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How a millennial would fix McDonald’s

I’m not one of those millennials who turns up her nose at fast food. I’ve hit my fair share of drive-thrus, and I do get the occasional craving for the quick burger-and-fries value meal. But is my first choice McDonald’s? No. And I don’t think I’m alone in that camp.

So what would McDonald’s have to do to draw me, a token millennial, in as a consumer? The answer is both complicated and simple: fix its image.

From what was said by Atif Rafiq, McDonald’s chief digital officer, during a talk at this year’s South by Southwest festival, it sounds like the brand is hoping tech advances will do the trick. He revealed how McD’s could evolve by 2020, leveraging kiosks, smartphones, beacons and wearable tech (some of which already are in place) to change the McDonald’s experience.

It’s smart that he’s taking the mindset that consumers wield different technologies, thus avoiding a one-size-fits-all tech solution. But is tech enough to bring millennials in the door? Definitely not.

Point in case: When my fiancé drives home from his weekly 11 p.m. hockey games, he and his friends drive through Wendy’s. Every time I ask, “Why Wendy’s over the McDonald’s on the same block?,” the answer is the same: The food is better. 

It has little to do with service—as long as the food comes through the window pretty quickly, they don’t really care who they’re dealing with. And it has nothing to do with the convenience factor, which is the key added consumer benefit of these tech innovations. t doesn’t matter if it’s easier to order via app and have a beacon signal the restaurant when he's nearby to get his order prepped if that order isn’t filled with good-tasting food.

The clown clearly is aware that he’s being beat at the food game by the pigtailed red head. Why else would McD’s have started a trial run of premium burgers such as the Steakhouse Third Pound and Bacon & Cheese Sirloin Third Pound in early April? Wendy’s has had great success with its upscale sandwiches at a slightly higher price point—yet still available via drive-thru, a leg up on fast casuals—and now McDonald’s is trying to win at that same game. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but will I be going to McD’s for my better QSR burger? Still, no.

That’s because the problem stems back to image. McDonald’s has tried a lot of new menu items in recent years that have bombed. That doesn’t have me clamoring to try more potential fails. It needs a win in order to begin rebuilding brand confidence. And then maybe, once the buzz has been positive for a while, I’ll head back to that drive-thru. But until that point, I’ll be going with what I know will be good versus chancing it when that craving hits.

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