Tag Archives: Brand management

Want Fries With That?

Foodie Friday at last and this week the topic is, once again, fries. I see that Taco Bell has joined damn near every other quick-service restaurant and is now offering fries. Not just any fries, though. Nacho fries, which I gather are fries with a bit of Mexican seasoning and some nacho cheese on the side. Sounds good, right? Well, maybe, but not from a business perspective and let me tell you why (and how it might just apply to your business too!).

English: Taco Bell crunchy shell beef tacos

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think of Taco Bell (or any other taco chain), fries don’t enter into the equation. I realize that a few of Taco Bell’s direct competitors have fries (more on that in a second) as does every burger chain and chicken joint. Do you really think that diluting the brand is worth capturing those people who MUST have some fries with the burrito?

Moreover, Taco Bell has actually done a great job in positioning itself as having healthy alternatives and, in fact, has some of the best options for healthy eating in all of fast food. While they don’t tout themselves as being healthy (they respect that much of what’s on their menu isn’t and know it would be inauthentic to claim to be), the fact is that they can now offer “choice” while competing against Chipotle and other “healthier” alternatives.

The chain has also done a great job in coming up with weird menu items that are true to the brand. While I’m not rushing out to grab a naked egg taco or a firecracker burrito, those items are true to the brand identity. Even the California Loaded Fries burrito rings true while just plain fries don’t. A better idea? How about offering carne asada fries, which are common in Southern California and taking them nationally? Sort of a Mexican version of poutine, Taco Bell could have stayed true to their brand while offering something they believed was lacking in their menu. Del Taco, a SoCal competitor, offers chili fries. Here is a chance to one-up them and take a regional specialty into new areas.

Ask yourself this. Would you head to Burger King for a taco? Maybe for a breakfast burrito but I wouldn’t classify what is basically an egg sandwich wrap as “Mexican.” McDonald’s tried and failed with pizza, and it wasn’t just because of the product. If you’ve done a good job of branding, your customers have a focused expectation of your product. Diluting that image or causing cognitive dissonance with a new offering helps neither you nor them.

My local taco place doesn’t serve fries. It serves papas, and only as a side on the kiddie menu. Frankly, I was upset when they went to a menu in English because it hurt the authenticity of the place in my mind. Fortunately, the food spoke louder than the language change. See your brand from the consumer’s eyes and you won’t get too far out of bounds. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

A Lesson From Junior

I’m a fan of NASCAR, specifically of its top tier, now called the Monster Cup Series. For my non-gearhead friends and readers, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, preferably in person (bring earplugs!).


Some big news came out of the NASCAR world yesterday and it prompted a thought that is applicable to any of us in business. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after this season. Only 42, he’s been NASCAR’s most popular driver ever since his dad died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and leads an enormous fan base known as Junior Nation. Full disclosure: I’m a member. He’s really the spiritual leader and one of the last remnants of the NASCAR of old. As a USA Today article on his retirement stated:

A kid of means sent to work in an auto dealership by his father until he began racing, Earnhardt Jr. spoke the language of the fan, in a Carolina accent pleasing to the grassroots folks, was sponsored by a beer company and projected enough hell-raiser vibe to endear himself to the masses. A historian of the sport, he cited the exploits of Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip with a sharp recollection of fan and provided a generational and cultural bridge for NASCAR.

In other words, Junior isn’t corporate, is authentic, and because of that, is beloved. That’s really a lesson for any of us. Consumers adore personalities but only if they believe that what they’re seeing isn’t an act. Any of Junior’s interviews will show you that he’s real. His language is sometimes salty, often grammatically incorrect, and is definitely not the creation of some media trainer’s badgering. Consumers can tell when a brand is inauthentic just as any of us can see it in a person.

This is why I rant sometimes about engaging in conversations with and not in advertising to our consumers. It doesn’t mean boasting about how “real” you are but it does mean defining what your brand means and sticking to it. The definition should be expressed in the language of your consumer and be relevant to why they’d engage with you in the first place. It means participating in social interactions with your fans, not in demanding or leading them.

I guess I’ll need to figure out where my driver loyalty heads next. It seems that NASCAR needs to figure that out as well. As a long-time fan, I’ve watched them migrate from their Southern roots and identity to something much more vanilla, at least that’s how I see it. Junior is the last bastion of the old, authentic NASCAR. Wherever they go next, I hope it at least half as real as he is. Now ask yourself if you’re “being real” too.

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

When Is A McDonald’s Not A McDonald’s?

