McDonald’s On My Mind

The fast-food icon has had a rough quarter. How can it reinvent itself for tomorrow’s consumer?

Ever since McDonald’s announced its profits had plummeted 33%, my phone has been ringing — and ringing — with reporters asking how McDonald’s can rebound.

As a Futurist and marketing consultant working with the Fortune 500, I can see exactly how McDonald’s has lost its Cultural Currency. They aren’t attuned to how their customer is evolving:

· Sales of gluten-free products rocketed to $8.8 billion last year, an increase of 63 percent in two years. Why aren’t there gluten-free buns on the menu?

· The Paleo Diet has topped the Google charts of most-searched diets for two years running — why doesn’t McDonald’s slake that caveman hunger?

· Over 5% of our population is vegetarian. How can they have a Happy Meal under the arches?

· What’s natural is what’s gobbled up. Look at Shake Shack and their all-natural burgers. Their stock has soared 44% over the past month.

· Chipotle turned their pork shortage into a positive, showing that they’d rather turn away customers than serve meat that didn’t meet their responsibly raised guidelines. That’s how you earn trust — not with always-available mystery meat.

But the McDonald’s brand needs reigniting in a bigger, better way. It’s not just about the product. It’s about values and purpose.

Let’s look back for a moment: The Golden Arches ruled when Big was Good.

Big meant everyone had the opportunity to access the same fast, satisfying, on-the-go grub. That’s why McCafe was a success — it gave the average American a Starbucks-style break without blowing the budget.

But now, Big has become Bad. It’s an enormous machine that exploits workers, animals, the planet, our health.

McDonald’s needs to translate Big into something new and good: power to the people — a democratic option that delivers real value and quality without the pretense. Think about Uniqlo and its motto, Made For All. H&M and Target with their collaborations bringing designer style to the “less than $20” set. Tata cars in India, selling cheap and reliable transportation.

Educate customers and employees, too — many workers learn English while working at McDonald’s. Couldn’t all those stores provide homework help — a haven for kids of workers and the whole community? Look at how Starbucks sponsors its workers’ college degrees: If McDonald’s did the same, they’d irrefutably invest in their employees’ Best Future.

And while we’re talking about being democratic, McDonald’s could help their workers and customers vote. Cast your ballot at McDonald’s while eating your Egg McMuffin. I’m lovin’ it.

It’s going to require a change in the meaning of that iconic sign in front of every McDonald’s — the one that says “Over 1 Billion Served.” Instead of talking about serving one billion burgers, turn it around to mean serving one billion people.

McDonald’s needs to be the champion for the 99%. Feed them well, pay them well (the current increase over minimum wage only applies to company-owned stores), educate them, elevate them.

It must morph into the company that puts people first. It’s the perfect all-American brand to make that happen.

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