August 13, 2015


Have you read this beauty? Click here to learn about McDonalds.

I've been doing consulting work for almost nine years now - on top of nearly two decades prior in retail / e-commerce / cataloging (and a brief stint in the hybrid corn industry). I've learned, repeatedly, just how important merchandise is. Merchandise means everything.

Well, let me restate that a bit. Merchandise means everything, as long as it is folded into a story that is congruent with the merchandise.

Think about it this way. Wal-Mart can sell groceries, but Wal-Mart cannot do what Whole Foods does, because Whole Foods merchandise cannot be folded into a story compatible with Wal-Mart merchandise.

This puts McDonalds into a very difficult position - albeit one they've fully earned and one they deserve. As younger customers change behavior (Chipotle, Panera Bread), you cannot just slap that style experience into the McDonalds environment - the story is not compatible with the brand, is it? Even if McDonalds sold exactly what Panera Bread sold, the story falls apart. McDonalds cannot replicate the in-store Panera Bread experience, nor should it. As a result, any effort to replicate/copy what the competition does fails on two fronts - you miss out on the experience that allows Panera Bread to succeed - and you mess up the experience for your existing customer base who is still loyal to you.

I get so frustrated with our modern marketing world - especially the horrific advice catalogers and e-commerce brands and retailers get from so-called experts. It's easy to tell somebody to be "omnichannel or die". It's terribly hard to be in the shoes of the company that is struggling. Ask any cataloger. The advice catalogers have been given over the past fifteen years, from well-meaning experts no less, is nothing short of awful. The comparisons between McDonalds and catalogers are myriad.
  • McDonalds and Catalogers built empires on the backs of Baby Boomer customers.
  • Dietary interests (McDonalds) and channel preferences (Catalogers) cut each off of a younger customer base.
  • Both were told to "do everything", thereby diluting the experience for existing customers while not appealing to a new generation of customers.
Thirty years of this nonsense leads me to believe that we're better off riding the core brand with the core audience ... but then we diversify our portfolio by creating new brands that appeal to new audiences, placing bets, hoping that one-in-ten or two-in-ten of the new experiments work. Heck, McDonalds used to own Chipotle, think about that one for a moment.

Instead, we have a tendency to "integrate", to "create efficiencies". We fold everything together. When Sears folded Lands' End into a Sears store, the advantage of brand separation disappears ("yes, but you create a great omnichannel experience for the core customer"). 

The experts keep telling us to create efficiencies, make the experience the same across all channels ... they tell us that we have to be in all channels, that we have to "do everything" and do it all the same. Boring. That just creates a homogeneous experience that looks a lot like McDonalds.

Maybe it is time to be unique, different, to provide clever and thrilling experiences that are not fully integrated. Maybe it is time for each experience to align with unique audiences, instead of aligning boring experiences with core customers.