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McDonald’s Secret Sales Tactics

I was driving past McDonald’s the other day and my eldest daughter mentioned that I hadn’t written a blog using McDonald’s for a while. If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll know that I use McDonald’s to help explain many different money concepts, such as the stock market, inflation and the greater fool theory.


My kids find using Mcdonald’s really helps bring money concepts to life - especially if we are discussing the topic whilst occasionally eating there.


When I started thinking about which money topic I could use McDonald’s to explain, I immediately started to think about all the really clever tactics they use to get people to eat more of their burgers.


Therefore, I decided to share these sales tactics with my daughters to help them think more about the power of 'selling'.


Why is teaching kids about selling important?


Part of learning about money is the ability to earn money. To increase how much money you earn, you need to learn to sell. For kids, this could mean learning to sell goods or services when they create a new mini-business or it could be learning to sell their capabilities to future employers to get the job they want in the future.

Learning how to sell is a skill which is not taught at school but can give kids a massive advantage. As mentioned in my blog, ‘How to teach your kids to sell’, selling isn’t about being a ‘used car salesman’. It can be about discovering what problems people have or want and then finding something that will help them.


Many people believe that if you have a great product, it will sell itself. McDonald’s shows that is always the case.


McDonald’s has been super successful over decades. The funny thing is that they don’t have the best product. If you asked anyone, even people who work at McDonald’s, they probably agree that McDonald’s doesn't sell the best burgers in the world (don’t get me wrong, I love McDonald’s burgers). They focused on how they sell, rather than what they sell. This is what I wanted to share with my daughters.


In this blog, I go through some of the clever sales tactics that McDonald’s uses. I want my kids to be interested in selling and understanding many different selling tactics, even if they aren’t going to be using them for a long time. My hope is that as they grow up, they will remember my stories and appreciate that just having a great product or an amazing CV might not always get them what they want, they have to use different sales tactics too.


How does McDonald's sell so many burgers?


McDonald’s uses lots of tactics for selling their burgers. Some of these tactics are used by many different companies, such as bundling products together so people spend more (such as the 'extra value meal') or having special seasonal promotions. For this blog, I have focused on the more interesting or clever tactics that people might not fully appreciate.


Playing the long game …


Experiences and lessons from our childhood have a big impact on our lives as adults. It's one of the reasons I try to encourage parents to teach their kids about money from a young age.

McDonald's also understands the lasting impressions from childhood. In 1979, they introduced the ‘Happy Meal’. Not only does it make McDonald’s a place for the family to go to eat, but it is also inducting the next generation of McDonald’s buyers. They understood that if kids grow up eating McDonald’s then they would continue to want to eat McDonald’s as adults and therefore secure their long-term future.


To understand the power of using kids as a long-term sales strategy, we can look at another world-leading brand, Nestle. In the post-World War 2 era, they wanted to sell their instant coffee in Japan. The problem was that the Japanese loved tea. They had never really had coffee before. Nestle spent a lot of time and money carrying out taste tests and altered the flavours of their coffee so that they got top marks in taste tests in Japan. The people in the tests said they actually preferred their coffee to tea. However, when they actually released instant coffee in shops and opened coffee shops it was a complete flop. No one bought it.

Turns out that tea was so ingrained into Japanese culture, it was hard to get people to change to coffee. The Japanese had grown up with the smell in their homes and restaurants. They eat tea-flavoured cakes and biscuits. This meant that the Japanese didn't have a strong desire to get used to a new flavour of the drink.


What did Nestle do? They created coffee sweets. They targeted Japanese kids with the new sweets so that they were used to the taste of coffee. As the kids grew up, Nestle had sweet-tasting coffee drinks available and then they moved to instant coffee. Nestle played the long game and now Japan is the 7th largest importer of coffee in the world!


This shows the power of playing the long game and being patient. Whilst people want to sell things quickly, it's also worth having some strategies which help sales in the long term. I loved teaching this to my daughters as I've always talked to them about the power of being patient when looking after their money (as you'll know, patience is my 'third rule of wealth').


Selling happiness ...


Compared to most other brands (apart from toy companies), McDonald’s focuses on making people feel happy. Just look at the evidence:

  • They have 'Happy Meals'

  • Their slogan is “I’m lovin' it”

  • Their mascot is a clown

People (in general) like to feel happy and therefore using happiness as a focus of a business is going to lead more people to want to use its services and you will sell more.

