McDonald’s is about to make the biggest brand strategy blunder of all time: fight two battles at once.

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

As of 2017, it is hard to really define what McDonald’s stands for anymore. Hamburgers or coffee? Or both? Whenever you try to do both options, you just picked the worst possible strategy.

The one thing I can safely say, is they are no longer “Fast”. On a cold Canadian winter, I called home and asked my son if he wanted a coffee on my way home. He said “sure”. So I got in the McDonald’s drive through line, behind only about 4 other cars. And after 20 minutes, I finally had my coffee. I was in complete shock. Does anyone do fast anymore? You would think in this day of hyper need states, someone would do fast.

Is all-day breakfast really a strategy?

The only success McDonald’s has had in the past 18 months has their all day breakfast, basically taking their normal breakfast foods and making it available 24/7. I guess for the next move they could make their fries available 24/7. And now McDonald’s has added bacon to their Big Mac Hamburgers and talking about it on TV like it is an “Oh my god, why didn’t I think of that” type of innovation.

Strategy choices: Hamburgers or Coffee?

A few days later, I read that McDonald’s was going to invest billions in 2017 to revamp the insides of their McCafe’s around the world. OK, so you want to take on Starbucks. Sure you have a great coffee, but plastic seats, fake fireplaces, annoying toddlers screaming on the floor, and the teenagers lurking around certainly does not make up for the great coffee. That will sure be expensive to replicate the appeal of Starbucks.

By the way, can anyone answer my question: how does Starbucks manage to keep toddlers out of their restaurants?

Then a week later, I read that McDonald’s was going to invest billions in 2017 to revamp their entire kitchens to be able to serve high quality and fresh meat in their hamburgers. Wow. I am big fan of Five Guys, In-N-Out burger, Shake Shack and Big Smoke Hamburgers. But, they are never fast. They each say they won’t start cooking your hamburgers until you order it. At Five Guys, you can see them even pull the hamburgers out and placed on the grill.

McDonald’s is about to commit the worst mistake a brand can do. They are about to fight a war on two fronts.

In the history of warfare, this is the most common mistake of every great general who has eventually gone down in flames. From the third century BC in the First Macedonian War to Napoleon to World War II, the war of two fronts never works.

By trying to be everything to anyone McDonald’s has ended up nothing to everyone. Despite all their efforts the past 5 years, McDonald’s is not perceived as the ‘best’ in coffee. Starbucks is. They don’t have the best burger. Five Guys does. They don’t have the best chicken, best shakes or best sandwiches. McDonald’s does not have the best anything. They aren’t even that fast, that cheap or have that great of service anymore. Getting a McDonald’s employee to say thank you is nearly impossible.

Strategy Myths

The biggest myth of marketing is to believe that a bigger target market is the path to being a bigger brand. Too many Marketers are willing to target anyone. The second myth is believing that if you stand for everything, it will make your brand stronger. There are brands that say they are faster, longer-lasting, better-tasting, stronger, cheaper and have a better experience. They mistakenly think that whatever the competitor does best, they will try to do it better. They are willing to say everything, hoping the consumer hears something.

Hope is never a strategy. The third myth is trying to be everywhere, whether that means being in every channel of distribution or being on every possible media option. The worst Marketers lack focus because of their fear of missing out on someone or something. By trying to be everything to anyone, the brand will end up nothing to everyone. By trying to be everywhere, the brand will eventually end up being no where. Strategy should never be random.

Every brand faces limited resources

Every brand is constrained by limited resources, whether financial, time, people or partnership resources. Yet Marketers always face the temptation of an unlimited array of choices, whether those choices are in the possible target market, brand messages, strategies or tactics. The smartest Brand Leaders are able to limit their choices to match up to their limited resources. They focus on those choices that will deliver the greatest return. I always joke that strategic thinkers share one similar trait with lazy people. Both spend a lot of effort to figure out how to get the most back, by doing the least possible.

The best Brand Leaders never divide and conquer out of fear. Force yourself to focus and conquer with the confidence of strategic thinking. The smartest Brand Leaders use the word “or” more often than they use the word “and”. If you come to a decision point, and you try to rationalize in your own brain that it is okay to do a little of both, then you are not strategic. You are not even a decision-maker.

Trying to both at the same time means you will lose at both. I can no longer tell you what McDonald’s stands for. Can you?

