Content Marketing

5 Lessons From the Best Example of Content Marketing Ever?

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McDonalds Our Food Your Questions

Marketers sometimes say things to me like, “Well, nobody in our industry is doing that kind of robust content marketing, so why should we start?”

Here’s the deal.

Your industry doesn’t matter. What matters is that big companies are embracing big content, and in so doing they are changing the expectations of YOUR customers, whether you like it or not. It doesn’t matter whether anyone in your industry is doing real-time Twitter response. Major companies are doing it, and thus are training consumers to think of Twitter like a telephone. It doesn’t matter whether anyone in your industry is answering every customer question publicly. Major companies are doing it, and thus are training consumers that the era of self-serve information is truly upon us.

It has always been this way. In 1998 when I was a Web strategist, I remember vividly when first rolled out tabbed navigation. This kicked off an entire era of tabbed navigation for sites of every size and category. It didn’t matter whether a competitor in YOUR industry had tabbed navigation, it mattered that a site as prominent as Amazon did, and thus set new expectations.

Going even further back, in 1994 I was working at my first Internet company (Internet Direct, where we invented virtual Web hosting). On October 27 of that year, Wired (then launched the very first banner ads. Those banners were 468×60 pixels because that was the size the hotwired designer shoehorned onto the home page. And guess what? That became the standard size for the entire World Wide Web, codified by the Internet Advertising Bureau in 1996.

It’s an interconnected world, folks. Your customers are impacted by a lot more than just the marketing tactics of your narrow competitive set. That’s why it drives me crazy when I hear stuff like, “These B2C examples aren’t relevant to us, because we’re B2B.”

That’s why I’m so enamored with the McDonald’s Canada “Our Food, Your Questions” program. It doesn’t matter that you’re probably not working for a fast food company, the Golden Arches’ embrace of information could be the start of a cultural change that impacts every business. That’s why it’s a core case study in my forthcoming new book Youtility: Why Smart Companies Sell More by Selling Less. I interviewed Joel Yashinsky, CMO of McDonald’s Canada to get the inside scoop.

The book won’t be out until next year, however (stay informed at So, I’m spilling the beans on the McDonald’s example here on Convince & Convert.

McDonald’s Canada Answers All Food Questions

Launched in June, the Our Food, Your Questions program invites any Canadian to ask any question whatsoever about McDonald’s food on a special website developed by Tribal DDB Toronto. To ask a question, participants must connect with either Twitter or Facebook, providing social visibility and a ripple in the pond viral effect.

So far, more than 16,000 questions have been asked (they are getting 350 to 450 per day), and nearly 10,000 have been answered. You’ve heard of Gladwell’s 10,000 hours? How about McDonalds’ 10,000 questions!

The program scope is only around McDonald’s food, so questions about non-food topics are directed to other resources, and some questions are of course duplicates. But there’s no dodging the tough questions, and that’s the amazing thing about this program.

For example, this zinger from Jani S. in Nova Scotia:

McDonalds Our Food Your Questions“When you say 100% beef, do you mean the whole cow: the orqans, snout, brain, kidneys, etc. or just the plan beef we buy at the grocer?”

Whoa. Historically, companies would do whatever possible to put as much distance as possible between themselves and that line of inquiry. But the rules are changing. Here’s McDonald’s answer – comprehensive, factual, and not laden with artificial marketing hype:

“Hi Jani. We wouldn’t call it plain beef, but it sure is beef. We only use meat cut from the shoulder, chuck, brisket, rib eye, loin and round. In fact, our beef supplier is Cargill, a name you might recognize. They’re the biggest supplier of beef in Canada.”

5 Lessons for Your Company From McDonald’s Canada

There are so many smart elements to this program, that you literally could write a book just on this case study. Here are the top lessons.

1. Embrace Self-Serve Information
Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research (also a big part of my new book) finds that consumers need twice as many sources of information before making a decision today than they did just one year ago.