McDonald’s has conducted lots of research to understand what makes people feel happy. Some of these tactics are a lot more subtle than the use of 'Happy Meals' and clowns. Let me give you an example. There is research that shows that the physical positioning of our heads is linked to our mood. You probably know that when people are sad, they naturally start to look downwards. The opposite is also true. We can improve our mood and make ourselves happier by looking up. McDonald’s knows this and it's one of the reasons their menus are up high. By getting us to look up, it is physically helping us to change our mood to be happier. Clever!


Granted, after eating a large McDonald’s meal, you might not feel too happy about yourself but that feeling of unhappiness is generally short-lived.


Clever wording …


I remember reading about neuro-linguistic programming (or NLP as it is known) as I’m a bit of a geek and love learning new things. The book was about how our brains pick up on certain wording subconsciously.


For example, if I say “Don’t think of an elephant”, you will probably start thinking of an elephant.

Our brains spot patterns in words and latch onto them. This means our brains can ignore certain words and just focus on positive action phrases. So when someone at McDonald’s says “Do you want fries with that?”, your brain is picking up on the words “You want fries” in the middle (Do you want fries with that?”). This triggers other parts of your brain linked to wanting fries and this creates a desire.


These are very subtle tactics that can greatly impact what we do and how we sell. There are whole courses on how companies can use NLP to sell more.


For my daughters, I want them to learn to understand the power of wording and to focus on the positive.


Top NLP tip for parenting:

When you want your kids to stop doing something, you shouldn’t say what you want them to stop doing. Always say what you want them to start doing. This is because their brains don’t always pick up on the words ‘Don’t’ or ’Stop doing’ and just hear the action part. For example, one of my daughters would always leave her clothes on the floor. Instead of telling her “Don’t leave your clothes on the floor”, we now make sure we say “Make sure you put your clothes away”.


Consistency …

One of the reasons people still go to McDonald's when they are travelling overseas is for consistency. Whilst trying new cuisines on holiday is exciting and can be a memorable experience, sometimes it can be overwhelming if you have something new every meal. Therefore, if you see a McDonald's you know what you will get and you know you will like it.


McDonald’s has spent so much time ensuring that their restaurants offer up consistent quality and, in most cases, the same options. Whilst some countries have special options based on their country, nearly all will sell Big Macs, Quarter pounders, nuggets and fries.


Make It Easy To Buy ...


This is one of the most important elements when it comes to selling. McDonald's makes it super easy to buy what they are selling. You can point to the menu in the country or use the ordering machines (even if you are overseas and don't speak the language). The food arrives quickly and you know what to expect. Easy!


This shouldn't be underestimated. I told my daughters about a study I had recently read about. A group of researchers in the US were trying to get people to take certain medical tests. They put out large advertisements telling them the benefits of the tests and what could go wrong if they didn’t take the tests. They did group tests to ask people what they thought after reading the posters and nearly all of them said that they felt they should go and get tested. However, only 3 per cent of people went. They then did another poster, which included a map with directions to the medical centre and opening times (even though 90% of students knew this information already). This simple change to make it super easy for them to get the test done increased the outcome from 3% to 28%.


This is one area I want to work on for Blue Tree. I want to make it as easy as possible for parents/guardians to learn about money but also take action. If you have any ideas about things that you would find helpful, please do let me know (will@bluetreesavings.com).


Summary


As my kids grow up, I want them to understand that by learning to sell, they will have many advantages in life. It could help them earn more, regardless of what career or business avenue they decide to go down.


Whilst they might apply all the lessons above, the more they understand the different tactics, the more they can start to see which ones will be relevant to them.


The next time you are in a McDonald's, or passing one with your kids, let them know some of the tactics they use to get people to sell more burgers. Namely:

  • Selling happiness

  • Clever wording 'Do YOU WANT FRIES with that?'

  • Consistency

  • Make it easy to buy


Thanks for reading!


Will


P.S. Whilst I didn't use McDonald's explicitly in my book, Grandpa's Fortune Fables, one of the fables 'The Burger Shack' was heavily influenced by them. The fable helps kids learn about investing in the stock market in a fun and memorable way. If you want your kids to learn about investing, why not get them a copy of the book? Buy here


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