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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