McDonald’s tactics are not enough

Here’s another one of McDonald’s tactics that is an exercise in sheer stupidity.

McDonald’s, the fast-food king of the world, is instituting kiosks for ordering and initiating tableside service.

Let me write that again. Tableside service at McDonald’s.

McDonald's tactics
McDonald’s tactics are just that. They don’t fix the main problem.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

What I want most from a McDonald’s is somebody waiting on me as they serve me crap food. What’s wrong with the current system? We order food, get it and eat it. Simple and easy. The industry is called fast food, after all.

Also, for most people, the drive-thru is the main source of delivery, so this is just a stunt. McDonald’s does not typify a dining experience. And it never will.

McDonald’s tactics do nothing to help the brand.

What’s more, this absurd new process is anything but simple: “The company said once people order at one of the stations — sleek, vertical touchscreens — they will get a digital location device and can take a seat. When their burgers and fries are ready, the technology will guide a server to the table to deliver the food with a big smile and a thank you,” according to The New York Times.

I can see that happening swimmingly, can’t you?

In my humble opinion, McDonalds had nothing to fix but it’s brand. But it is so darn nervous about losing share in the fast food industry that it is willing to try anything.

But these superficial changes are just tactics. The real problem here is that the fast food industry is under fire. Less and less of us want to plow our faces with garbage food. We want a semblance of health in our lives. Something that isn’t McDonald’s.

I’m sorry, that mindset won’t change because of a kiosk and a phony smile serving a pile of grease.

Even McDonalds burgers are in trouble

McDonalds Burgers. If you follow this blog at all, you know that I have written about the fast food category quite a bit (and that Stealing Share has experience in this market). Most of the major fast food chains are losing market share, seeing weak and negative same-store growth and are consistently trying to out maneuver each other with new menu items. (Cheetos Chicken Fries from Burger King anyone?)

McDonalds burgers
Fewer people are eating McDonalds burgers

Recently, I read an article from the Wall Street Journal about McDonalds recent sales declines. This article was different from the litany of business articles about McDonalds struggles because it specifically looked at the its staple product – the burger.

Fewer people prefer McDonalds burgers

For a while now, McDonalds burgers have suffered from a number of quality issues, like dealing with the whole pink slime thing from a few years ago and the fact that burger chains like Five Guys and Smashburger are doing pretty well with better and fresher ingredients.

McDonalds has decided that now would be a good time to take a look at the quality of McDonalds burgers again.

At this point, however, this seems futile. McDonalds has already lost and I think its leaders know it too. Proof of this is in its current expansion of its all-day breakfast options. As wildly successful as McDonalds burgers has been, they are dinosaurs. McDonalds recent inability to adapt to the changing wants and needs of the consumer is proof of that. If McDonalds really wanted to compete (past tense) then it should have made a better Big Mac a long time ago, before its customers left the brand.

Now, even if it does come up with a better burger, it will still need to convince people that it is truly better. That process takes a lot of money and a lot of time. Unless McDonalds can fundamentally take a look at itself more harshly, there is not enough of either to fix what’s wrong with McDonalds burgers.

Extra Crispy Sunscreen does what for KFC?

A few days ago, KFC announced that it would sell a brief run of Extra Crispy Sunscreen that works like regular sunscreen with the added benefit of smelling like extra crispy fried chicken.

Extra Crispy Sunscreen
Is Extra Crispy Sunscreen mean Yum Brands and KFC have lost their minds?

At first, this just seems like a mindless marketing tactic to build on the current campaign starring George Hamilton. I knew it was a thinly veiled attempt to generate social media activity and get some play in publications. I passed it off as sophomoric and lacking any real ability to gain any sort of preference.

Until I read the press release.

It reads like most other releases on promotional gimmicks, carefully weaving in the details of the gimmick with how it is supposed to relate to the brand. However, as I read the last paragraph, I was dumbfounded. It is a quote from Kevin Hochman, chief marketing officer of KFC US. It reads:

“While I’d love to tell you our customers have been asking for this, they haven’t,” Hochman added. “In fact, I’m pretty confident nobody ever asked for this. It’s just some crazy idea we dreamed up.”

Extra Crispy Sunscreen doesn’t help the brand.

I have been a very outspoken critic of how Yum brands have lacked much considered thought in its brands. I’ve been hard on the company because it’s my job to find issues with brands and develop a strategy to fix them.

