Most of us have worked within companies that are very task oriented. Inside these companies, there are meetings upon meetings for the latest product launch or to scrutinize every last minute detail of a new ad campaign.
In this operations-oriented culture, “busy-ness” is most usually viewed as progress, minding the knitting and getting things done. No question these are all necessary things for running brands. But here’s the rub; too often, while companies are rushing to do the right things, or caught in the rut of “rinse and repeat marketing”, they can miss out on delivering for consumers and their brands, or worse, do actual harm to the brand.
Very few companies excel at strategic marketing. By contrast, many brands are more comfortable “being busy” with tasks.
Busy Brands Missing Signals: McDonald’s
McDonald’s is an iconic American brand with superior process and operations. But Ronald McDonald has been taking hits lately. And the punches have been coming fast. Business Insider reports that McDonald’s has chalked up 12 straight months of declining sales in the massive U.S. market, with sales down 4.1% in the latest quarter. And the scarier problem is this: the number of 19-to-21-year-olds visiting McDonald’s once a month has fallen by 13% since 2011, while the number of 22-to-37-year-olds visiting has not grown. No question, McDonald’s greatest strength, and its greatest weakness, is the formula it wrote for the fast food business and its high carb sub-brands like the Big Mac and Egg McMuffin.
McDonalds is all about consistency in quality, service and cleanliness across its franchise network but it either didn’t see the emergence of a changing palette for healthier food, or it was too busy to do anything about it. McDonalds has finally seen the writing on the wall and is now in the process of adjusting menus and service experience to meet customer needs. But what took this once innovative company so long? Sure, burgers and fries are staples for the McDonalds brand, and tastes have changed, but when customers were signaling for healthier choices, McDonalds should have been at the leading edge of that change.
Getting It Right?: Chipotle
A lot of those younger customers that used to frequent McDonalds can now be found at Chipotle. Indeed, the “fast casual” food category has been growing quickly this past decade and Chipotle has been a key driver. The recipe for Chipotle has been identifying a consumer desire for higher quality food with more complex flavors but still served fast. What’s more, Chipotle has burnished a healthier and higher moral ground image using sustainably raised ingredients starting with antibiotic-free pork and chicken and avoiding cattle raised with antibiotics or growth hormones. What’s more, Chipotle has innovated with unique brandcom like the famous Scarecrow video play that tells its brand story and has been viewed by more than 16 million visitors on You Tube. Chipotle is also at work on a strategic plan looking at the next ten year lifecycle for its food and service offerings. By staying relevant to customers, Chipotle has been rewarded with 20% sales increase 2014 vs. 2013, a 31% increase in revenue and a share price increase of 57%. Ay Carumba!
Busy “Branding”: University of Michigan Football
For years, the U of M Wolverines have built a power brand with wins on the gridiron, the “Victors” fight song and the tradition of great coaches like Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler. But recently, the brand has seriously lost its way. A few years back, the school hired Dave Brandon, a U of M alum and corporate titan from Domino’s Pizza. Brandon saw an opportunity to monetize the heritage of the Michigan brand with a more overt style of corporate marketing. He’s orchestrated skywriting, Super Bowl jet flyovers and even fireworks after games. He also created an oddball donor opportunity for naming rights to the head coaching job and put the quarterback in a number 98 jersey to salute former Michigan player Bruce Harmon. But perhaps the biggest gaffe was jacking up the price of tickets over losing seasons. In sum, Brandon has been running Michigan football like Jerry Jones runs the Dallas Cowboys; a football game wrapped in a carnival act that nobody asked for. And the whole thing just isn’t working. Indeed, as U of M’s record has slid to a humbling .567 winning percentage from 2007-2014, angry students have protested school administration to fire him while nicknaming him “Brandin’ Brandon”, a shot at his marketing sell-out of this once proud and powerful football brand. More than anything, while Brandon sought to move the Michigan brand into the future, he’s left the loyal Michigan fans who identified with its simple traditions behind. All they seem to want is a winning football team, a good fight song from the marching band and an affordable seat. That’s all. Good brands know their customers and when to keep it simple.
Getting It Right: Seattle Seahawks
In 1984, as a salute to the loyal and boisterous Seahawk fans, owner Mike McCormack retired the number 12 jersey to the city to acknowledge their importance as the 12th man on the field. Seattle fans are known as the loudest in the NFL, and were in fact the reason the NFL commissioned a noise rule in 1985. As an extension of the team, and as another salute to Seahawk fans, a 12th man flag was created that can be found throughout the city during football season and is proudly raised in a ceremony each gameday by a season ticketholder. It’s a little hokey maybe but it’s a genuine reward for the fans and now a beloved tradition for the brand.
In branding, as in good design, less is often more. But it’s not easy to see the right balance and emerging trends when everyone is so busy “doing the right things”. Is your brand in sync and connecting with your customer? Is there someone looking at strategy along with today’s tactics? If you aren’t, chances are that someone else will.
Brandmachine is in the brand solution business. And in the business of going to newer and better places.