It’s Foodie Friday and our Fun this week is an issue that concerns every brand. It comes to us from the good folks at McDonald’s (they seem to be Foodie Friday Fun regulars, don’t they?). According to an article in LeFigaro (h/t Eater), McDonald’s has opened a McDonald’s in Paris under the McCafe name that doesn’t serve burgers or fries. No McNuggets either. In fact, all it will serve is club sandwiches, salads, soup, and other typical cafe food. You know – the sort of stuff that’s sold by hundreds of other Parisian places which are really French and not an American company’s version of French. Yes, McCafes are nothing new but the lack of classic McDonald’s fare is.

Logo of McCafé (McDonald's).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written before about how McDonald’s is trying to get beyond the burger/shake/fries branding and into everything from kale salads to rice bowls. This isn’t about finding a way to be successful in France either. MickeyD’s already has 1,300 stores there and France is a hugely profitable country for them. Honestly, I’m not sure what they’re thinking. I can give you a brief anecdote from personal experience, however, which might be helpful.

Several years ago, my daughter was studying in Italy. I went over there to bring her home and we were walking around Rome, my favorite food city in the world. We passed a McDonald’s and my child begged me to go inside. I asked her why, as we were surrounded by wonderful unique trattorias, ristorantes and tavernas and she wanted something that she could find everywhere once we got home. That was precisely the reason – she wanted to feel, just for a few minutes, as if she was home and not in Italy. By turning the all-American McDonald’s experience into something French, they just might be negating one reason people like to go.

The more obvious issue for any of us is what our brands stand for. It’s one thing to open a different type of restaurant under a different name,as countless brands have done with many line extensions. It’s quite another to change the meaning of the brand by changing the core product. I’m not a fan of that and think it should be avoided at all costs.

When you think of McDonald’s, you probably think of Golden Arches, Ronald McDonald, Big Macs, and fries. When you slap the McCafe name on a place that contains none of those things, you dilute the brand. Diluting a brand in its second-most profitable market is, well, not smart. I’m not loving it. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Politics And Your Product

Labor Day once marked the beginning of the Presidential race here in the US. That’s not true any longer as it seems we’re in a state of permanent campaigning. It does, however, mark the start of the final push for the candidates as much of the electorate is really just beginning to focus on the issues that will help them decide the results of this job interview process. Early voting begins in many states quite soon and the airwaves are filled with ads and with pundits trying to sway voters.

As you know, we don’t do politics here on the screed but we sometimes will point out a business lesson we can learn from that world. As I was watching a few of the news channels over the last few days, one issue came up over and over again with respect to the two candidates: transparency. Mr. Trump accuses Secretary Clinton of hiding information about her health, her emails, her foundation, and other things. Secretary Clinton accuses Mr. Trump about hiding his taxes, his business deals, his health, and other things as well. As an aside, I’m not quite sure how any of those issues, help do the most good for the most people, but let’s not digress. The campaign is starting to sound like the old game show: Who Do You Trust?

Both candidates haven’t been transparent and I think that’s led to a “hold your nose and vote” mentality on both sides, at least from what I can tell in speaking to my friends of all political beliefs. Neither side seems particularly enthusiastic about their candidate even if they’re supportive, and even among the ones who are excited there seems to be a recognition that their candidate has some trust issues. I think any observer would say that a lack of transparency is one of them on either side.

There is an expectation that brands – and candidates are brands – will be transparent. This is borne out by research, the latest of which was specific to the food world but I think carries over into any category. Coming from the Label Insight folks it found that:

  • Nearly all consumers (94%) are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.
  • Almost three in four consumers (73%) say they would be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency in all attributes.
  • 81% of consumers say they would consider a brand’s entire portfolio of products if they switched to that brand as a result of increased transparency
  • 56% report that additional product information about how food is produced, handled or sourced would make them trust that brand more

Maybe in the candidates’ minds there is a thought that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission but I don’t think that brands have that luxury. When we know that we’re far better served by transparency than by hiding information that’s critical to consumer decision making, why wouldn’t we choose to open up?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Unhealthy Salads

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week comes to us courtesy of the folks at McDonald’s. I happen to like fast food as much as the next person even if I rarely eat it anymore. It’s not a shock to anyone that fast food generally isn’t the optimal way to eat, even if it provides good value for the money. As the trend toward healthier eating has spread, companies such as McDonald’s have seen large sales declines. To their credit, McDonald’s has reversed that problem, mostly by serving their breakfast menu all day long.

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other way that McDonald’s has tried to fix the sales problem is by offering healthier menu choices, and that’s our subject today as well as our business point. While they’re still testing some of the new items in this country, in Canada they’ve rolled out a full line of salads featuring kale. After all, what screams “good food choice” more loudly than a salad, right?  Unfortunately, the screaming hasn’t been very positive, as these articles demonstrate.  In fact, when the CBC took a look at the nutrition contained in the new salads they found that:

Some of its nutrient-enhanced meals are actually comparable to junk food, say some health experts. One of McDonald’s new kale salads has more calories, fat, and sodium than a Double Big Mac.

