By:  Denise Blackburn-Gay, APR

President & CEO

Marketing Strategies, Inc.

Close your eyes. Think of McDonalds.  What comes to mind? Well, if it’s somewhere between early morning and late afternoon your thoughts might conjure up images of biscuits, burgers, fries and shakes. Somewhere in the midst of all of this you see the Golden Arches, the iconic image that, since 1962, has helped brand one of the nation’s top fast food restaurants. Amid economic ups and downs, changes in the restaurant industry, nutritional mandates, and crises that could leave any major player in shambles, McDonalds has survived. What’s more, according to Forbes, today McDonald’s ranks sixth in the list of the world’s most recognizable brands. 

As marketers, why are we talking fast food? Well, we’re not. What we are talking about is focus and consistency–two key elements required to turn a brand into a recognized commodity.  Consistency doesn’t just start or stop with the logo. Sure, the arches are iconic, but think about the restaurant itself: the menu, the service, and the personnel.   Right down to the uniform and the placement of the employee nametag, McDonalds leaves nothing to chance.

While consistency helps build the brand, focus is its driving force. Focus is knowing your brand, your business: what your strengths are, who your target market is and consistently delivering the best product or service available. Focus is not just about developing relationships with customers and vendors, it is about nurturing them; turning customers into loyal fans, and vendors into trusted partners who play a major role in the service delivery process.

No one said business was easy. Sometimes we all lose our focus, even multi-million dollar businesses like McDonalds. What’s important is to pick up the pieces and get back on track.

While McDonalds may have mastered the art of consistency, they seem to have lost their focus. In January, the company announced that sales in restaurants, that had been open for 13 months or more, fell 1.8%.  Add to that, a 21% drop in Q4 earnings. That’s a serious decline in the fast food industry and a call to action for one of the nation’s top brands.  

McDonalds realizes that time is of the essence.  If they don’t take care of the immediate, there will be no long term. Their strategies are critical and there’s a lesson here for all of us: stay true to your brand. Here are several of McDonald’s revival strategies.  Take heed. These are key to every business.

-Plug the holes.  If there’s a problem, find it and correct it. For McDonalds, it was a loss of focus.  Their recent menu additions and efforts at targeting millennials caused them to lose focus on their core customers.  Who are your core customers? What are you doing to retain them?

-Focus on the direct competition. McDonalds made the mistake of expanding their menu to compete against restaurants such as Boston Market, Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill. They turned their attention from a market category they had mastered, fast food, to an entirely new concept, fast casual.  They simply lost focus.  Grow your market share within the direct competitive set.  Be the best at what you do.

-Focus is fundamental. It is far better to do one thing very well than to do several things fairly well.  The average McDonalds has over 100 menu items which makes it harder to run the restaurant than in the days when the menu was more streamlined. More is not always better. Remain true to your brand.  Practice a disciplined, strategic approach to marketing.

-Internal marketing.  McDonalds knows that internal marketing comes first.  Prior to launching external advertising campaigns, their employees–all 1.5 million of them– are aware of what is going to take place.  Does this happen in your business?  A proud, aligned workforce is powerful. Your employees are your brand ambassadors.

-Build trust. Without trust, nothing else matters. Do your employees trust that you have their best interests at heart?  Do your customers feel that they can trust you to deliver on your promises?  Are you fair and consistent?

As the builder of the ‘world’s most important brand–YOUR brand’, you must develop a plan that will help you maintain focus and consistency. You, too, must leave nothing to chance.

Here are six simple questions that will keep you on track.  Post these where you can see them everyday and commit them to memory:

•What is my product or service?

•Who are my prospective buyers?

•What do these people (my prospective buyers) need?

•What is my value? 

•What sets my company apart?

•What am I doing to keep my employees in the marketing/advertising loop?

…and just when you think you know them, read the again!


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