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McDonald's Goes Wireless -- Crystal Ball Looking Good

A week ago yesterday, I posted an entry in which Glenn Fleishmann and I traded e-mail on the possibility of McDonald's offering wireless access, possibly through Cometa. Now comes this story, just out this morning:

McDonald's restaurants in three U.S. cities will offer one hour of free high-speed access to anyone who buys a combination meal. Ten McDonald's in Manhattan will begin offering wireless WiFi, or 802.11b, Internet access on Wednesday, McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard said.

By year's end, McDonald's will extend the access to 300 McDonald restaurants in New York City, Chicago and a yet-unannounced California town, Howard said.

"You can come in and have an extra value meal and send some e-mail," Howard said. Window signs will alert customers to the restaurants with WiFi access, she said...

After using the hour of free access that comes with a meal, customers can pay $3 for another hour online -- or simply buy another extra value meal, Howard said. The pilot program lasts for three months, she said.

Cometa Networks, a startup working to offer WiFi connections in businesses across the country, will provide the Internet bandwidth for the offer.

I'm feeling good about the prescience (or just dumb luck) of my previous entry, but I'm sticking with what I wrote before: I don't think it's enough for McDonald's to offer wireless broadband with a sign in the window. As I wrote:

McDonald's creates a new branding program. They could call it "McRoad," or "McBusiness," or something else, but let's call it "McBiz" for now. McBiz is a sub-brand of McDonald's. There's a McBiz treatment that extends the existing McDonald's logo -- it's subtle, but once you know what to look for, it's easy to spot (though the uninterested might never notice it). When a restaurant switches to the McBiz branding, this indicates a number of things:
  • There's a Wi-Fi access point on premises.
  • There's at least one customer-accessible power outlet per n seats.
  • The coffee served has been upgraded (new brand, new procedures).
  • The restaurant sells the Wall Street Journal (in addition to USA Today).
  • There are at least n monitors playing CNN Headline News (sound off, closed captioned).
  • There's a customer-accessible soda machine.
I'm not much of a McDonald's fan, but if they embarked on such an effort, and made me aware of it, I'd start paying attention to them. Sure, when I'm on the road, I'd rather go to a Starbucks, but if the choice is pull into a McBiz McDonald's now or drive around for 10 minutes looking for a Starbucks, I'll probably choose McDonald's.
This is not a case of "build it and they will come." McDonald's needs to create a complete service for the likely target audience, and they need to create branding around that service. Still, it's certainly a step in the right direction.


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I liked your story, I found it very interesting in the research I am conducting at the moment..do you have any more ieda's on this subject?

Kathryn, were McDonald's to embark on an effort such as I describe, beyond the points made above, I'd also encourage them to provide designated "McBiz" seating areas, away from any childrens' play areas, and hopefully cleaned more often than some restaurants seem to clean their public spaces. I'd encourage them to advertise McBiz in the Wall Street Journal and especially in USA Today, which, as far as I can tell, is now almost exclusively read by the traveling public. To my mind, business travelers are the key demographic for McDonald's in this effort.

Be sure to read my previous entry on this topic.

Can you tell us more about the research you're conducting?

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