McDonald's is betting on its mobile business with new franchisee digital marketing fund

A Big Mac is displayed on a page of the McDonald’s app

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McDonald’s U.S. franchisees will start paying into a digital marketing fund next year as the fast-food giant looks to expand its booming digital business, according to a memo viewed by CNBC on Thursday.

The change is meant to modernize the company’s marketing strategy and widen its competitive advantage, according to the memo, which was written by U.S. Customer Experience Officer Tariq Hassan and Chief Information Officer Whitney McGinnis. The memo also said that McDonald’s plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars over the next couple of years to improve its loyalty program and add ordering channels, including placing web orders without downloading an app, which should also bolster its digital business.

Loyalty program members accounted for more than $6 billion in system-wide sales globally during McDonald’s first quarter. The company has 34 million active digital customers in the U.S. By comparison, Chipotle Mexican Grill has 40 million loyalty members, while Starbucks has 32.8 million.

In December, McDonald’s said it aims to reach 100 million loyalty program members by 2027.

For now, the franchisor is recommending that franchisees pay for the new fund using their existing marketing contribution, which requires that they spend at least 4% of gross sales, according to the memo. As a result, the new approach will likely lead McDonald’s to cut back on legacy marketing tools, such as TV commercials, and focus on areas that tangibly lead to higher sales.

Next year, U.S. operators will have to chip in 1.2% of projected identified digital sales, such as transactions that occur when a customer logs into the loyalty program or orders delivery, according to the memo. The rate will change annually, based on projections created at the start of the year.

As a result of the change, McDonald’s is forecasting that every U.S. restaurant will see its cash flow increase by roughly $2,600, starting in 2025. The windfall comes from the digital investment costs moving from a franchisee’s profit and loss statement to the marketing contribution.

Franchisees in the U.K., Canada, Australia and Germany will also pay into the global digital marketing fund. The rest of McDonald’s markets will transition to the approach later.

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