Monkey see, monkey do

McDonalds is going up-scale. Or so it would seem from the new prototype branch in Oak Brook, Illinois. A colleague recently forwarded me an article about the new McDonalds. Apparently this was part of a branding campaign called “Forever Young” that has been in place since 2003. How that fits in with the public brand campaign “I’m lovin it”, I don’t know. Talk about identity crisis. Recently, New England McDonalds have started sporting bright red and bright white paint over their formerly subdued natural brick exteriors. But the new Illinois McDonalds sports a subdued exterior. Which one is it??? Can’t Mickey-D headquarters make up their minds????

One comment I heard about the new upscale McDonalds from someone who has been there… this means that parents and coaches won’t want to take little league teams there for after-game celebration ice creams.

It seems like McDonalds is jealous of Starbucks. And if Starbucks can be successful being upscale, maybe McDonalds should be too. McDonalds now has wifi. Gosh, that’s one place I definitely don’t want to bring my laptop! And even if I brought it in, I sure wouldn’t open it up on the off chance that a ketchup-laden french fry happened to become airborne.

McDonalds has now joined the ranks of so many corporations that have lost their way…. imitating what others are doing instead of innovating from within.

Banks are also guilty of this. Another colleague recently sent me a Wall Street Journal article talking about the way many banks are now going upscale and creating lobby environments similar to Umpqua Bank. Some of these banks will be successful, some will not. Creating a terrific lobby environment is a good thing. But I feel that too many of these banks (Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase) are just chasing the latest trend because it’s successful for someone else.

Here’s their mistake: it’s not the fact that Umpqua Bank gives away it’s own brand of coffee beans in their branches that makes them successful. It’s that doing so is completely consistent with their brand, and reinforces their Oregon and community orientation. (They even have a word for it — UmpquaLife.) It is but one manifestation of their attitude that permeates everything they do. It’s tangible evidence of their brand.

Giving away your own brand of coffee beans is probably not going to mean success for you. So what could you do that would further enhance YOUR brand? Before you can answer that question, you have to get very clear as to what YOUR brand is!

The question that we CONSTANTLY ask ourselves, and we CONSTANTLY encourage our clients to ask themselves is, “Is this on-brand for us?” Or, in other words, is this consistent with ourselves and our values? Is this a natural extension of what we already do? The moment you start immitating your competitors, you validate THEIR brand. And that’s the LAST thing a business wants to do.

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