TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2019: Jo Mitchell brings taste of New Zealand to McDonald’s, named Marketer of the Year

After cutting her teeth in marketing departments of locally-owned and operated organisations, it’s not surprising Jo Mitchell, McDonald’s NZ director of marketing, was unsure of the role she would play when she joined the global restaurant group.

But what she found was autonomy, rather than a job heavily prescribed by global management.

“People think there’s some golden rule book that gets handed down from global and that’s so far from the truth,” she says.

“We do our creative here, we do our planning about what we are going to bring to market, we do our customer and market research and we do some product development.”

While completing her bachelor of management studies at university, Mitchell developed a passion for marketing, with a love of its creatively-driven strategy.

She described her entry into the industry as one in a “grassroots kind of role” at Caxton, a tissue company. While it wasn’t a very glamourous role, the production and creative was all on sight giving her a great start to her career.

She’s then gone on to work for organisation including NZ Dairy Foods, Fonterra, Spark, Kraft Foods, Frucor.

It was 2013 she joined McDonald’s and as well as the myth about a golden rule book for marketing, she also faces myths about the company in general held by the public.

“We do so much good in the community and with our charity work and even for the farming community in terms of the ingredients and produce that we buy and bring to life in our restaurants, so there’s a really good story. But there are so many misbelievers.”

On top of the negative perspectives about McDonald’s, in 2013 the business was not operating in a sustainable way. As a company built on efficiency, short-term results were outshining long-term brand health and Mitchell describes it as being “in a conundrum”.

Sales were declining, there were fewer guests coming through restaurant doors and there was a realisation that its alignment with Australia was no longer working for its customers or the business.

“I was brought in to reset the marketing team, to build a plan, bring products to market, bring tactics to market and work with the franchisees to turn business around.”

And achieve that she has, with 20 quarters of consecutive growth — “unprecedented in the history of the business,” according to those who nominated her.

A major part in the transformation has been giving McDonald’s NZ a customer-centric focus.

Given McDonald’s great market share, its marketing had been to all New Zealanders, rather than acknowledging that not all customers are the same.

From her history in FMCG brands, Mitchell knew the importance of having a deep understanding of the customer because those brands need to be picked off the shelf so she used those insights to get people to walk through McDonald’s doors.

“Bringing in a customer-centric view and bringing them to life so we had a view of who was coming through our door, and what we should be marketing and selling to them has been probably the thing I’m most proud of,” she says.

That thinking saw the implementation of the ‘Create Your Taste’ personalised ordering product system in 2016, and later the introduction of the MyMacca’s App.

According to her nomination, the app was the first initiative by McDonald’s to secure a one-to-one relationship with customers and now accounts for four percent of total guest count per week. This need to be customer-centric is one Mitchell sees as being more important than ever for all brands when looking into a future of automated technology in order to not get lost in the data.

“You still need to have the customer view and put a personal lens on to bring it to life.

“If you just rely on tech and data you are not going to make the right decision.”

It takes a village

In talking about what McDonald’s has achieved, Mitchell is quick to credit the work of her team who she says are very efficient and highly skilled at knowing what drives the business.

Operating in a business that moves very fast, she says her team are highly flexible, agile and ready to be challenged, and she trusts them to make the right decisions.

“We serve over 1.5 million people a week through our doors. Everything we do is at scale so you have to have precision and be on point. You can’t afford to make mistakes at McDonald’s because they will be monumental.”

Supporting her and the McDonald’s team are its agency partners – or as McDonald’s calls it, “the agency village”.

They are very much part of her team, Mitchell says, adding there are processes in place so partners can work in its office and have integrated meetings. DDB is one of those agencies and in Mitchell’s nomination, its CEO Justin Mowday said:

“Jo manages to switch between high-level strategy and detailed execution easily, challenges herself and those around her to better than last time, and demonstrates and deep passion for the McDonald’s business and brand.”

Holding the fundamentals

While her career has seen Mitchell work for locally-owned and operated organisations, she has also spread her wings with work across the UK and Europe where she got a taste of a different marketing style.

There, she says, marketing is a specialist role and marketers only do one form of it – unlike New Zealand where marketers do it all.

“I think one of the beautiful things about New Zealand marketers is they are very broad, they are more of a generalist and they get to touch all aspects,” she says.

“Whether it’s research, new product development, strategy and development, execution, creativity, communications – you get to touch all of that and I think that builds a better marketer.”

Among those skills, she points out ‘creativity’ as one marketers need to work to hold onto.

While it’s only one aspect of the role, with all the talk around digital channels, and the ease at which brands can take work from overseas and execute it with a local media plan, building a brand through creative thinking is getting lost.

“It’s definitely something we should cherish and hold onto as an industry,” she says.

“It’s all about creating an emotional connection and that’s hard to do in a social post. You need to use all channels.”

When speaking to Mitchell about this, there are a number of McDonald’s ads that come to mind – one of which tells the story of a family who switched off their devices to reconnect with an adventure ending with McDonald’s.

With work like this, it’s no wonder David Howse, CEO of McDonald’s NZ, says Mitchell’s initiatives have proven to be a success time and time again.

“She is an essential member of our executive team. Our marketing product is now a force to be reckoned and is valued throughout our organisation. Jo has put the customer back at the heart of everything we do and this is felt, both in terms of cultural warmth, and years of stellar business performance.”

Marketer of the Year 
Jo Mitchell (McDonalds NZ)
Judge’s Comments
“Jo has demonstrated exceptional marketing capabilities over her career. Jo demonstrated that she has successfully transformed businesses to become consumer-centric while delivering sustained commercial and cultural improvements. Jo has had exceptional success in an organisation and industry facing significant headwinds. Jo needed to deliver sound commercial strategies to remain relevant to both existing and new audiences. Marketing has clearly led the growth of McDonalds NZ, which has been recognised globally as well as in New Zealand. Numerous McDonalds NZ initiatives have been adopted as best practice globally. The recently developed use of smart data and digital platforms to better understand the McDonalds customer and drive personalized marketing, will bode well for the future success of McDonalds NZ.”
Andrew Cooper (Electric Kiwi), Bridgit Sissons (Engineering New Zealand), Sean O’Donnell (DB Breweries), Georgia McGillivray (The Social Club), Craig Baldie (Lion).

This piece was originally published in the 2019 Awards Issue of NZ Marketing magazine. To get a print copy, subscribe here.

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