Something’s going on at the Golden Arches: McDonald’s loyalty program–what little there’s been of it so far–is getting a makeover.

Earlier this month the fast food franchise’s US President, Mike Andres, said that a loyalty program will launch before the start of 2017. Details about the program are few and far between: Nation’s Restaurant News notes that Andres said rewards “would be linked to consumer purchases, based perhaps on the number of visits customers make to the chain’s restaurants every month.” Loyalty360, meanwhile, reports that rewards will be based on visits, and not on purchases, and Biz Journals reports the opposite.

We’ve said it before (with regards to Starbucks), and we’ll say it again: McDonald’s would likely be best served by a system that rewards customers for visits instead of dollars spent. This approach would send the message that the burger giant is happy to see their customers’ smiling faces, rather than happy to see their wallets. In doing so, they’d place a higher emphasis on communication, which seems pertinent in light of the fact that McDonald’s is in the middle of a concerted push to use technology to communicate more directly with customers. They’ve recently expanded their digital team and Google executive Margo Georgiadis to their board of directors.

If that’s truly their goal, their team should go further by rewarding customers for online engagement in addition to in-person visits. This would make customers feel more valued and eager to spread their enthusiasm. Perhaps more importantly for McDonald’s, it would give the company a chance to control the conversation about them on social media. For example, they could reward customers for contributing to a visual commerce gallery on their site, with the caveat being that the photos in question must be approved in order to count towards a reward. This would incentivize positive chatter about a brand that’s previously endured some hashtag horrors. As of April 2015, 36% of millennials said that they’ve shared digital content in order to receive a coupon, discount, or promotion, which means that they’re quite open to the idea of using social to openly engage with brands.

This announcement isn’t the first iteration of a McDonald’s loyalty program. In 2013, they experimented with a loyalty app for hundreds of their locations. It used QR technology to give customers a chance to win free meals and other prizes at participating locations. In 2014, McDonald’s partnered with Softcard to enable mobile payments at all of its US locations. Since August of 2015,  McDonald’s loyalty program offerings expanded to a McCafe drink rewards system that lives on its standalone app, As of last week, the app had been downloaded 7.5 million times, which has surpassed management’s expectations.

Given this success, it seems like it’s the right time for their team to expand their digital loyalty horizons. And while 87% of shoppers think that brands need to work harder at providing seamless experiences, perhaps this could be the year for McDonald’s to distinguish itself.

 

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