Inside McDonald’s Brand Evolution with Steve Levigne

“You have to live the values and promise of the brand. You can’t just tell people how good you are.” As Vice President of US Strategy and Insights for McDonald’s USA, Steve Levigne understands better than most how consumers are changing and what that means for brands. After twenty two years under the golden arches, Levigne took some time to chat about the past, present, and future for this great American brand.

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About Steve Levigne

Steve Levigne is Vice President of US Strategy and Insights for McDonald’s USA. He’s responsible for integrating consumer, business, and industry insights into actionable plans to help drive the U.S. business. His contributions in these areas have helped McDonald’s strengthen their industry leading position, and realize their most successful period in their history.

His career spans 30 years of demonstrated leadership creating value through brand building and performance improvement, including roles at McDonald’s USA and Midas International. While at McDonald’s, he has earned many awards and recognition. Among them is the Eagle Award, given annually to one US Officer that demonstrates outstanding contributions to the brand.

Steve holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northern Illinois University and a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, with an emphasis in Marketing and Management. In addition, he is an alumni of McDonald’s Global Leadership Development Program, an executive development course offered to select employees.

He is a frequent speaker at universities and at industry events across the country. He also serves as an advisory board member for Cornell University’s School of Hospitality Research, and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Iowa.

Episode Highlights

What’s changed most during Steve’s time at McDonalds? “The customer is changing and the environment is changing.” What insights are at the top of Steve’s radar? “Transparency and sustainability. Those are the macro trends.”

How has digital changed things at McDonald’s? “A few years ago our brand was mentioned once every minute. Now we are mentioned once every second. The volume has been turned up.”

How does McDonald’s get their arms around the brand? “At the end of the day, it’s all about family, kids, convenience, and value.” That’s their compass. If a new initiative misses any of these core values then it doesn’t fit. “That’s our North Star.”

Speaking of brand fit … Steve shared how McDonald’s is using learning labs such as The Corner cafe concept to test new ideas and see how far they can stretch the McDonald’s brand. “We tested pizza. It was above average on quality.” However, when they put it into production in restaurants, customers sang another tune. “They said ‘I don’t come to McDonald’s for pizza.’” Good brands are always evolving.

“It’s not real ’til it’s real in the restaurants.” This is a saying you often hear at McDonalds says Levigne in referencing closing the gap between 1,000-foot up strategic innovation and front-line implementation.

Who owns the brand at an organization as large as McDonald’s? “We have a partnership between the marketing and strategy departments and our agency partners.” This cross-functional team oversees all aspects of the brand with each group taking ownership and running point on different areas as needed.

What’s the secret to global brand management? “We have a saying — freedom within a framework. We have frameworks that we can apply to a variety of situations globally.”

What’s Steve’s favorite story of something that could only happen at McDonald’s? Levigne delivered here as well! “We were going to add shrimp salad to the menu. It tested well but it turns out that if we added it nationwide we would exhaust the national shrimp supply and drive up prices.” In the end, they decided to leave the US shrimp markets alone.

What skills does Steve look for among potential new hires? “We need people that are curious — that ask questions. (We need people who want to know) What’s next?” Simply checking items off of a list isn’t enough.

What brand has made Steve smile? Ritz Carlton. While the hotelier’s service is universally accepted as the best in the business, Steve shared a story about an amazing moment with his daughter that’s bound to make you smile.

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As We Wrap …

Recently our friend Sean Carpenter gave us a shout on Twitter about our recent episode focused on marketing education and more featuring Mark W. Schaefer. Thanks for listening Sean!

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