Erwin Dito

VP Global Brand Leadership
“A big ship turns slowly but if it turns, it moves a lot of water.”
McDonald's has been in the top 10 of the most valuable companies for years. However, the list is increasingly dominated by tech companies. What does this mean for the future of McDonald’s? Will they be able to keep their coveted position? Erwin Dito, VP Global Brand Leadership, talks about future-proofing your brand and how McDonald's gets this done.
In the Interbrand top 10, McDonald's competes with Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Is it a matter of time before the top 10 consists entirely of tech companies?
‘I don't have a crystal ball but it's indeed impressive how these companies rise. The fact that we're still in that top 10 is really great and I hope the rest will not be filled by tech companies.’

What's the magic that keeps you there? 
‘It's all about future-proofing. Some 70 million customers come to our restaurants so apparently, we are still very relevant. But we're not the same as 40, 50 years ago. Being there - and staying there - is all about adapting to your environment. For this you need to innovate, but also stick to your core and know what your role is in society. That is why it’s important to be in the top 10.’
Previously you served as McDonald's CEO in the Netherlands. Tell us about your new role as Global Head of Brand? 
‘This role has been newly created last year and currently I'm building up a team. Before this, our marketing was more fragmented globally. We pretty much invented the ‘think global, act local’ way of marketing. But we realized that as a true global brand, you sometimes have to act globally. There are some things you do better together. There are even some things you can only do together, such as big sponsorships or cooperating with worldwide celebrities. Many customer groups are not bound by borders anymore. They do not gather because of proximity but because of shared, borderless passion points. We therefore need act on a global level much more than before.’

And you're heading those global projects in terms of brand? 
‘Exactly. The strategy of my team is split in two divisions. The first we call market empowerment. We help local markets to do their best possible marketing, based on our global experience. This means sharing, developing and scaling best practices, talent and tools. The second is what we call the Power of One; benefiting from the sum of all parts when we join up together. This will further future-proof our brand.’

McDonald's are heavily investing in new digital channels. Are you transforming into a tech company? 
‘Technology is crucial to optimize your customer experience. At a global level we’re part of a big customer experience pillar. We're tearing down the walls between operations, tech, CRM, media and marketing, in order to create the best possible customer experience. We then turn that into a seamless and memorable customer experience. The core of our business is making easy, delicious moments for everyone. But it's also about feel-good. Therefore, we're combining, memorability and seamlessness.’

Restaurants have changed over the years. What are the main differences with the past?
‘40, 50 years ago a sign said: ‘Order here.’ Today you can basically order anywhere. We try to get our product to where the consumer wants it. We went from two or three channels to almost 15 channels. They’re linked with the many devices and partner apps through which consumers can order. Timing, sequencing, making sure the right order goes to the right customer; all this has added to the complexity. We need technology to deliver on our promise.’
Will customers be able to order in the Metaverse soon? 
‘We trademarked a restaurant in the Metaverse and it got us a lot of press. It's still in its early stage so now is the time to experiment. We're trying to define: what is our best role in such a space? In the end, you want to be where your customers are, connect with them in their space, and be relevant there. If that means ordering in the Metaverse, then it will probably be possible. But you cannot eat it in the Metaverse.’

As a marketer, do you believe in the Metaverse? 
‘I believe in Web 3.0 - let's call it the next phase of the Internet – and you need to be prepared for it. Where Web 2.0 was two dimensional, this is three dimensional. For anyone who hasn't put VR glasses on, I’d really recommend doing it. Then you really start to get what it is and how distance is not playing a role anymore. I think that's fascinating. In ten years from now, we’ll probably laugh about today’s clunky glasses. Web 3.0 is definitely going somewhere.’

Should brand equity be part of the balance sheet? 
‘It’s one of your intangible assets. A good brand demonstrates the power to connect to consumers, now and in the future. If your brand is growing and keeps connecting to new generations of customers, then you're a strong brand with a future. If you want to stay in the global brand top 10, you need to recruit more customers than you lose.’

How do you measure brand value at McDonald's? 
‘We don't do that in dollars or euros; we look at consumer KPIs. The main drivers are value and ease, food - especially food quality - brand trust and brand affinity. Those four dimensions are the breakdown of what we call brand advocacy. You can build a strategy on those drivers. In every country you can see where the gap and the headspace sit, in which target we do well or less well, and then we can build a plan to that.’
What is the correlation between brand value and future-proofing your brand?
‘For me it's about brand growth. If the number of customers grows, you are probably a healthy brand and you're doing something right. I believe very much in the paradigm that as a mass brand, we need to reach everyone. To properly target them, we need to understand in what segments the mass is divided. We cannot rule out any segments, we need to target them all.’

