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McBrand — What Small Business Leaders Can Learn About Building a Brand from McDonald’s

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

“Order 377, 2 McChicken’s, medium McFlurry. Your order’s ready.” At the sound of “Order 377”, I was already walking to the front and the simple, yet noticeable, the excitement was building up. I was replaying the idea of biting into a McChicken which, after a whole day of running errands, sounded like a 5-star meal.

After I sat down feeling super accomplished from the day, I spent 30 minutes eating and just watching the rest of the restaurant unfolds in front of me.

(Writer’s tip for the audience: Please read the following paragraph all in one breath if possible, because that’s what I wrote it to sound like) I noticed a steady flow of customers walking in and out, the whining of kids to get ice cream, the excitement on the faces of grandparents as they walked their grandkids in, the organized chaos in the kitchen, and the countless little interactions. People would come, order, sit, eat and converse, leave, someone would clear their table, and suddenly the cycle would repeat. (Now breathe, wasn’t that exciting?)

After the starving Chirag-mind wore off, I started to think about McDonald’s as a brand and the reasons, despite the fact that there were at least 6 “healthier” or “better” restaurants in a 2-minute walk, as to why I chose to eat at McDonald’s.

  • “It’ll be cheap”

  • “It’ll be fast”

  • “I already know what I want so I can order it and know it’ll taste good”

  • “I’m new in the neighborhood, I’m too hungry to experiment”

  • “I’ll have to wait for a waiter at some other restaurants”

  • “That poster really makes that Coke look so refreshingggggg”

Ladies and gentlemen, if you break it down, what drew me to McDonald’s was that McDonald’s is familiar. In other words, McDonald’s has a brand.

In fact, the brand is so strong, that Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal and huge critic of the fast-food industry, highlighted a study that 88% of people recognized the McDonald’s logo while only 54% recognized the Christian cross. (Only one of those has been around for a thousand years and even has had wars fought over it.)

Furthermore, even after countless videos, studies, and books like that of Eric Schlosser, which have all highlighted how unhealthy fast food companies are, 68 million people buy food from McDonald’s every day around the world. That’s put that in context: on any given day, McDonald’s feeds close to 1% of the entire human population.

So, what is about this company that had let it continuously grow and dominate the world? My argument is its brand. The basic definition of a brand is the physical and non-physical parts of your business that you portray to the outside world. This can be as simple as the colors and logos you use or as complicated as the social emotions you evoke in your customers.

Now, in my opinion, McDonald’s brand can be broken into 5 simply terms:

  1. Affordable — From the Dollar Menu to Every Day Deals, McDonald’s aims to provide food at a low price.

  2. Accessible — From their “Speedee service system” to their drive-through to even the fact that there over 37,000 locations in over 120 countries.

  3. Reliable — McDonald’s main business is owning the land and building so that they can design every McDonald’s to look very similar to one another no matter where you are in the world.

  4. Family-oriented (ible?) — From hiring families to own the first McDonald’s restaurants to the Happy Meal, McDonald’s is fierce about holding the support of families

  5. Food that tastes good (maybe not always healthy) — This one just can’t be argued.

You’d be surprised by how many times I talk to small business owners and when I asked them about their brand, the answer is, “Oh, we’re too small to actually have a brand or think about that fancy stuff.”

The wildest part about McDonald’s story is that despite being one of the biggest businesses in the world, it does things that even the smallest businesses can learn from.

The more time I spent studying the businesses and companies, the more I’m becoming sure of one thing: large monumental growth happens in small steps.

Building a brand doesn’t have to be a difficult daunting task, because I’m about to show you a process to use:

  1. Pick something you want your company to be known for.

  2. Find small changes that fit what you outlined in step 1.

  3. Make these changes happen.

  4. Repeat.

Am I oversimplifying it? Not really. Let’s use the example of McDonald’s:

Now, this can get very complicated if you approach it with big steps. Or, you can apply what I outlined above and start small.

McDonald’s: People buy a lot of soda. How can we make our soda taste better?


  1. Test and find the best temperature to keep soda so it tastes the best

  2. Make a deal with Coca-cola to have the soda syrup shipped in aluminum containers rather than the usual bags, because the containers keep the taste fresh

  3. Make our straws wider so more coke is hitting the taste-buds

Result:Millions of people make millions of articles and videos trying to explain why coke from McDonald’s tastes so good!

McDonald’s: We want families to love McDonald’s


  1. Give out toys to little kids

  2. Make “snack” sizes for ice cream so parents don’t feel guilty for buying too much ice cream for their kids

  3. Create a clown as the mascot (very questionable move because we all know that clowns are creepy, right?)

Result: Kids love McDonald’s.

McDonald’s: We want people to recognize and feel comfortable going to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world.


  1. Design every McDonald’s location to look pretty similar

  2. Spend a lot of money on advertising

  3. Make the logo a very easy to remember and clear design that we can put everywhere

Result: People around the world trust McDonald’s.

Ladies and gentlemen, McDonald’s didn’t come to dominate the fast-food industry because it rolled out huge initiatives and did crazy things. McDonald’s is simply a company that constantly looking for small changes that have big impacts.

The point of all of this isn’t to highlight McDonald’s. It’s about showing how simple the process can be in the hopes that some of you reading this will realize that no business too small to start building a brand. Let’s grow beyond blaming the lack of funds or business education, and let’s just start doing. For extra support, here’s an example of advice I gave during to a business owner who reached out recently:

Business: Restaurant with a lot of space that’s located near a college

Goal: To build a brand of being known as the spot for college students

What are they currently doing: Operating like every other restaurant in the area, with just one or two events every 2–3 months for sorority or fraternity events.

Let’s use the model I gave you all the above:

Business: We want to be more popular with college students


  1. Send a flyer to every Greek-life house in the area offering special prices if they host a night-event at your restaurant.

  2. Notice what the students love about your restaurant and build on it

  3. This restaurant has a wall covered with their logo that students love to take photos in front of, so I told them to add other things like a light that shines on that wall or even just cheap 99-cent store costume items like hats.

  4. They followed this and noticed that way more students began to take funny photos which led to their friends learning about the restaurant. Before this, the students all tried taking serious photos which came out blurry because drunk photos never come out nice. However, while blurry photos of your friends smiling are bad, blurry photos of your friends wearing a captain’s hat are cute with the fun caption.

  5. Offer a student discount on not just your eating-in options but also your delivery option. This way, you can get students to choose your restaurant over the competitor when they’re getting food ordered in.

There’s no arguing that to survive in business, your business needs a brand. Your business needs to be known for something special. The point that I’m trying to make in this long article is that building a brand isn’t as complicated as it’s made out to seem in movies and textbooks. Building a brand can honestly be as simple (and low-cost) as:

  1. Pick something you want your company to be known for.

  2. Find small changes that fit what you outlined in step 1.

  3. Make these changes happen.

  4. Repeat.

I have 5 more examples but my teammates are starting to complain about me becoming “preachy” so I’ll end the article here. Just start to make small changes, today.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

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