So if you were McDonald’s, would you choose to win the burger war or the coffee war? I’d pick burgers.


McDonald's Story Starbucks turnaround


To read about how to create a beloved brand, here is our workshop we run:

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

Beloved Brands is a brand strategy and marketing training firm that is focused on the future growth of your brand and your people.

It is our fundamental belief that the more loved your brand is by your most cherished consumers, the more powerful and profitable your brand will be. We also believe that better marketing people will lead to smarter strategy choices and tightly focused marketing execution that will higher growth for your brands.

With our workshops, we use our unique tools force you to think differently and help unleash new strategy solutions to build around. I believe the best solutions lay deep inside you already, but struggle to come out. In every discussion, I bring a challenging yet understanding voice to bring out the best in you and help you craft an amazing strategy.

We will help you find a unique and own-able Big Idea that will help you stand out from the clutter of today’s marketplace. The Big Idea must serve to motivate consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal connection with your brand. Equally, the Big Idea must work inside your organization, to inspire all employees who work behind the scenes to deliver happy experiences for consumers.

We will help build a brand plan everyone can follow. It starts with an inspiring vision to push your team. We then force strategy choices on where to allocate your limited resources. With our advice on brand execution, we can steer the brand towards brand love and brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

At Beloved Brands, we deliver brand training programs that make brand leaders smarter so they are able to drive added growth on your brands. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

Graham Robertson Beloved Brands

I love Marketing that starts off small and costs very little

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

I have always loved when you see a big idea come out of the smallest of ideas. As Brand Leaders, sometimes we complain about a lot of things: no money, we don’t have any new products in our pipeline, our agency keeps presenting the same old thing and we are too conservative to do the really cool stuff. While many Brand Leaders are struggling with how to use new media too many times they opt for the new conventions they see everyone else doing so they say “Like Us on Facebook” approach that generates 38 likes, or they start their own Twitter account and tweet out something boring every six months. Instead, you should think about the new media as liberating in that you can use even more creativity than just trying to follow along what everyone is doing. If you want your brand to generate more love among your base of users, finding ways that surprise and delight them is a great starting point. Consumers will feel more connected with you. Here’s a few different takes on creative solutions that started small and grew, trying to inspire you a little bit while you sit at your desk going “so what can we do”. 

Take a chance. Be inspired.

Volkswagen “Fast Lanes”

When you have very little money, I always say “Act Like a Blowfish” and try to find a way to appear bigger than you really are. That may require more creativity than dollars. It might mean something a bit odd, compared to the conventional 30 second TV ad. If you have no money, tell me you couldn’t have done this one.  It must have cost only $5,000-10,000 to produce, it is one of the simplest ideas ever and yet they now have 3 Million YouTube hits. Mainly because it just makes people smile a little bit. And it fits perfectly with the Volkswagen brand.

What’s your version of this idea on your brand?


Chipotle “Back to the Start”

The Chipotle brand is unique in that many times it runs against convention. Everything about their “Back to the Start” runs counter to how things are supposed to be done. First of all, if any agency came into you and said “we want to do an animated spot about a farmer and we’ve decided to use Scientist by Cold Play as the main song….except we want to get Willie Nelson to do it”, I wonder how many Brand Leaders would have said “go on, tell me more”. Most would throw the Ad Agency out and opt for something more conservative.  The good news for Chipotle is they didn’t have to go through that conversation because Chipotle doesn’t even have an ad agency. They did all this work themselves. It took them a year to make it. Now that’s crazy. On top of that, the goal of the ad was never to sell more burritos but to let people know of their commitment to sustainable farming.  The barely mention the brand name, never shows one of the products and even sells the Willie Nelson song on iTunes at the end of the ad.  The media plan calls for showing it viral first, then show it in movie theatres and then just show it once on TV, but show it during the Grammy Awards. Who is still with me? Would you as a Brand Leader have the guts to do this?   


This ad has generated over 10,000,000 hits on YouTube and was the hit of the Grammy Awards, lighting up Twitter that night. And if you’re totally interested now, then here’s “the making of” that generated another 100,000 hits.


McDonald’s “how a Burger is Made for TV”

Now McDonald’s has all the money possible, and is on TV all the time. Yet this “behind the scenes” look at how they make a Quarter Pounder for their advertising takes on question that many consumers have probably been thinking for decades: “how come my burger doesn’t look as good as the one on TV?”   McDonald’s answers this with direct honesty, showing why they have to fluff up the pickles or eliminate little blemishes on the bun. They compare a recently purchased Quarter Pounder to the one that their stylist works on for the ad. This simple little spot, made up in Canada, has generated almost 8,000,000 hits on-line. 


I want these ideas to inspire you to do something different! 


To find ways to make your brand more loved, read the following presentation:



Positioning 2016.112


Advertising Is Everywhere. But there sure is an awful lot of Crap!!!

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

The average consumer sees about 5,000 ads per day.  You can’t really escape them.  And yet, we are all so busy, how many of those ads do we actually engage in?  10 or 20?  And how many of those do we act on each day?   3 or 5?   Advertising is truly ubiquitous, but is it all that effective?

There’s so much Crap Out there.

When I drive past billboards with tons of information, I laugh and think “what a waste of money”.  Most times you engage in Outdoor ads, you’re driving 60 miles per hour, and the reality is you have 3 to 5 seconds.

Let’s try a few out and test your ability to digest ads.

Test #1:  Read the ad below and count to 5.

How did you do?  I got stuck on the dress joke.  Did you get the brand name or what they actually do?  Do you know the brand benefit or even the message?   The only good news is you just need to turn left.  But it’s a funeral home and not exactly an impulse purchase, so do you really need directions just yet?

Test #2:  All of a sudden you are tourist, driving into a new town called Quartzside and looking for things to do.  Take 5 seconds and read the ad below.

It almost hurts the brain doesn’t it.  Maybe you want to know where the tourism office is.  Did you pick up the directions?   Yet, there’s two websites and a phone number.  And a very odd picture of a camel that we’re not even sure why it’s there.

Test #3:  The good news is that we know they sell houses.  Take 5 seconds and read the ad.  It stil hurts.  Nice layout.

What’s the name of the real estate agent and what’s his phone number?  Ummm, is he helping you to buy a house or sell your house?

One hard and fast rule:  Advertising is not what is said, but what is understood.  In this case, you’ve only got 5 seconds to communicate.  I know it’s so tempting to jam everything into the precious ad space you’ve purchased.  It’s hard to leave stuff out that I want to say.  But keep in mind that with so many messages, if nothing gets through, then you’ve just wasted all your money.  You have to prioritize your messaging:  what’s your shout from the mountain and how do you creatively project that shout in 5 seconds?

Let’s Celebrate the Great Work that’s out there.

Break Through the Clutter but Don’t add your own Clutter:  To break through in the clutter of 5,000 ads per day, the added creativity makes the media work harder and your return on effort much more efficient.   And when someone engages your brand with a smile already on their face, it is that much easier to love your brand.  Have fun with the media choice, and let the creative idea drive that media so that you can showcase what it’s like to experience your brand.


This McDonald’s billboard is incredibly simple, but also talks about the impulsive nature of McDonald’s.  Once you decide you want to go, you just can’t get there fast enough.  Perfect for the McDonald’s fans.

Kit Kat Transit Bench

If you are a fan of chocolate, this bench will certainly trigger an impulse to buy a Kit Kat.  I am hungry just looking at that bench.

Hot Wheels

I love the creativity in the Hot Wheels ad below with the kid looking at the real cars on the highway below.  The kid captures the emotional appeal of Hot Wheels.

Swiss Skydive

And finally, this one takes some explaining, even though it’s a really simple idea.   The floor of this elevator is a photo from thousands of feet above the ground which makes it look and feel like you are sky diving.  Step into this elevator and as the elevator starts to go down you’ll start to feel the thrill of jumping out of a plane.  For dare-devils, they’ll love it.  

If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love your brand? 

REJECT OK, because OK is the enemy of Greatness

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Do you remember how you felt when you first landed your first marketing role?  You likely went into marketing because you loved the strategy and the creativity that you saw the great marketers had done.  Beloved Brands like Apple, Nike, Dove, Disney and Starbucks likely  inspired you to get into this role. Unlike other occupations, you were drawn to it, and you wanted to bring an energy level to make a difference.  It likely was hard to get that first marketing job–so many people wanted to get in. And you were so excited on that first day when you walked into the office and found your cubicle.

