32 ways to order a Big Mac: Leading the digital transformation at McDonald’s

Retail Gets Real episode 340: Vice President of U.S. Customer Engagement Caleb Pearson gives insight into how McDonald’s uses digital strategies to keep customers coming back
Sr. Director, Content Strategy

Not so long ago, ordering a meal at McDonald’s happened only a few ways — at the drive-thru or at the counter, paid for with cash or credit. “Now we’ve got over 32 different customer journeys,” says McDonald’s Vice President of U.S. Customer Engagement Caleb Pearson, “… curbside, table service, loyalty, order ahead in the drive-thru. It’s crazy. To manage that and deliver a great experience to our consumers is a challenge, but it’s a really fun one.”

Pearson joined the Retail Gets Real podcast from NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show in January to talk about what it’s like to be a part of leading the digital transformation of the iconic American brand and what it takes to stay close to an ever-evolving customer.

Around 90% of consumers visit a McDonald’s at least once a year, Pearson says, creating a vast base from which to build loyalty and win frequency. The proof? In the three years since the team launched the MyMcDonald’s Rewards loyalty program in the mobile app, the McDonald’s app has become the most downloaded quick-service restaurant app.

Building on the success of the popular convenience and loyalty features in the app, Pearson says one focus for the year ahead is to enhance the use of data and predictive analytics to be more personalized and relevant to consumers at the right moments. If the team can predict which consumers are going to QSR restaurants but might be undecided about where to go, an important opportunity presents itself.

“We need to win frequency, and the way to do that is to get those undecided people in our doors,” Pearson says. “If I can predict, target and then speak to them at the right time, that’s really powerful.”

Looking ahead, Pearson hopes to find more ways to bring creativity across the McDonald’s teams to the forefront. During last year’s Grimace shake campaign that TikTok users made their own, McDonald’s was able to respond authentically in the moment, and Pearson credits the power of company culture for being able to navigate a uniquely Gen Z social media moment with fun and creativity.

“Sharing the pen, knowing you can’t control the outcome, but how you participate when these moments happen — and in real time — is important. And that comes from a cultural state,” he says. “Data’s important, capability’s important. Culture’s really important.”

Listen to the full episode to learn more about McDonald’s Grimace shake TikTok moment and Pearson’s path from blacksmith to consultant to digital lead of one of the world’s biggest brands.


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