With sales of $8.5 billion in 2011, Wendy’s just the claimed number 2 spot, moving ahead of Burger King but was well short of McDonald’s $34.2 billion. This second place battle of the pygmies needs to find greater meaning in the market if either ever wants a crack at McDonalds.

My worry for Wendy’s is that its rise will prompt it to confuse activity with accomplishment. Yes, from a marketing perspective, Wendy’s is doing things, but its rise has been relative to Burger King’s inconsistent execution of any strategy.

wendy's claiming #2Most of our battles at Stealing Share when rebranding companies is changing the internal mindset of those companies. Positive news, like Wendy’s received, provides a false sense of security. Fortune favors the bold and, if my past experience has taught me anything, it is that a third place Wendy’s would be strategically more bold than a second place Wendy’s.

Wendy’s Claiming #2 on fast food

Strategically, Wendy’s should set its sights on the white whale: McDonald’s. At the moment, however, it seems to be doing the same as Burger King by marketing product instead of brand. Copy in a recent Wendy’s ads goes: “No matter who you are, Wendy’s will make a Dave’s Hot and Juicy Cheeseburger fresh just for you, so its special, just like you.” Give me a moment while I my eyes stop rolling. Beyond its campy verbiage, it provides no switching trigger for the customer. Does anyone believe they would be refused service when they go to a fast food restaurant? Or that a competitor will not make hamburgers?

McDonald’s has been successful due to its message clarity, consistency and firm brand meaning of “fun.” In fact, that brand promise is represented as an experience rather then product.

Wendy’s is certainly in a good position. Number two is nothing to scoff at. But it will take focus to clear the gap with McDonalds and being able to spot the pivotal brand difference between its brand  and the Mickey-Dee one.