships.
Rather than relating to specific individuals, the Filipino version highlights employee relationships in a more holistic manner. The McDonald’s team is described as a family and a community (“Be a part of our family”, “At McDonald's, we are more than just a business. We are a community”).
Using Multiple Dimensions
Culture is too complex to be meaningfully compared along just one or two dimensions.
By understanding multiple dimensions, you can more accurately decode how culture influences day-to-day communication. This article outlines 8 important dimensions for intercultural leadership and where various countries sit.
You can use this interactive tool to make meaningful comparisons between cultures, identify common ground and understand the nuances and complexities of the different approaches.
This will make you more effective as a leader when you are communicating with your employees, customers and stakeholders around the world.
How McDonald's makes it work
McDonald's credits its high degree of local adaptation to its Freedom Within a Framework mantra:
We pay special attention to how our customers are alike – and how they are different too. For that reason, markets and countries have latitude when it comes to menu, marketing, community involvement and local business management.
Making all of this work is McDonald's highly decentralised organisational structure. This structure allows national and regional managers to hire local advertising agencies and customise food around local tastes.
...Within a Framework
At the same time, the company achieves standardisation through strict controls around food safety and quality management across its supply chain and local restaurants.
This article in BusinessToday, an Indian publication, provides an example of the effort that goes into producing a new product like India's McSpicy Paneer. It explains that "McDonald's [...] is devoted to processes" - when a new product or situation arises, new elaborate processes are quickly devised to cover the new case.
By relying on processes to harmonise dispersed initiatives, McDonald's successfully balances standardisation with customisation across its global stakeholders. A feat that many other multi-cultural organisations fail to achieve.
This post concludes the series on effective communication. Check out the post "Multi-Cultural Management - Success Stories" for examples on how organisations with a different business model to McDonald's have also made cultural diversity work for them.