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How Does McDonald’s Marketing Apply to Your Lineworker Training?

Think of a hamburger. Now, pick a fast-food chain to get that burger from. Chances are you thought of McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s. It’s even more likely that McDonald’s was your first thought – but why? Probably because McDonald’s has been the number one fast-food chain in the world since 1975, only losing the top spot to Subway in 2011. McDonald’s typically spends $500 million to $2 billion a year on advertising. But why advertise if you are already at the top of the heap?

The answer is TOMA, which stands for Top Of Mind Awareness. For McDonald’s, TOMA ensures that when someone thinks about a hamburger, they automatically think about a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder or Happy Meal.

By now you’re probably wondering, what does all this have to do with lineworker training?

When you build a training program, you want TOMA. It is essential that workers know the safest way to perform their tasks. When your lineworkers put on their gloves and sleeves, you want them to automatically think of the proper procedure for inspecting and donning that PPE. When changing out a capacitor bank, you want lineworkers thinking, “What are the steps I need to take to get this done as safely as possible?”

It’s easy to create TOMA when you’re training a new employee. That’s because the new employee is in learning mode when they’re in the training yard or classroom. They have brought training and safety to the forefront. Like advertising a Happy Meal to a hungry 8-year-old, it’s not hard to make them want it. But when that lineworker in training eventually becomes a seasoned journeyman, how do you ensure that safety and training still remain top of mind? Simple. You never stop advertising them.

Never Stop Advertising
Every business will have difficult times. At some point, the budget talk will be had, and decisions will be made about cuts. Training will inevitably come up during those discussions. Traditionally, training has been viewed as almost discretionary spending. You’ve heard the excuses: “We’ll back off for a bit until things pick up” or “Let’s hold off on sending our guys to that seminar this year” or “We can cut back to quarterly in-service for this year.” The problem is that once the focus on training is put on the back burner, it’s hard to bring it to the forefront again. When you lose that TOMA, you have to start all over. It’s like climbing a mountain of shale; if you make a wrong step, you could slide all the way back down to the bottom, or at the very least lose a lot of momentum and ground.

Of course, everyone loses momentum at some point. Take our intrepid burger joint for example. In 2014, McDonald’s had its worst year in a decade. To mitigate their losses, they cut their advertising spending by $100 million. That sounds like a lot, right? Well, it’s not – at least not for McDonald’s. The company spent $1 billion the year before on advertising, so they really only cut 10% of their budget. They never stopped advertising completely. Why not? They surely could have saved the whole $1 billion, right? Who doesn’t know what McDonald’s has to offer or where five locations are in the closest city? But what McDonald’s understands is the value of TOMA and how hard it is to rebuild momentum once it’s lost. The company stepped back and decided to change their focus, promoting their all-day breakfast and the Value Menu, which ultimately resulted in an overall profit increase of 1.7%.

Again, the lesson here is to never stop advertising. Readjust focus, change the target, even add menu items if necessary, but never stop advertising. Now, read that last sentence again, but replace “advertising” with “training.”

About the Author: Jerry Havens, COSS, is director of sales for T&D PowerSkills ( and host of the company’s training videos.

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