Tech in check: McDonald's senior director Daniel Lee

A 20-year digital veteran, Daniel Lee (pictured) has been helming the role of senior director with McDonald's for over three years. Based in Singapore, he is responsible for leading digital acceleration programs across 85 markets in Asia, Middle East, Europe and LATAM. He is also tasked to activate markets to generate sustainable digital revenue through data and insights-driven programs, powered by a global mobile app.

In his six years with McDonald's, Lee has managed the e-commerce, CRM and digital experiences which he was said to have delivered across multiple languages and multiple channels. He has held several digital leadership roles at traditional ad agencies such as HAVAS Worldwide, Ogilvy and JWT, in addition to digital agencies and start ups, focusing on customer experience, CRM and digital transformation. In this edition of Tech in check, Lee shares with Marketing his journey as a digital lead and the challenges that came with it.

(Check out the previous editions of Tech in check here:
Tech in check: Havaianas’ SG and MY MD Jaime Syjuco
Tech in check: PropertyGuru Group’s CMO Bjorn Sprengers
Tech in check: Honestbee’s VP of marketing Christina Lim
Tech in check: Carro’s chief marketing officer Manisha Seewal
Tech in check: Liquid Pay’s founder and CEO Jeremy Tan)

Marketing: What was your first digital role like?

My first digital role was self-employed, building an outdoor equipment website as a side business using Netscape Composer 1997.  It was definitely tedious hand coding, copy writing, image editing and lots of copy and pasting, but it built the foundation for understanding how things are done technically, and what we take for granted today.

Marketing: What was your biggest tech booboo?

I once had a hard drive of family photos which failed and I didn't have any back up.  That was in 2010 and that particular drive had all the baby photos for the last five years – ouch.

Marketing: How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it?

Nowadays I have a combination of home-networked NAS (Network Attached Storage) and cloud-based  backup for all connected devices including mobile phones. In my case, forensic recovery cost me SG$2,000 to get the photos and videos recovered from the dead hard drive (phew).  The key learning is making sure you can ALWAYS recover your digital life in case of accident, theft or just plain stupidity!

Marketing: What are some of the common challenges you face with digital today?

Data overload – the fact that you can measure almost everything doesn’t mean that you should.  You must brutally interrogate what data do you need to make a decision and track only a handful of KPIs, or you’ll end up with reports that people just gloss over.  More charts and reports do not necessarily mean better decisions.

Focus on recovering from unhappy paths – while there is emphasis on users following the most ideal “happy” path and optimising them, we need to work twice as hard to recover from situations where the customer is lost or confused, possibly caused by poor user interface (UI) or one of the dependencies breaking down (e.g. SMS verification).
If you don’t have a recovery path, brand damage occurs with users feeling massively frustrated, and you’ve lost an opportunity to win them back.

Working hard to simplify – it’s easy to make things complicated, yet it takes a tremendous amount of work to simplify. We may be talking about customer experiences or technology platforms, but the natural inclination over time is for any system or process to get more complicated.  You need to be pushing to simplify and reduce moving parts at every step and avoid the temptation of adding to the complexity stack.

Marketing: Are there any digital trends which excite you or that you are wary of?

The most exciting moves we will see in marketing tech in the next 12 to 24 months will be highly accessible AI (specifically machine learning) and automation. By accessible, it means it won’t need a team of data scientists to operate or require huge budgets.  It’s already at play in programmatic media buying, but we will see it being used to optimise content and customer journeys to get better business outcomes with lesser degrees of human oversight. Even if many marketers today had better insights into customer behaviours and segmentation, most of them would not have the supporting business processes to do anything about it in real time, which gives rise to the need for increased marketing automation.

Marketing: Any top tips for marketers and brands embracing digital?

Always be learning and listening – the digital industry innovates at a massive pace and while you’re not going to be an expert in all things, you need to keep an open mind and ears.

Develop a healthy cynicism – with innovation comes hype, and you need to separate hype from practical results that add value. Blockchain, in application to marketing, is a great example of a solution looking for a problem, while Machine Learning has obvious benefits.

Focus on a business strategy, not a digital strategy – we should be past the point where digital is a separate “thing”, but the reality is that digital has been in a transitional phase for the last 10 years as it becomes a natural and integrated part of most traditional businesses. Focus on business strategy and customer insight, and you’ll make better decisions.