This fifth episode of WARC’s “Marketing Truths” series features Morgan Flatley, McDonald’s Global CMO, and discusses how she has built alliances in the C-suite to ensure marketing sits at the heart of the growth agenda.

Podcast episode

Marketing Truth #5: Building brands is much bigger than advertising
with Morgan Flatley, Global Chief Marketing Officer and Head of New Business Ventures, McDonald’s

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Marketing, simply defined, is how a business creates immediate and future demand for products and services.

Successful marketing thus ensures a business is connecting with people ready to buy today and is also relevant to the much larger pool of people who may be ready to buy in the future.

While stoking future demand is a critical role for marketers, it requires every part of the organization to understand why that is an important goal of the organization too.

And such an objective, in turn, depends on marketers having strong alliances in the C-suite.

Enlisting the C-Suite

For this fifth, and final, episode in WARC’s Marketing Truths series, Morgan Flatley, Global CMO at restaurant chain McDonald’s, explains why “Building brands is much bigger than advertising.”

McDonald’s is a great example of how an organization focused on brand-building can link that activity directly to business growth, and how building alliances across all the functions that sit around the boardroom table can greatly improve marketing’s impact.

Often, teams outside of marketing think of their organization’s brand as synonymous with its marketing communications. But, to truly maximize effectiveness, the term “brand” should capture all the associations that consumers hold in their mind when they use a product, interact with a company, see an ad and so on.

Customers experience your brand in every interaction

“‘Brand’ is all the interactions a consumer has with our business,” Flatley said – be it engaging with team members while ordering at a McDonald’s Drive Thru, using the brand’s app or the delicious food that a customer ultimately eats.

“Every single one of those interactions is what builds and contributes to our brand, how consumers think about the McDonald's brand and how we build resonance and ultimately advantage with the McDonald's brand. It's much, much broader than marketing communications,” Flatley said.

Spreading that understanding throughout an organization of how brands can power growth requires a team effort – and for marketing leaders to be the loudest cheerleaders for effectiveness.

Marketing needs allies across the company

Over the last four years, McDonald’s has placed marketing at the heart of its corporate strategy, embracing creativity as a way to unlock value. “I'm in a fortunate position to be at a company that puts marketing front and center of our growth plans,” Flatley said.

She has three pieces of advice for marketing leaders looking to live by this fifth Marketing Truth:

  • Build relationships and find advocates among other functional heads who can support marketing by giving advice, challenging ideas and pressure-testing plans.
  • Measure marketing’s impact, as what gets measured gets attention.
  • Take big swings, as change isn’t driven by small hits, but by those big swings that get recognized across the organization and have an outsized impact.

Key to marketing’s centrality at McDonald’s is consistent measurement – as well as consistent language around how the company talks about great marketing and great creativity.

That attention and consistency led McDonald’s to achieve what no other company has achieved before: being ranked in the top three in each category of the WARC Rankings, an annual breakdown of the most-awarded brands and campaigns in the world’s top-ranked media, creative and effectiveness awards. Having placed first for effectiveness since 2020, this year McDonald’s also placed third for both creativity and media.

Flatley is the first to admit that building the processes and culture that values brand-building is a long, ongoing project. But the rewards can be great. “When I've wrestled with the big things we've done here, they've been the best decisions I've made,” Flatley said.

“I had my other functional leaders around the table giving me advice, helping me make sure they were right, helping me make sure they were going to be impactful, helping me pressure test the risks in them. But it was what fundamentally changed the way marketing was viewed here, [and that led to] the big, big bets that we took that everyone noticed and made a big difference in terms of the business.”

The truths behind exceptional marketing

Flatley’s advice builds on the guidance outlined throughout WARC’s Marketing Truths series:

  • In our first episode, Mike Menkes, from Analytic Partners, explained how effectiveness differs from efficiency, how to set objectives as an organization and measure the right things.
  • The second episode featured Colin Chow, of TwentyFirstCenturyBrands, who discussed why strong brands can help bring clarity to the right balance for marketing plans by aligning internal and external teams.
  • Next up in our third episode was GSK’s Jim Delash, who talked about how creativity is the one tool that is fully within the control of the CMO – and issued a reminder on the cost of being dull.
  • In our fourth episode, Ilana Wiles of Ally Financial explained how and where marketers can maximize reach, and how sometimes brands need to create the right vehicle for their messages.

Each of those components of effectiveness – measurement, balancing for long-term and short-term goals, deploying creativity and getting your messages in front of audiences – combine to create a flywheel of marketing effectiveness, a virtual cycle of brand-building to deliver future demand.