They also found that the Fruit and Maple Oatmeal has close to the sugar in a can of Coke.  Of course, it’s possible to remedy some of the problem by using less dressing on the salad (that’s where a lot of the calories and fat lie) or skipping McDonald’s completely.  But that is neither the problem nor the business point.  Those are about living up to the promises we make.

What McDonald’s is trying to do is to draw consumers in with the promise of a healthier food choice at a great value.  The reality is that most consumers won’t realize that they’re better off eating a Big Mac.  They hear “kale” and “salad” and assume they’re making a healthy choice.  Is that false advertising?  Not exactly, but it sure seems misleading.  That is a big no-no is my book.  Sure, they’re trying to be transparent – the nutritional information of all of their menu items is available – but why should consumers have to double-check?  As marketers, we need to be sure that the messages we send are accurate, even if they’re subliminal.  I think these salads fail that test.  You?

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Filed under Consulting

Changing The Weather

There was a piece on CNN’s site last week that dealt with some changes happening at The Weather Channel. I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the channels I find pretty indispensable, even though my cable service provides a 24/7 local traffic and weather channel too. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the folks at Weather have been adding weather-related programming, and it’s frustrating when you turn on the channel to get an update only to see “Fat Guys In The Woods” or some other canned stuff in lieu of live weather. Apparently, other have noticed as well and Weather is reacting. What they had to say is instructive for all of us, no matter what our business.

Winter of 1946–1947 in the United Kingdom

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the article, they just announced layoffs:

About 50 of the channel’s 1,400 employees will be leaving. The plan calls for a singular focus “on our unique strength — and that is the weather.” With the cable channel bundle coming under increasing pressure, and “skinny bundles” becoming more common, “it’s inevitable that channels will be cut,” Weather Company CEO David Kenny said in an interview. With this in mind, “we need to be really clear who we are,” Kenny said.

That’s the business point.  There is always the temptation to expand the meaning of our brands.  As we’ve discussed before, we’re not really in control of that meaning anymore: the consumer is.  What The Weather Channel did was to dilute the meaning of the brand, which in this consumer’s mind was live weather and analysis.  I realize that when it’s a sunny day everywhere there isn’t a lot to say, but it’s possible to bring in non-live segments (not programs) while preserving the core identity.  When the channel was taken off DirecTv for a few months, suddenly someone realized that they were no longer indispensable and the basic business model of subscriber fees was put in jeopardy.  Not good.

Ask yourself what is working for your brand.  What does it mean in consumers‘ minds?  You can’t alienate or confuse them while you try to grow the brand’s meaning.  As the man said, be really clear about who you are.  Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Who Are You?

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week starts at Taco Bell. No, this is not another rant on quick service restaurant food.

Taco Bell

In fact, I happen to enjoy it from time to time. Today’s screed is about a new product at Taco Bell: the Starburst Freeze. “Starburst,” you say, “isn’t that candy?” Why yes. Taco Bell is selling a candy-flavored slush that, in the words of an Eater story, kind of looks like icy Pepto-Bismol. Yummy!

Putting aside the appropriateness of any food business selling what looks like something to relieve indigestion, there is another point this product raises.  Obviously this is a cobranded item.  Cobranding is not uncommon in business.  Some examples include Crest Plus Scope, Tide Plus Febreeze and Dawn Plus Olay – all brands owned by Proctor & Gamble and there are numerous products involving to discrete companies as well.  That’s not my issue.

Taco Bell is pseudo Tex-Mex food.  While we can debate the merits of a Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch, the inclusion of Doritos – a corn chip arising from Mexican food if one digs deeply enough – makes sense.  It relates to the core positioning of the brand.  It fits on the menu.  Strawberry Starbursts?  Not so much.  Other freeze drinks on their menu – one with Dr. Pepper and another with Mountain Dew – sort of make sense – they’re based on soda served ubiquitously.  If the shake was a chocolate candy and had cinnamon, almonds and chipotle, one could argue they were being extremely authentic to the brand since that’s a very Mexican shake.  Maybe they should have paired with Almond Joy?

Any time we add products we run the risk of diluting our core brand perception. Trying to be all things to everyone just means we slide toward commodity status.  We need to state who we are as brands and do nothing that makes the consumer wonder if that initial brand statement is still true.  If they’re asking “who are you?” we’re in trouble. Unless you enjoy competing on price alone, which is how commodities sell.

The simple test here is to ask someone where would one expect to buy a Gordita and where one might buy a Strawberry Starburst Freeze.  My guess is you wouldn’t get the same place in response to the question which tells me that the latter item doesn’t belong.

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks