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Model Relevance: The Technique Behind “i’m lovin’ it”

Brand relevance - The strategy behind McDonald’s

As McDonald’s Global CMO from 2002 to 2005, I had to find a way to make our brand relevant again. This is the strategy that got us there.

Remaining relevant, communicating this relevance in a convincing manner and increasing the trust capital of the brand are crucial for sustainably profitable growth. It all depends on a few guiding principles: stay relevant, be sensitive, innovate, build trust. When people learn new habits and look for new problems, brands face rapid challenges.

2002 was a very challenging time for McDonald’s. The brand declined sharply. McDonalds suffered from a dark morale among the employees. McDonalds has been attacked by the media. As the Fortune magazine emphasized on its cover: "The shine is gone from the golden arches." McDonald's share price fell from $ 40 to below $ 15. Customers found the McDonald's brand no longer relevant. McDonald’s brand communications lost touch with the heart of its user base. The customer base had lost confidence in the brand. And franchisees lost confidence in leadership.

How did McDonald & # 39; s reverse this grim situation? There were three key aspects to the McDonald’s turnaround. These were … financial discipline, operational excellence and leadership marketing. Leadership marketing was about the brand's lack of relevance, its outdated marketing approach and its serious lack of trust. One of the visible results was the introduction of "I love it" as an expression of the new brand attitude. "I love it" was introduced in 2003. 17 years later, it's still the McDonald's slogan. It's by far the longest running McDonald’s brand slogan.

At the heart of creating effective and lasting communication are some basic approaches that are not out of date. Here's the untold story of how we launched the groundbreaking campaign that helped bring McDonalds back to life.

First, we had to reinvent marketing at McDonald’s.

We realized that mass marketing mass messages to masses of people via mass media was a mass mistake. McDonald’s had been run as a mass market, mass media and mass message brand. Our challenge was to run as a big brand, but not as a mass brand. Instead of continuing the one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all approach to mass marketing, we chose a multi-dimensional, multi-segmented approach.

Big brands, especially mega brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald & # 39; s, Kellogg & # 39; s, GE, Samsung, Sony, HP, Marriott, IBM, Visa and BMW, mean different things for customers on different occasions: at home, on the go, travel time, vacation time, business meeting, morning, afternoon, evening, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, late evening, weekday, weekend, with children, on business trip, cruise, at a family reunion or at college. McDonald's is a big brand that appeals to different people with different desires on different occasions. It can meet the needs for convenience, affordability, and fun for parents with children on Saturday for lunch. Or McDonald & # 39; s can meet the needs of a salesperson on a business trip through the airport before boarding a flight. And for a group of young adults, McDonald & # 39; s satisfies the need to eat something late at night. Geography also makes a difference. McDonald & # 39; s is a different experience on the outskirts of San Francisco than on the Champs Elyseé in Paris. However, it's all McDonald's.

In order to bring our brand up to date, we had to abandon outdated marketing practices and principles. For this purpose we have rejected the simplified concept of "brand positioning". The rigid singularity of positioning and monotonous messaging was simply not relevant to McDonalds in a highly fractional world. Recognizing and repeating a brand message was simply too old-fashioned for our brand communication. The ultimate goal of positioning is to simplify a brand in one word. In our view, this would be an oversimplification of a complex brand like McDonald’s. McDonalds couldn't be simplified to a single dimension, position, or word.

Today we are all aware of the criticism of how important it is to manage communication across different media channels for different target groups with different messages. In the early 2000s, this reinvention of marketing communications was seen as an anathema among many marketers. We called the new approach "brand journalism".

Brand journalism

We have developed and implemented the new communication approach for brand journalism, in which each individual communication offers a different insight into the promised experience of our brand. No single communication can tell our entire multi-dimensional, multi-faceted brand story. With brand journalism we were able to address our three different market segments: mothers, children and young adults with relevant messages.

Brand journalism means telling the many facets of brand history while remaining true to the integrity of the brand. Brand journalism is based on the idea that a brand is not just a simple word. It is a complex, multidimensional idea that includes differentiating features, functional and emotional advantages as well as a distinctive brand character. Brand journalism is even more relevant in today's digital, app-laden, mobile marketing world. With the new, diverse digital platforms, we can convey a meaningful McDonald’s message – the right message – to the right person at the right time for the right reasons. This makes brand journalism even more suitable for today's modern media world. In 2010, Ad Age selected the ten most important ideas of the decade and chose "brand journalism," which Larry Light introduced as arguably the most realistic description of marketing today – perhaps ever. "

The reason we called it brand journalism was that the brand's communication plan should learn from the ideas behind magazines, newspapers and magazines. Regardless of brands, magazines, journals, newspapers, e-zines, blogs, vlogs, etc., everyone has an overarching brand idea that defines their common brand character. This brand character distinguishes each magazine and offers a coherent, integrated vision for its brand. However, each magazine deals with a variety of topics that interest a large number of people. The editors don't expect every reader to read every article. Different people with different interests read different articles. And at different times in their lives, when people's interests change, they will be interested in reading different articles. Few people will be interested in every article in every issue. Nevertheless, the magazine has its thematic brand character as a trend-setting north star.

Nine years later, in 2012, a Forbes employee wrote the following:

“Brand journalism shakes not only the traditional views of brand management, but also the traditional views of journalism. Brand journalism develops with the help of journalistic skills to create content: it redefines what news is and how it should be communicated in the name of a brand.

“Brand journalism combines brand management and journalistic storytelling. It requires both skills and brings them together into an energetic communication platform. In our changing marketing environment, marketers need to focus on creating interesting, ongoing content that attracts and interests consumers, rather than relying on old-fashioned, simplified, repetitive news.

“Brand journalism captures and addresses the interests of interconnected consumers who want tailor-made, connecting content. Brand journalism can be the most valuable tool in the marketing toolbox. Marketers have a lifelong chance to connect and motivate consumers with journalistic brand stories that customers want to consume. In this new era, brand journalism will be an increasingly important part of the future of marketing. "

Brand journalism is even more relevant today than in 2003.

We had to restore brand relevance.

As McDonald's customers grew up, many grew out of the brand. They changed while McDonalds stayed the same. We had to restore brand relevance. Many experts and observers said we should go back where we were. They told us that we couldn't change consumers' opinions. After all, McDonald’s is known for Happy Meals and PlayPlaces: we should stay here.

Forever Young

We had to lift the status quo. People can and do it differently. Standstill was not an option. We have researched market research from all over the world that was at least five years ago. When we summarized this research, we found that McDonald's core was a series of paradoxes. McDonalds was:

  • Known and modern
  • Global and local
  • Comfortable and entertaining
  • Simple and very pleasant
  • Consistent and changeable
  • Superior quality and incredibly affordable

We saw that McDonalds was a paradoxical promise of youthful exuberance with strong roots: McDonalds was young forever. There is no age forever young; it's an attitude. This should be the new branding at the heart of the McDonald’s brand.

Our brand journalism approach was a key element in restoring Forever Young's relevance to our brand. Different music genres and communication styles followed, using different media in different ways for different target groups to explain different aspects of our brand. You will no longer find a monotonous, predictable template in our brand journal.

Our messages were our own McDonald’s brand magazine, in which each article was different, each issue different: different topics, different topics, different messages, all in a dynamic, interesting, constantly evolving, relevant magazine with a uniform Brand promises were brought together in an editorial framework. As the brand leader, we were the editor of our special brand magazine. They all added up to a dynamic McDonald’s brand story. Brand journalism underpinned the marketing of our multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and complex brand messages in a way that is related to our three target groups and restores brand relevance

Ideas from everywhere

Good ideas don't care where they come from. This was a basic principle for creating the "I love it" campaign. One of the great strengths of a global organization is the extraordinary variety of creative talent. It is the size and scope of a large global company that offers an enormous variety of talent that it can draw on.

However, great talent is often not visible in many global companies. In many cases, marketers may preach: “Think global. Act locally. “However, in the case of US companies, they often really mean:“ Think of the USA. Do what I say. "McDonalds was no exception. Our goal was to abandon this US-centered approach and open the competition for new McDonald’s communications ideas to all of our agencies around the world. We were determined to harnessing the power of ideas, we were also determined to remove the barriers to creativity.

We have received a variety of excellent creative ideas. We have adopted restaurant designs developed in France. McCafé came from Australia. Our packaging change came from Birmingham, England. Nothing promotes alignment within an organization more than seeing ideas and creativity from countries other than your home country around the world. The basic theme of "I love it" came from a small agency in Unterhaching, Germany.

The "I vote"

It was great to have the right messages about the right brand promise. What we communicate is important. How we communicate is also important. The tone and style of our communication had to be relevant. Previous McDonald’s campaigns have always focused on the brand that told customers how they feel and what to do. Over the years we have told our customers to take a break today. that we do everything for them; that nobody makes their day like we do at McDonald’s; that we would like to see her smile. Each of these campaigns was created in a lecture tone that tells consumers what we should do for them and how they should feel.

Telling is not a sale. Our customers didn't want to hear and didn't want to know what to do or how to feel. They didn't want a company to tell them how great they are and that customers should appreciate what McDonald's does for them. Customers can think and speak for themselves. Don't tell me that "I deserve a break today". I know i do. Why should I take a break at McDonald & # 39; s? Don't tell me that you "like to see me smile". Why should I smile when the food is not what I want it to be, the restaurant is not clean, the service is slow? Don't tell me you're "doing everything for me". I do not believe you. They asked, "Did someone say McDonalds?" I dont know. But it was definitely not me.

Of course, we had to change the way we talked to our customers. McDonald's traditional voice could have been. "McDonalds. You will love it." That is wrong. We called the new McDonald & # 39; s sound "I vote". Instead of telling customers how to feel, let's tell them how to feel. With the "I vote", customers can express what they like about McDonald's. The "I" voice expressed how McDonalds fits into their daily life. The phrase "I love it" said that it didn't matter how old I was, there were things I loved about life and I enjoyed having McDonalds in my life. The charm of "I love it" spoke for the simple joys of everyday life in which McDonalds played a role. It reminded everyone that McDonalds was part of their life and culture, and that McDonald's overall experience was warmth and a real piece of everyday life.

