Interview with Matt Cahill, Director of US Consumer Insights at McDonald’s Corporation
Matt Cahill, Director of US Consumer Insights at McDonald’s Corporation, discusses their hunt for finding a solution that provided the desired flexibility without compromising on required parameters and the benefits of a strong self-service user experience. At McDonald’s since late 2009, Matt’s entire stint here has been dedicated to Insights – the beginning five years in a global role overseeing key research initiatives and the latter four focused on McDonald’s USA primarily on innovation and new product development. He has helped launch some of the biggest initiatives of the last decade like All Day Breakfast, Signature Crafted Recipes, Buttermilk Crispy Tenders and Dollar Menus for $1, $2, $3. Matt has a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame and lives with his wife Michele, son Michael and daughter Mary in Downtown Chicago. At the restaurant, his favorite McDonald’s menu item is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with fries of course!
TDE: Thank you so much for taking our questions! Tell us a little about your business and your specific role?
Matt Cahill: I work for McDonald’s, one of the most frequented restaurants in the world. We are known for our burgers and World Famous French fries, but we actually offer a lot of different options, everything from breakfast sandwiches and hot cakes, to Chicken McNuggets, to coffees, sundaes and cones and much more. I work in Consumer Insights where our job is to connect the company with our customers, so that everything we do, including all our advertising, promotions and new menu items, excite and deliver for the customers that visit our restaurants.
TDE: When did you first realize that you had an issue that needed a digital solution? What was the nature of the problem you set out to solve?
Matt Cahill: Our real trouble came with the quantity of ideas that we’d receive for new menu items. Our challenge was that without getting the right feedback from our customers early on, it was difficult to filter through the number of suggestions to move forward with the right ones and help make those ideas even more customer-centric. We had started connecting with our customers online, but it wasn’t simple, fast, and affordable enough to do it at the scale we needed.
TDE: What were the challenges you faced at the time as you began the process of evaluating solutions?
Matt Cahill: Most of the solutions we explored had some sort of limitation. We had to trade off something we needed. We either had to scale back the amount of information we gave customers, have them evaluate a bunch of different ideas together, or we couldn’t ask them for enough feedback. We needed a solution that provided both flexibility and depth, but could still work under the tight parameters we had.
TDE: What did the final solution look like and what were the broad benefits that it delivered?
Matt Cahill: Working with Zappi, we began using their automated MARC Rapid Results tool. This was a solution they had built for us after listening to our feedback about what we needed from a Concept Testing solution. It included all the best parts of the solution: monadic concept testing, reliable and robust sample, established industry benchmarks for performance, and intuitive key measures and diagnostics. By hosting the tool on Zappi and using their automated platform, this solution was easily configurable by our team in a matter of minutes and a test could be completed in just a few days. What used to take a month or longer we could now achieve in a day or two, and at a lower cost. The net result of that was that we could run more tests, vet more ideas for new menu items and embed the feedback from our customers more closely with our cross-functional development teams. Over the last two years we’ve run almost 500 new menu item concepts through this system.
TDE: What were some of the key elements that were responsible for the project’s success? What processes have you found useful for implementing digital technologies?
Matt Cahill: I think the two biggest factors that helped the project become successful were the strong self-service user experience on the Zappi platform and the ability for our team to house all our concepts tested, so we could manage the knowledge base and continually tap into it for meta analyses.
TDE: What was your biggest takeaway from this project?
Matt Cahill: With the world of business becoming more dynamic, having agile solutions is becoming even more important. We need to be more adaptable and we need research tools that can adapt with us.
The digital world makes some of the trade-offs we used to have to live with obsolete and enables solutions that can make us better partners that more frequently help our teams drive success.
TDE: What’s next for you on your digital roadmap?
Matt Cahill: We’re looking to work with Zappi and a group of partner companies to develop a series of additional automated research tools.
TDE: What’s your go to resource – websites, newsletters, any other – that you use to stay in touch with the explosive changes happening in the digital space?
Matt Cahill: Newsletters, definitely; I like SmartBrief the best. I get Restaurant SmartBrief, Restaurant Innovation SmartBrief and Social Business SmartBrief every day. Greenbook is another great source. They publish a Research Industry Trends report twice a year that keep us on top of the latest trends.
TDE: Read a good book lately on digital transformation that you’d like to recommend to us?
Matt Cahill: A few of my favorites right now are Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal, Good to Great by Jim Collins and The Glass Cage: Automation and Us by Nicholas Carr.
For more DX insights follow Matt Cahill on LinkedIn.