Yesterday McDonald’s announced that it would be introducing free internet access. This is a good move and a long overdue one.
There are two important concepts when it comes to positioning: points of parity and points of difference. When a brand establishes a frame of reference, or competitive set, there are obvious points of parity. These are features and benefits offered by basically everyone. They do not differentiate, but a brand that falls short on these dimensions will surely be hurt. For example, all small cars have four wheels, a steering wheel, lights and pretty good gas mileage. These are all points of parity.
Points of difference are the things that help a brand stand out. These are the factors that drive purchase. Small cars are all pretty similar but the Mini Cooper is uniquely sporty and fun to drive.
For McDonald’s, internet access is fast becoming a point of parity. In the world of coffee establishments, in particular, internet access is almost universal. Starbucks, Caribou, Argo and my favorite local Chicago coffee shop, Intelligentsia, all offer it. McDonald’s has to offer free internet simply to be a viable competitor in the space.
This move will result in some lost revenue in the short run, as people no longer have to pay for internet access, but it will protect share.
Marketing isn’t always about growth. Sometimes companies have to focus on improving the product simply to keep up. This is one of those times for McDonald’s.