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Learning Strategy from McDonalds… and Five Guys

by Randall Craig on February 21, 2014

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Marketing, Web

Tagged as: , ,

There is an important lesson to be learned from fast food menus, and particularly, the vastly different strategies of McDonald’s and Five Guys.

McDonaldsFor those who aren’t familiar with the McDonald’s menu, there is something for everyone: burgers, fish, chicken (in a bun or nugget-style), salads, fries, gourmet coffee and desert.  If you arrive for breakfast, you can choose from yogurt parfaits, oatmeal, eggs, muffins, egg McMuffins, juices and coffee.  In other words, McDonald’s is all about options, options, and more options.

At Five Guys, they sell thee items: a hamburger (with or without cheese), fries (small or large), and soda pop. Five Guys is all about focus, focus, and more focus.

Here’s the question: who has it right?

McDonald’s Options Strategy:  Their message is simple: whether you are looking for great coffee, a healthy meal, or “comfort food”, we have something for you.  When you come as a group, there will be something for everyone.  And whether you come for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just looking for snack, we have just the right thing.  All roads lead to us.

Web marketing insight: Each person or organization has their own idea of how and when they would like to “consume” what you have on offer.  Even before the sale occurs, consider the many forms of communication and interaction that are possible:

  • Tweet, email, blog post, whitepaper, book
  • One minute video commercial, five minute video how-to, 30 minute video interview
  • Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn group conversations
  • Webinar, Workshop, Keynote presentation

A McDonald’s strategy would create a “menu” of consumables (content, tools, and methodology); prospective clients enter this ecosystem at a pace and entrypoint of their own choosing.  There is something for everyone.

Five Guys Focus Strategy:  The Five Guys marketer is different: the only people they care about are those who want a burger and fries.  They focus on making the absolute best burger and the absolute best fries – period.  Because of this quality, they can charge more – sometimes much more.  It also means simpler purchasing and logistics, simpler staff training, and simpler marketing.  Yet not all is rosy: what if people suddenly decide they didn’t want to eat burgers?  (Remember Mad Cow disease?)

Web marketing insight:  Focus makes excellence possible, and excellence is what provides competitive advantage.  How many things are on your menu… that others do better than you?  A Five Guys approach would be to ditch these, and focus only on what you do better than your competitors.


Which is best: McDonald’s or Five Guys?  With respect to their food, you’ll have to decide on your own.  With respect to strategy, perhaps the answer is more of an AND than an OR.   McDonald’s looks at each of its menu items, and asks how it can make each better: better milkshakes, better chicken, better coffee, and better fries.  And it kills items that don’t make the grade. (McPizza, anyone?)  And despite their focus on focus, Five Guys has widened their menu to satisfy vegetarians:  they sell a cheeseburger, minus the burger: they call it grilled cheese.

This week’s action plan:  Look at your marketing strategy this week, and give it a label: Are you a McDonald’s (options), or are you Five Guys (focus)?  There isn’t a right or wrong, but the tactics that follow are vastly different.

Bonus marketing insight:  Perhaps these two strategies are not separate at all, but are a function of business maturity: once McDonald’s dominated one food category (burgers), they started widening their offerings to dominate others (McCafe, for example).

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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