Lessons from abroad: The insight hunter

McDonald's Antoinette Benoit employs a dynamic approach to making the global brand work in Canada. (Online Exclusive)

Benoit Antoinette
This online exclusive is part of Lessons From Abroad – a series that first appeared in the June 2017 issue of strategy.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Who wants to go to market with only a page worth of insights? Knowing your home market is critical but sometimes the best growth can come when you look outside the border. From finding commonalities in universal brand experiences to taking cues from fast-paced, product-oriented markets, strategy presents a five-week series on worldly marketers who prove that there are gains to be made from importing – and even exporting – ideas.

There are few sights as recognizable across borders and language barriers as the Golden Arches.

Wherever you are in the world, you feel you work for the same brand, says  Antoinette Benoit, a native of France, a 20-year veteran of McDonald’s and now SVP of marketing for the brand in Canada.

She points out the threads of inclusiveness and democracy in the brand across its marketing worldwide, from France’s “Come as you are” to the United Kingdom’s “There’s a McDonald’s for everyone” to Canada’s “Welcome to McDonald’s,” which came to market under Benoit when she was VP of strategy and insights for the brand across European markets.

But even if a Big Mac is pretty much a Big Mac wherever you go, local insights are what drives the brand forward.

“In all those [European] markets, there was a big focus on building strong expertise in marketing and insights,” Benoit says. While working out of Paris, Benoit was surrounded by 15- and 20-year CPG veterans helping craft her philosophy that everything begins and ends with the consumer.

The rigour from McDonald’s approach in Europe is a teaching Benoit has brought to the Canadian market. Among the methodologies imported from France has been what the QSR calls “dynamic brand audits.” Each quarter, the company meets with consumers, showing them the previous quarter’s communications work from local and global markets, along with competitors’ campaigns.

Out of that process has come the brand’s “Not without Canadian farmers” platform, reflecting the Canadian roots of 85% of its ingredients, something consumers didn’t necessarily know. The process also birthed “We believe in Canadian youth,” its first employee-centric campaign, largely inspired by a similar push from Sweden.

The focus on insights has also translated to McDonald’s Canada’s research budget increasing over the past three years and the brand growing its insights team to 16 people.

For Benoit, it’s less about the number of people on the team and more about the quality of people being recruited, building her team with talent from other categories (like Loblaw, Target and Johnson & Johnson) and other markets like the U.K. and Kazakhstan – a move to represent the diversity of Canada and have a culture of debate around ideas.

“It’s all about being comfortable with always judging what we do and having a critical mind,” she says. “It’s a very humble culture where you know that it can be better. And that’s the objective: to always learn better and execute better and keep learning the best insights.”

More Lessons From Abroad