What’s To Love About French Fries?

May 05, 2017

BY KATIE LAHTI – INSIGHT STRATEGIST

My sister dutifully punched at her laptop keyboard with headphones glued to her ears. Her attention was totally fixed on her interior design work.

I recognized her focus and hesitated for only a moment before I realized that this was in fact the perfect opportunity for my uninvited and spontaneous experiment.

So I interrupted:

Me: Mar?!
Marin: Ya?
Me: Can I ask you a quick question? When I say McDonald’s, you say…?
Marin: French fries.
Me: You think…?
Marin: Yummy.
Me: In your mind, you see…?
Marin: Golden arches.
Me: You feel…?
Marin: Satisfied. Gross. Happy.
Me: Satisfied and gross?
Marin: Ya, satisfied and gross. More like, indulgent.
Me: Perfect. Thank you!
Marin: Wait, so that’s it? But those are ridiculous answers.

These are not ridiculous answers. In all their honest and raw glory, these are the kind of answers that will send a curious researcher like myself deep into the threads of analysis because it reveals something about McDonald’s brand purpose through the eyes of a target customer. In it we see how McDonald’s fulfills Marin’s needs and also how McDonald’s builds a connection with Marin.

In this brief dialogue, we start to see what “brand” really means to Marin. For my sister—and for all customers—brand is about more than just visual identity (Golden Arches) or products (french fries) and services. Brand is about the organization’s promise to deliver the benefits a customer needs and wants, whether that happens consciously or unconsciously. For Marin, the decision to go to McDonald’s is ultimately about feeling happiness from the quick satisfaction gained by eating an order of yummy french fries.

Whether it’s about choosing what’s for lunch or deciding what house to purchase, customers make decisions based on all their related experiences with the brand, combined with what they want from that brand in the moment. Consciously or unconsciously, their decision is often reflective of emotional and functional perceptions and experiences with the product or service, the channels for delivery, the people and support, and all marketing touch points. Brand is the sum experience brought to life across of these factors. It is everything that a customer thinks, feels, and does in response to a brand.

Visual elements of a brand such as color, logo, or tagline are really only mental vehicles for customers to attach all these related experiences. They help customers navigate a dynamic and changing category landscape by distinguishing one brand’s benefits from another.

Back to Marin and McDonald’s. In taking a bite of a crispy, warm french fry, Marin realizes the functional benefits she seeks in a convenience fast food lunch stop. It tastes good and it quickly quells her hunger. She is conflicted because she knows the french fry option is not the healthiest or the most sustaining, but she is comforted in the fact that she knows what to expect. French fries at one McDonald’s are the same as french fries at any other location. However, the feeling of happiness in convenience and indulgence makes even the strongest functional and rational tradeoffs worth the purchase. Marin sees the value from McDonald’s because it meets her emotional needs—at least in that moment.



To have real meaning and a real relationship with customers, all things should center on the benefits a brand delivers through customer experience. If we only realized the basic functional benefits, we’d miss the opportunity to connect with customers on what really matters to them. When brands communicate value at the rational and emotional level, they establish a deeper brand relationship and can also carve a unique position in the category that will create a distinct competitive advantage over time.

How do you align your brand with the values, wants, and needs of customers?

  1. Identify a brand target of customers whose basic attitudes and needs are met by the products and services a brand delivers.
  2. Understand and outline the hierarchy of benefits sought consciously and unconsciously by your brand target and target customers. Outline their driving emotional benefits, rational benefits, functional benefits, and reasons to believe.
  3. Use as a foundation for messaging and design strategies for a comprehensive customer experience across all touch points. Build brand identity, brand strategy, product and service design, store design, employee training, owned media strategy, earned media strategy, messaging, targeting, and customer support services from customer insight.
  4. Lastly, measure it.

Anchoring a customer’s experience across all touch points to a consistent brand strategy based on functional benefits, emotional connections, and values connections is not easy. But it is worth it. As customers are faced with newer, better, and faster ways to fulfill their functional needs, connection is the only way to maintain loyalty.

But don’t just take my word for it. I’ll leave you with a success story of one popular retailer that increased the value of their customers by building an emotional connection from “An Emotional Connection Matters More than Customer Satisfaction,” published in the Harvard Business Review.

“By implementing an emotional-connection-based strategy across the entire customer experience—including how it communicates with customers and attracts prospects—this retailer has increased its percentage of emotionally connected customers from 21% to 26%, reduced its customer attrition rate from 37% to 33%, and increased customer advocacy from 24% to 30%, resulting in a 15% increase in the number of active customers and more than a 50% increase in the rate of same-store-sales growth.”

Every brand can have their success story. It’s just a matter of creating customer connection!