To further increase the impact of our multidimensional language journalism I language campaign, we have added a multi-sensory implementation approach. We wanted to register our identity through a verbal dimension, "I love it", a symbolic dimension, our golden bow symbol and an acoustic dimension, the five notes "ba da ba pa pa". This unique combination of sound, graphics and words has been going on for 17 years.

We had to rebuild trust.

Customers are more knowledgeable, demanding, more quality-conscious and more value-conscious. They are also more skeptical, questioning and less trusting. We knew that our customers had to trust both our messages and our brand as messengers. Our goal was to be more than a brand. it should be a seal of trust. We have recognized that our brand value depends on the extent to which our customers trust our range of brands. Trust seals cannot be bought. You have to be earned.

Our decision was to regain the trust of our customers through a disciplined, five-step, trust-building approach.

You are what you do

We have recognized that we need to show trust in order to earn trust. We knew that the saying "trust me" would not fly with our customer base. We knew we had to create a pattern of credible behavior. We have broken up super greats and created a new day dedicated to the wellbeing of children, World Children's Day, where millions of dollars were raised for children's relief organizations.

Lead the debate; don't hide from it. As today, the fast food industry was an important target in the ongoing global health debate in the early 2000s.

We could have been silent. However, silence means agreement. We could have been aggressively on the defensive. But going on the defensive was the wrong approach if we were to be taken seriously in our efforts. The imperative was to stand for what we stood for.

Trust management means more than just standing out. It means speaking out against those who aim to destroy your trust. We asked our countries to create visible programs that tell our story of health and well-being.

Instead of focusing on marketing for children, which has been and still is a convenient political goal, we also decided to focus on child obesity as the primary goal. Instead of doing less marketing for children, we should have more marketing for children: more responsive and responsible marketing for children was what we needed now to get the message of obesity going.

Openness is an opportunity

Transparency is the key to trust. Transparency requires truth. But truth and trust are not the same thing. The truth is a fact. Trust is a feeling. People trust their eyes more than their ears. To earn a customer's trust, people need to recognize the truth and not just read about it. Being open and transparent was very important to our confidence-building efforts.

The “Open Doors” program developed in France was a good example of transparency. We have opened our doors to children, teachers, and parents so they can visit McDonald & # 39; s and our suppliers for a behind-the-scenes look. You would learn about our food, how it is delivered, how it is prepared and how it is served. We have extended this program to other countries.

Be a trusted source for trusted messages. If your brand lacks trust, submitting your messages through a respected third party can change people's perceptions. At McDonald & # 39; s, we have formed an advisory board made up of respected experts, doctors, nutritionists and others who can advise on childhood obesity.

Be a good global citizen

Doing the right thing is the right thing. Ray Kroc taught us that doing the right thing is good for business. Trust doesn't come from how big you are. It is a result of how big you trade.

In the 2000s, McDonald’s was one of the leading villains when it came to environmental issues. To demonstrate that we take environmental action, we partnered with Conservation International and several suppliers to develop a set of guidelines for prioritizing responsibility in agricultural and food systems that cover social, environmental, and animal welfare issues. Four years later, we were recognized for environmental responsibility.

We have been the industry leader in reducing packaging and increasing the use of recycled content. We took a fish sourcing approach to develop environmental policies as part of our global fish strategy. We are committed to not buying beef from the rainforests or recently cleared rainforest areas. And while our food and toy safety guidelines were the highest in the world, we've increased our specifications even further.

Campaigns become convincing when they connect with customers in a very relevant way. Campaigns must also be marketed in a trustworthy manner. Just as customers change behaviors and perceptions, marketing changes when people change and send messages when times change.

The actions we took to create "I love it" weren't just creative actions. We have changed our approach to marketing and focused on restoring trust in business programs that affect customers.

Nowadays, marketers are faced with two challenges as they are not only exposed to the rapid technological tsunami of multiple media platforms, devices and direct-to-consumer brands, but also have to find the most relevant positions and messages in a highly sensitive crisis. In the end, marketers can reinvigorate brands by reinventing the way you market, restoring relevance, and rebuilding trust no matter what life throws at them.

Our ongoing theme in the brand journal was "I love it". It was released in September 2003 along with our distinctive five-note signature sound. Through the contemporary communication of our brand history with brand journalism, McDonald & # 39; s has gone from the cold shoulder to sudden coolness. According to tracking research. There was a quick positive response to the revived, revived McDonald’s brand. The settings quickly turned. The declining sales trend reversed. The morale of employees and franchisees became positive. Three years after the launch of "I love it," the stock price rose from a low of $ 13 to $ 45. Today the stock is trading at $ 175, after peaking above $ 215 before the Covid crisis.

You can find these and many other core ideas in my book Six Rules for Brand Revitalization.

At The Blake Project, we support clients from all over the world at all stages of development. redefine and articulate what makes them competitive in critical moments of change through online strategy workshops. Please email us for more.

Brand Strategy Insider is a service from The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy that specializes in brand research, brand strategy, brand growth and brand building

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