McDonald’s Canada understands that there is a huge amount of chatter about their food (and more every day due to proliferation of social). They can’t respond to it all individually, so instead they’ve built a one-stop information shop.

We have to use the channels that we own so that we could have a conversation with customers, because there are so many different channels out there that we just can’t physically reach all of them. – Joel Yashinsky, CMO – McDonald’s Canada

2. Make Information a Spectator Sport
Could McDonald’s Canada have created a big effort around emailing questions, or building a new food-oriented call center, like the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line? Sure, but those options don’t have the benefit of answering questions publicly.

I especially like that they provided an option to “follow” a question, and be notified when it has been answered. More than 3.1 million questions have been read, versus 16,000 asked.

3. Identify Customer Knowledge Gaps
Before the program commenced, McDonald’s Canada conducted a thorough chatter analysis to determine what types of questions were already being asked online about their food. This helped identify the types and categories of questions that were likely to be asked on the site, once unveiled, and enabled McDonalds’s to get the gist of about 600 answers ready in advance.

But, there are still plenty of kooky outlier questions, such as this beauty: “I love your food, but why do your fries get cold after 1 or 2 minutes?” This one is unanswered so far, and I’d be tempted to go with “Air.”

4. Market Your Marketing
McDonald's Market Your MarketingIt’s not only the incredible amount of staff time now being devoted to question answering, but McDonald’s is also putting forth substantial dollars to promote this program offline. An innovative and interesting mass media campaign that includes TV, radio, print, and a variety of outdoor executions is in full swing, and is driving awareness of the website and its contents.

This is a very important trend that I’m seeing more and more – companies promoting information instead of the company itself.

5. A Skill, not a Job
Being great at transparency and information isn’t (and cannot) be one person’s job. It must be part of many people’s responsibility, because everyone in your company has information and knowledge that your customers will value.

At McDonald’s Canada, they’ve enlisted help from their entire supply chain to help answer questions, not to mention the dozens of employees and agency participants.

You Can Do This, and Eventually You Will

I asked Joel Yashinsky why every company isn’t doing something similar to Our Food, Your Questions. Here’s what he said:

I think everybody’s going to start. We knew that there was really no option if we were going to become a brand of the 21st century, as we were of the 20th century. The customer today wants to know more, especially about the food that they’re eating.

If you have a good story to tell, tell it. But you have to do it in
a way that’s authentic, and you have to have that conversation
with the customer. You can’t just preach to the consumer these things that you know are true. You have to engage them, so that they can come to learn it and believe it and build that trust with you.

Bravo, McDonald’s.

Note: I worked at McDonald’s as my very first job, as a 15 year-old Arizona teen. Spent 2 great years there, and learned stuff I still apply today.


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Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Excellent article Jay. What a great way to engage with your audience while learning what they are interested in about your product or service. Thanks for bringing the McDonald’s strategy to light. I look forward to reading your book and learning more about this trend!

    • says

      Chris I’m glad you mentioned the learning piece. I didn’t mention it specifically in the post, but you’re right, the marketing research opportunities here are GOLD!

  2. says

    I know a few people that worked on this campaign, but even if I didn’t I think it’s one of the best campaigns a food company could have pulled off, and to see it coming from McDonald’s is even more extraordinary. Every time I see one of their video or tv commercial answers I always find myself saying out loud “This is such a great campaign.”

    I also have to agree with you, Jay, that companies need to stop worrying about what the rest of their industry is doing. If everyone did that there would be no innovation. If you really want to stick out in a market don’t wait for someone to try something and then worry about catching up, just go out and try something new. If it doesn’t work, you learn from your mistakes and try something else. Playing catch up is not a great strategy.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos & Marketwire

  3. says

    Excellent message Jay. Companies need to recognize that ALL interaction online has an affect on how their customers interact with them and their website. Good to see McDonald’s being the leader here…will be interesting to see who follows 😀

    • says

      I’ve seen many smaller companies doing this already. River Pools, etc. But not too many big ones. It’s a lot of work, and a LOT of transparency. Scares most of them.