But now it appears I haven’t been too hard on them at all. Yum and KFC have no idea where they are going from a strategic direction as evidenced by the statement, “…It’s just some crazy idea we dreamed up.”

Make no mistake, out of the box thinking is how I operate, but that thinking has to be tied to an overarching strategy. KFC’s foray into skin protection has no strategy – and the quote proves they know it.

There is nothing about Extra Crispy Sunscreen that ties people to the brand meaning of KFC. Sure it may tie them to the nostalgia of the brand, it does not make consumers more loyal or apt to try KFC for a meal. It generated some buzz, but it’s buzz about the sunscreen, not KFC’s brand.

If I were an investor, I would be worried about what was going on in that C-suite. In quick service, activity without accomplishment is costly, especially for brands that are already struggling.

Hardees gets it. The rest don’t.

You see, Burger King. Hardees gets its. When it introduces a new menu item, such as the Midnight Moonshine Thickburger, it is at one with its brand of “Eat it like you mean it.”

Last week, I wrote about Burger King introducing the Angriest Burger, even though it has very little relation to BK’s brand. Sure, it’s a hamburger. But that just makes it a new menu item, and therefore soon to be forgotten.

When Hardees has something like the Midnight Moonshine Thickburger, you order it because you eat it like you mean it. You eat the Angriest Burger because…why?

Why Hardees competition fails.

The fast food industry is one of the most competitive among all markets with McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King atop the charts. But the number of competitors has risen in recent years, with the introduction of so-called fast casual restaurants such as Panera Bread, delis such as Subway and even all the pizza chains.

The choice among consumers has never been greater, which is why the largest chains have been heavily targeting the breakfast segment because that’s the only daypart with room to grow.

But instead of trying to put some brand distance between themselves, the largest chains have been competing on an ever-changing menu and the lowest price on combo meals. It’s the same hamster-in-the-wheel thinking that has seen stagnation in the pizza market.

Few of them ever try to distance themselves with the meaning of their brands. Even McDonalds has lost its way, losing market share as it’s been trying to become relevant again.

Adding menu items and even offering discounts are not bad things in and of themselves. The problem is those become short-term strategies in the absence of those tactics being the fulfillment of a brand promise.

And it’s because of a meaningful brand promise that loyalty can exist. So when BK and others wonder what they need to put on their menus next to keep up, others like Hardees just keep surging along because they have a brand that gives those tactics meaning.

Why would I eat a Midnight Moonshine Thickburger? Because I eat it like I mean it.

Burger King and industry-wide brand problems

The fast food industry is currently undergoing an identity crisis as industry sales are down, mostly attributed to more competition with healthier options.

But the truth is that most of the chains are undergoing a brand crisis. What does McDonalds stand for anymore? Wendys?

No chain is having a more difficult time with its brand than Burger King.

Its response to failing brand preference? Try to out-menu the competition.

Burger King
The Angriest Whopper is all fine and dandy but what about Burger King as a whole?

Burger King is currently promoting hot dogs and now comes word that it will be offering the Angriest Whopper. The burger will have hot sauce baked into it with onions and jalapenos along with other options.

Burger King isn’t the only one trying to out-menu the competition. As most of you know, McDonalds now offers a limited breakfast menu all day. The market leader has seen sales rise and Burger King had some success with the recent additions of chicken fries.

New menu items help, but don’t address Burger King’s fundamental problem.

New menu items often prompt a spike in sales but they are short-term gains. They don’t address the fundamental problem of brand preference.

If customers are so easy to attract by simple menu additions, then how loyal are they to a brand in the first place? What happens is that you’re constantly having to add and switch out menu items to keep up. It’s like the pizza chains having to go back and forth on price because they have nowhere else to play.

No one tries the out-menu strategy more than Burger King. Do you remember the omelet sandwich? The Burger Shots? Its once touted low-calorie fries that tasted like dirt? The BK Rib Sandwich?

Burger King isn’t the only one that does this kind of thing. All the chains do some version of it and McDonalds isn’t shy about it either by a long shot. It’s the path they have chosen.

Adding menu items by itself isn’t a terrible idea. The point is that Burger King, more than most, has consistently failed to think about its business in terms of brand. To think about its success long term. It does little to nothing to demonstrate who is the Burger King customer and what self-identifications BK has to offer. (Even Sonic, as loathsome as I find them, has the dorks in the car as identifiers.)

So, enjoy the Angriest Whopper, BK. Just know that any rise in sales will be short-lived until you take on your biggest problem: Your brand.