How can two iconic brands like McDonald’s and Cadillac remain relevant symbols of American culture when so many other icons have lost their shine? Perhaps it has something to do with their CMOs, Tariq Hassan of McDonald’s USA and Melissa Grady Dias of Cadillac, who share much in common, from the genesis of their careers, to how they approach their work. They were both named by Forbes on the “Entrepreneurial CMO List of 2022”, and their alma mater, Northwestern, recently inducted them into the Hall of Fame of the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program, which is at the forefront of culture and marketing.
In our conversation, they reflect on all they learned back in their IMC days and how they can finally put theories into practice since the technology and data have caught up. Here is what they had to say on Visionaries and how it could influence your team, talent, and future.
- Going back to the Theories of Marketing
- Iconic Brands Staying Relevant with Data-Informed Marketing
- Campaigns as Value Exchanges
- How McDonald’s and Cadillac Remain Icons of Culture
- 💡 6 Tips for Engaging Culture
Going back to the Theories of Marketing
Melissa Grady Dias: My whole career journey started when my mentor, who was helping me transition into campus the week before the IMC program, asked if I liked math. There were three tracks in the IMC program, one of them being “Database, Direct, and E-commerce,” which was mainly theoretical in the mid-90s. When I told him I enjoyed math, he said there were skills I could learn and develop here that I could keep in my toolbox for the rest of my career, and through this program, I could learn advanced innovation skills compared to what I’d gain from the traditional advertising track. I took his word and found my passion in data-driven marketing.
At IMC, I learned how to build regression models, perform segmentation, and how to gain accurate human insight to drive behavior and meaningful work. Even now, I’ve stuck to the same skill set and have utilized the same practices across varying industries, and the tools I collected early on have become daily practical applications.
Tariq Hassan: As a student in the IMC program (several years before Melissa), we learned how to be customer-centric by studying what drives customer behavior when only a handful of brands were thinking about it.
They taught us about Omnichannel [the seamless integration of branding, messaging, and online and offline touchpoints as consumers move down the sales funnel, enabling a more impactful customer experience (“What is Omnichannel?”, 2021)], and we worked on cases requiring budget allocation against return on investment.
To that end, I am using more of my degree today than when I first entered the industry. My experiences working for data-led companies like Bank of America and Merrill Lynch helped me leverage data not only to acquire customers and drive different activity engagement but use data as a marketer to lead the internal culture within an organization.
Iconic Brands Staying Relevant with Data-Informed Marketing
Tariq Hassan: By the time I came to McDonald’s as CMO, I was able to help take a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) brand into the digital and data worlds. Ultimately, our team is doing something many wouldn’t have thought we could achieve in QSR: engaging and creating real lifetime value with customers by leaning into data.
Being an iconic brand doesn’t automatically mean you’re successful. Many icons are either no longer with us or have lost their shine, which is why it is important to stay relevant and pay attention to insights.
As important as it is to utilize data, the one thing I would warn against is not to fall victim to it. Don’t live in a culture where “the data made me do it” and only use it to be confirmatory. Use it to ask the next big question, be aware of what’s working, and double-check you’re not following the culture but leading it.
Melissa Grady Dias: When it comes to how we do marketing today, don’t be afraid of the data or hide behind privacy laws; customers are seeking value and the best way to deliver value is by using the data, which they are willing to exchange, for a higher, more personalized experience.
We are finding customers’ have subscription fatigue, and as we’re looking at cookies and what cookies enable, they’re becoming aware of what their data does and how valuable it is. As marketers, we need to embrace when someone gives us data.
The more we get to know people and unlock different experiences, we should start treating every interaction as a “Super Bowl”, and create experiences people want to see, interact with, and join. To overcome the fear of data, we need to stop thinking about how we’re interrupting something and start thinking about the value exchange because customers are ready and willing to participate.
Campaigns as Value Exchanges
Tariq Hassan: Our team has done a tremendous job taking the McDonald’s brand beyond traditional transactional approaches to true value exchanges. The operational shift started when our team unlocked emotional connections to McDonald’s through campaigns like the ” Famous Orders,” including the “Travis Scott Meal,” “The BTS Meal” and “the Mariah Menu.” These campaigns show famous people, but they’re famous people with a “famous McDonald’s order,” like everyone else. These value exchanges allow you to move far beyond the transaction of your next offer to experiences communicating that you understand your audience and want to connect.
Melissa Grady Dias: Cadillac shows up in culture all the time; we have been in more song lyrics than any other car manufacturer, which is a fantastic example of culture reaching out to us. In response, we launched the 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ campaign and had Kid Cudi and SZA write lyrics about the vehicle.
“The Arrival” Ft. Goyo, All-Electric 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ
Additionally, we’ve done quite a few things with the rapper, actor, and activist, Killer Mike, who is known to be authentically himself and do meaningful things in his community. Our recent campaign featuring him was for #BlackMusicMonth and helped support “Save The Music.” One of our greatest responsibilities in leading an iconic brand, like Cadillac, is knowing how to stay relevant by listening and responding to today’s culture.
How McDonald’s and Cadillac Remain Icons of Culture
Tariq Hassan: Millions of customers walk through our restaurants every day. As you think about who you’re engaging with, finding ways to connect with them is crucial. You can’t create value for customers only through economic or transactional value; relationships don’t work that way. The value we get from those relationships comes from multiple dimensions. If you look at the work we’re doing to add value to our customers; it’s all fan-based insights.
We called culture, culture leaned in, and they called us back. Now the bar is high, and we must consider how to stay in culture, so we’ve set an ambitious goal to become an iconic part of the culture by creating it, participating in it, and adding value to our fans.
Melissa Grady Dias: Cadillac and McDonald’s are symbols of the American dream, woven into the fabric of American culture. The Cadillac brand aims to champion big dreams and bold ambitions, which harkens back to the pursuit of every American. Our brand has always represented a significant moment or a symbol of success, so when we look at culture and how we’re showing up, we lean into our brand’s reputation. We must champion people and causes, but we need to ensure we’re authentic and credible when we’re doing it.
💡 6 Tips for Engaging Culture
By Melissa Grady Dias and Tariq Hassan
- Get the customer’s attention
- Have conversations where you have authority
- Take meaningful action
- Show up in the creative space where your fans are; give the fans creative liberty
- Leverage data not to acquire, but to build relationships
- Be authentic and lean into culture
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9 AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Melissa Grady Dias, CMO, Cadillac: Melissa Grady Dias is the Global Chief Marketing Officer of Cadillac, and leads strategic marketing for the Cadillac brand worldwide. She has overseen two of Cadillac’s biggest and most consequential launches in the Cadillac Escalade and all-electric LYRIQ, along with a new global brand strategy and visual identity. Recently, Forbes recognized Melissa on their “50 Most Influential CMOs in the World” and “Entrepreneurial CMO List of 2022”. Melissa has in-depth expertise in data-driven marketing and technology, including new and emerging approaches, and has spoken at several conferences, including Adweek, AdExchanger, IAB, and Cannes Lions.
Tariq Hassan, CMO, McDonald’s: Tariq Hassan is a dynamic, data-driven consumer marketing leader. He is the CMO and CX Officer of McDonald’s USA and leads with a unique blend of general management, operational savviness, and thorough digital and technology marketing transformation. He has twenty years of world-class brand building across diverse categories for leading companies, including PepsiCo, Gatorade, GM, J&J, Mars, HP, Mercedes, and Emirates Airlines. Tariq is known for achieving results through creating and motivating collaborative teams with the unique ability to anticipate the needs of consumers, which exceed expectations leading to market growth.
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