  4. Jeff Simmons says

    Nicely done, Jay. Sure beats the heck out of creating another dumb marketing slogan like “I’m lovin it”.

    Interesting that McD’s suppliers like Cargill are getting pulled into the conversation. Could be a real eye-opener for the B2B’ers.

    • says

      yes! It’s exactly like FAQs 2.0, which is why it’s so amazing that company’s don’t do it universally (including mine, come to think of it).

  5. says

    They have taken a simple concept – “listen to your customers and tell them the truth” and brought it to life. It’s very similar to the Zappos model – “treat your customers well.” This stuff isn’t rocket science but somewhere along the way businesses started to get away from good business 101.

    There is so much talk about authenticity and transparency in regards to social media that the words have become nothing more than buzz-words. In reality, this is what both of those words represent. Admitting that you do things just for marketing (see video with behind the scenes of a burger photo shoot) is what it means to be transparent. It’s awesome to see a brand putting their money where the mouth is and actually stepping up to the plate to whatever consumers want to throw at them.

    This is what marketing is all about. This is what content marketing needs to be about. This is where the buzzwords become reality and other brands realize the opportunity that truly exists in social media. Great post Jay – Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      Thanks so much Ross. That’s one of my favorite elements, too. Showing that marketing is just marketing. Very smart to de-fang accusations in that way.

  6. says

    The “Market Your Marketing” was definitely a great piece of the puzzle Then again, you need a marketing campaign worth marketing :).

    When I first heard about this campaign I thought it was a brilliant idea. But that’s what they pay their marketing guys the big bucks for.

    Of course, the beauty of something like this is that it’s all information and answering questions – something any business can do.

    And, presumably, most small businesses wouldn’t be bombarded with as many questions (just based on size of business and the fact that we ingest McDonald’s product), so it should be very doable.

  7. says

    Thanks for writing this, Jay. I worked on this campaign as a writer, answering questions from those who submitted questions. It was a great campaign and learned quite a bit about content marketing.

  8. says

    Great post. I’ve been really impressed with this marketing campaign and you drew some great lessons from it.

    Also wanted to wholeheartedly agree with your opening statement that it doesn’t matter to just look at what your industry is doing. With our clients, I like to show them what their competitors are doing in the social space, but also look at similar industries. Show them what’s possible.

    We also like to ask clients what brands they admire – their content, their product, their marketing. It doesn’t have to be their industry. It could be Apple. Nike. NY Times. Who’s doing it right? Askign them that makes it easier to draw conclusions and parallels between strategies. A b2b brand can be like Apple or Nike or NYTimes too.

    – Danielle Hohmeier, Online Marketing Manager at Atomicdust

  9. says

    McDonald’s Canada offers us a superb picture of revolutionizing the marketing landscape to meet customers in a new, dynamic, and engaging way. It could have been easy for them to say, “It’s too risky,” but this is just the type of marketing edge McDonald’s needed. It has all the qualities attractive to today’s consumer — engagement, great customer service, offering transparency (and thus building trust) — and does so on a platform that makes sense in today’s social age.

    Contrast this against Campbell’s Soup’s new campaign for their Millennial-geared bagged soup called, “Go.” In an effort to engage the Millennial customer, they set up a tumblr-esque landing page for their brand (and are opting out of traditional ads). Interesting take — but what will get the Millennial audience to the website in the first place? They also have some sort of set-up where you can create a playlist for your soup on Spotify. Again — interesting — but where’s the need for it? Why would a Millennial take time out of their day to go to the webpage or create a playlist without some sort of payoff? It seems like fake engagement to me, instead of the real engagement that McDonald’s is promoting.

    • says

      Great juxtaposition Jose. Much appreciated. I admire the risks that Campbell’s is taking, but I agree that they seem to have a chicken and the egg problem.

  10. says

    Great example of truly user-focussed content marketing. Transparent, engaging and brand building rolled together perfectly. Great execution and a great article too.