Is innovation essential for future-proofing your brand?
‘I believe in evolution, in continuously working to make the experience better and always being in touch with your customers. Great ideas come to connected people so you need to be connected. You can create a base, a culture, which is customer-led. This means that you never put a product on your shelf or in your restaurant that hasn't been researched with consumers. We do yearly concept testing rounds, brainstorming, and market rounds with all the marketers.’

What are your main insights in the next generations, regarding future-proofing your brand?
‘Interestingly Gen Z is really different. Research shows that this is the most similar generation up to now across the world. They are more similar than they are different. This has to do with their connectedness and their very holistic look at brands. It's not just about doing things right, but also doing the right things. They look at this from a me-we world perspective. More than just the product, they want to know: what do you do for me, us, the community, for the world? As a brand you need to fill in those dimensions to be really relevant to them and connect with them at the right level.’

Will McDonald's ever become a B-Corp?
‘Not in the short-term. The ESG agenda is a very heavy focus for us. Our purpose is: feed and foster communities. And our mission is: making delicious feel-good moments easy for everyone. That is what we provide to our customers in the here and now. Our bigger purpose is very much about a me-we world perspective; what do we deliver to the communities and how do we become net-zero by 2050?’

2050... is that not a little late?
‘Everyone's personal preference is to go earlier than that. On the other hand, you should be realistic. On a global level we have committed to 2050 for now. Some countries commit to 2040, like the UK. If you have the plan in place, if you understand what to do and how to get there, you can go faster. The advantage of a big system is that can make a really big impact by making small steps. A big ship turns slowly but if it turns, it moves a lot of water.’

What is your favorite example of future-proofing your brand?
 ‘I'm a big fan of our vegetarian agenda. We are now developing McPlant on a global level, which is a plant-based alternative. It sounds easy but bringing it in a kitchen as a separate stream is a bit hard. Our system works very well with high-rotating products, so McPlant is not available everywhere yet. But this definitely will be a big move globally.’
Please share an example of an innovation that didn't turn out as expected. 
‘Around 2016 or 2017 pulled pork was really popular at festivals. But it was also a little bit the domain of hipsters, which is not necessarily where McDonald's sits. We wanted to progress and introduced the McWrap pulled pork. It created a lot of complexity as it wasn’t in our DNA to do that. We also got a lot of backlash on the web. It was a big learning point: you must reinvent yourself within your DNA and understand where you have the right to play. There is enough innovation possible within our own space.’

When did you realize you wanted a job in marketing?
‘I'm a bit of a marketer by accident. I studied management and organization and could not choose a direction. So, I ended up with general classes, including marketing. Mars were brave enough to take me on and there, for the first time, I saw a truly branded company. I think they had 10 or 12 billion-dollar brands worldwide back then. It was all about brands, talking to ad agencies, talking with creatives, defining strategy, and I started to like that. I did the whole commercial side of the organization, but I enjoyed marketing and branding most - especially the philosophy behind it, and trying to recruit consumers. The moment you put out a campaign, waking up early the next morning, thinking: ‘Oh, this is a bit scary...’ I like that.’

What's your advice for next generation marketers?
‘Really understand the DNA of your brand, what the brand means for consumers, the role it plays. If the brand wouldn't be there, what would the world miss? What would your consumer miss? Be faithful to what the brand really is, because that is the equity that sits with the consumers. The gold is in there. If you have a brand that withstood the test of time, there's probably some relevance in that role. You need to adapt to the changing context and understand how you can fulfill that role within three, four, five years from now, and then work towards that.’

Which marketing trend keeps you awake?
‘The fragmentation of the media landscape. If brands do not learn how to reach a mass audience in the coming years, then they might lose out. Many brands still spend 50 per cent or more on linear TV. But in the US, streaming television is already bigger than linear. In two, three years from now you cannot buy simple ad space anymore. So, how are you going to reach the masses then?’

Google and Meta?
‘Well, yes. But building your brand through digital is quite hard. I mean, do you like pre-rolls? You’re thinking: why is this brand irritating me? So, finding a relevant way to the world of our consumers in the future is going to be a completely different art or discipline. That's what we need to prepare for.’

Image sources: McDonald's - Our History, McPlant
About Erwin Dito
Erwin Dito is VP Global Brand Leadership at McDonald’s. He has been with the company since 2015 and has served as the CEO in the Netherlands. Prior to joining the fast-food giant, Erwin built an impressive career as marketing leader and also commercial leader at fast-moving giants Anheuser-Busch InBev and Mars.

About McDonald’s
McDonald’s needs no introduction. The iconic brand with the golden arches has been in the top 10 most valuable companies for years. Founded in 1940 in San Bernardino, California, it has grown to become the world's largest restaurant chain with a revenue of $23 billion. The chain serves over 70 million customers daily through over 40,000 outlets in about 120 countries. According to Statista its brand value was almost $155 billion in 2021. 
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