Your first few months on the job had you crashing and banging into everything. Every day, you heard “you can’t do that” or “we don’t do that here” which started to suck the life and energy out of you. And once you stopped doing those things, you noticed that your performance reviews went so much better. Then you got promoted and made it to a Brand Leader role. Congratulations. But now you have to make a choice: do you cave to corporate world and become the boring marketer that does OK work? Or do you try to reach back to those feelings you had when you entered marketing and find the way to bring it back into the mix with the more sophisticated knowledgeable marketer that you’ve now become?

Explaining what a Marketer does to non-Marketers is odd because we don’t really do anything. We don’t make the product, we don’t make the ads or public relations and we don’t even sell it. Yet the Brand Leader is held responsible for sales, share and profits. And they should be. While we don’t do anything, we do have a say in everything that goes on about the brand and we sit in the seat that can inspire everyone around you, or it can be the one that inhibits creativity and suck the life out of everyone around you. As you sit in the Brand Leader role, the worst thing you can ever do is say “Yes” to OK ideas. If you’ve ever said “Yes” to an OK idea, you know that you lost a bit of who you wanted to be.

My challenge to you is to REJECT OK, because OK is the enemy of greatness.

Saying “Yes” to OK is even more demoralizing than saying “we don’t do that here”.

Brands move along a Brand Love Curve, moving from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and onto becoming a Beloved Brand.  Most brands find themselves stuck at the Like It stage–where they deliver adequate sales and share.  Marketers of Like It brands fear losing those sales, so they opt for the status quo filled with OK ideas.  The problem with status quo in today’s competitive environment is that you are likely falling back to Indifferent and you just don’t realize it. But it should make sense, because if you’re indifferent about your work, then why wouldn’t your brand end up there.

If you don’t love the work you do, then how do you expect the consumer to love your brand?

Rejecting OK work is not easy, especially if you have a reputation for playing it safe and approving OK. It is always tempting to look at all the work that’s been presented to you and figure out which one is the best.  So you pick the 6 out of 10, and make some recommendations that might it up to a 6.5.

Because you don’t really do any of the work, not only do you need to REJECT OK, but you have to inspire the greatness to come from others.

Execution does matter. While we want great execution against great strategy, I’d say that great execution against an OK strategy is better off than OK execution against a great strategy. In today’s crowded marketing world, where consumers see 6,000 ads a day, standing out is more important than it ever has been.

If you are up for the change, you should start at the beginning of the process. Sit with your lead account person and lay out your deepest thoughts on how you want your passion for the work to come shining through.  Find the language that translates your passion accurately at the outset and then be consistent to that passion throughout. Here’s what I have said in the past:  “I know we need an Ad that delivers the strategy, sells more product and drives share. But I also need an Ad that I love, that I’m proud of and something I can hold up and say I DID THIS”. I always felt “I have to love it” is the highest bar you can set. It also gives you the out by saying “I just don’t love it”. Tell your account person, you are building in extra time in the process just so we can see if we can really push to get to great.

But saying is one thing, doing is another. Be consistent at every stage because people follow how you say it as much as what you say. Write an inspiring brief that is open on creativity, and isn’t filled with support points or mandatory requirements. Ask to meet the creative people before the first creative meeting so you can talk about your expectations that you want to create work we all love. At the creative meeting, you need to stay open, positive and push for different because that is usually where greatness lays. Follow your instincts first. Absorb the work in the same way your consumer might. Reach for words that describe your instincts and how you feel about the work. Stay open and inspiring. Do not get into all the details or the changes you want–save those for a post meeting email. Talk only about the work you love–don’t even talk about the ones you don’t like.  You want your positive energy to come through.

It’s one thing to inspire but it’s another thing to actually go for it. I find it strange that Brand Leaders always push for a strategic point of difference no matter how small–but when it comes to execution many of us fear sticking our neck out and looking different.  When it comes down to making the choice, you need to show everyone how serious you are by taking a chance on greatness and not just picking the safe options.  You have to be wiling to fight for it, because you can imagine that there will be push back. This is your opportunity to shine, your opportunity to inspire everyone on your team and your opportunity to push for true greatness for your brand. And you’ll bring back those feelings of excitement that you had the day you decided to get into marketing.

You can only Reject OK, if you are willing to inspire greatness.

To read about how to Create Beloved Brands, read this:



Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

Positioning 2016.112