It isn't just about the hamburgers, anymore. After selling billions of the patties, Ronald and company realize that the key to remaining competitive in the cutthroat burger wars is the constant testing and offering of new and interesting ideas to keep the clientele engaged. A person has so many choices these days for swift grub, whether it be Wendy's (NYSE: WEN ) , Sonic (Nasdaq: SONC ) , or one of Yum! Brands' (NYSE: YUM ) chains, that a powerful mechanism of differentiation can prove compelling.
In that spirit, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) has been testing reactions to its wireless programs in several major cities such as Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco for a while, and now plans to roll out the service in locations across the country. Privately held Wayport announced that it would become the provider for hundreds of these locations. By allowing customers not only the ability to feast on a Quarter Pounder but also the resources to check a stock quote or do some research, value is added to the eating experience. So far, the public's reaction seems to be positive.
Embracing new technologies that have become -- or are becoming -- part of the culture at large can give an old-economy company such as McDonald's an opportunity to reach out to younger demographics. This is key to invigorating the customer base. And the Internet is the perfect tool to do so because it's perceived as an attractive item to which constant access is a must.
Clever ways of tying a firm's products to technology have proved useful in the recent past. Think of the online commerce and contest schemes pursued by major soft-drink producers Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) , especially the latter's relationship with Apple and its iPod. Not to be outdone in the music download arena, Mickey Dee's is also gearing up for a tuneful experiment with Sony (NYSE: SNE ) .
The one problem I see with Wi-Fi at the golden arches is the fact that a consumer must pay for it. Granted, working out a practical business model to minimize the impact to the bottom line would be a challenging exercise at best. But asking people to pay $2.95 for a two-hour connection (as reported in the Wayport release) limits the allure (it would be like my local library charging me for Internet access). Nevertheless, Wi-Fi is certain to grow in usage and popularity, so this should be a good move for McDonald's. It will be fascinating to see how a national, comprehensive rollout fares if it gets to that stage.
Whether it's online connectivity or the decision to accept credit cards, innovative ideas offer extra value to any meal.
Is McDonald's making the right moves to stay relevant to today's burger lover? Share your opinion on the McDonald's discussion board.
Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Coca-Cola, but none of the other companies mentioned here.