What has happened to Ray Kroc’s iconic brand? The emperor of fast food is presiding over a crumbling kingdom and the company had better transform itself fast.
The news has been bleak for the past several years for McDonald’s, and recent months have only gotten worse, especially with reported earnings dropping a whopping 21% in Q4 2014.
One of the company’s former Chief Marketing Officers who oversaw the last company turn around in 2002, Larry Light, offers a blueprint for the company to follow today in a bylined article published in The Wall Street Journal titled “Saving McDonald’s.” Light defines the monumental problem facing the industry leader (with approximately $28 billion in annual revenues) thus:
On Monday, the company announced that in January its global sales in restaurants open at least 13 months fell 1.8%—that’s a serious decline in the fast-food industry. Recently, McDonald’s reported a 21% drop in fourth-quarter earnings and announced that CEO Don Thompson would retire at the end of the month.
Another fast turnaround of the McDonald’s brand is possible—and it is essential for the company’s future. If you don’t take care of the short term, there will be no long term.
Light’s guidance includes the following recommended actions:
- Stop the hemorrhaging by committing to customer retention
- Focus on direct competition and not those in other industry categories
- Fix the food by reviving founder Ray Kroc’s food-quality passion
- Restore fast-food service to fast food with improved average service times
- Focus is fundamental, so stick to burgers and fries
- Restore relevance because people have options as never before
- Re-energize the Plan to Win and evangelize that plan throughout the organization
- Adopt a disciplined new-product process with a goal of a few heroes and no zeros
- Internal marketing comes first to establish a proud, aligned workforce of 1.5 million
- Rebuild trust by opening the doors through community engagement programs
While Light’s article reads like a corporate strategic plan, it is exactly what McDonald’s needs in order to navigate through this morass.
Interestingly, the company has received a lot of attention in traditional and social media since launching its Super Bowl ad campaign promoting their free food giveaways when customers are selected randomly at the counter to dance, hug, or love their way to a free meal. Not everyone is crazy about the new promotion (see: I’m Not Lovin’ It, McDonald’s), as it certainly seems to distract from the crisis at hand.
The main thing that needs to be added to Light’s game plan is a program dedicated to the company’s identity. McDonald’s has tried to stay one step ahead of the food police for over a decade and the company has lost its way as a result. If McDonald’s returns to its roots and builds their identity around it, their customers will return and stay for the long term.
Remember what’s in a Big Mac? Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. It was magical when WABC radio in New York City ran competitions in the 1970s to see who could call in to the station and recite the ingredients in five seconds or less.
This type of customer engagement formed a basic, reliable brand identity that people craved and that built McDonald’s into the emperor of the industry. Today, the menu, advertising, social media engagement, and other programs should be redefined around this type of identity. To see my previous comments about McDonald’s and its need to return to its roots on FOX Business, click here.
Steve Jobs once said “We’re not going to be the first to this party, but we’re going to be the best.” Ironically, McDonald’s was the first to the fast food party, but now the iconic brand needs to return its focus to being the best once again by focusing on how they got there in the first place.