Monday, February 2, 2009

Is McDonald's successful because it's 54 years old?

What would happen if an established brand - like Coke, Marlboro or McDonald's - were to begin their brand building journey today? Would they use the same tactics, leverage the same tools, or grow as quickly? Or has the game changed? Have the smoke and mirrors that built many old brands disappeared in todays consumer connected world?

Let's look at McDonald's.

Every kids piece of paradise, McDonald's is one of the privileged brands to be globally recognizable, while being loved and hated. It's got the logo, the experience, the environment, the mobility, the scalability and the famous (but fictional) spokesperson that all work to reflect and support this established brand. It's gone so far that even the iconic Ronald McDonald has a more recognizable face to children than the Pope and some prominent political figures.

Let's take it all away and say that today McDonald's is opening its first hamburger stand in Des Plaines, Illinois in 2009. Would McDonald's be able to build its brand with the speed and profit that Ray Kroc managed to create using new media tools? Would Ronald McDonald be introduced through the corporate blog? Would Ray monitor twitter for brand remarks? How about a targeted Ad Words campaign for keyword "Cheeseburger" and "Fries"? Forget the TV investment that allowed McDonald's to enter the living room of every kid in North America - aren't kids glued to YouTube and creeping on FaceBook? Why not post some low budget videos and setup up a Fan Group.

I'm obviously exaggerating and I know that the context that made McDonald's do what it did in 1954 is different today. However, I wonder if the McDonald's brand is the result of a keen businessman, a new business model, a consistent experience and a long history? Or is it because Ray took an ordinary product, created an extraordinary experience and used the tools available to spread the message widely? It's probably both.

The key string that ties this stuff all together - the McDonald's brand always knows what it stands for and who it speaks to. The investment it made in creating the experience (think McDonald's Playland, the Hamburgler, The Big Mac song) were not just targeted sales tactics, they were adding to the foundation needed for a sustainable brand. Regardless of how much the game has changed:
  • the consumer still buys on emotion,
  • there is always something to be said for a good story,
  • consistent service and product delivery defines value and quality for many people and
  • service with a smile goes a long way.

Your thoughts?