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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Obsessing about the competition blinds you to opportunity: The case of Burger King



Been watching those Burger King commercials lately.

You know these. They compare themselves to McDonald's again. BK's positioned as broiled and fresh, Mickey D's as fried and factory-like.

Yawn.

There is nothing more boring than a brand that feels inadequate.

I read an article the other day about Burger King's current business difficulties. It's been on my mind. They've been around so long, they have so much money, can't they get an idea?

Then it occurred to me: They are obsessed with the competition. They're egotistical. They can't step back and think outside the box (oh G-d, I hate that phrase, but it is really appropriate here.)

If they could open their minds for five seconds they would realize that burgers are not their business at all.

It's not McDonald's, either.

For Five Guys it is.

McDonald's is in the business of feeding families cheaply. It defines Americana, even though it's a global brand too. In that way it's in the same "brand bubble" as Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart.

Five Guys is in the business of making great burgers. They sell other things, most notably the fries, but it's really about the burger. Just like In-N-Out Burger. The focus is very specifically on meat.

Burger King, in contrast to all of these, is about BROILING THINGS. It's a masculine brand. Men like to grill. Men "own" their grills. The fire. The smell of smoke. It's primal. It is such a huge opportunity. And they're missing it.

Hello Burger King, are you listening? The creepy "Burger King" cartoon character to rival Ronald McDonald was a big mistake. You had the winning formula all along - you just haven't realized it.

As a friend reminded me lately, branding is ultimately about differentiation. Doing something separate from the pack. Not imitating them and not competing directly against them.

Branding is just like becoming your own best self. You are inherently unique. You succeed by realizing your own potential. That's it.

So regarding Burger King - you can broil endless things. Let's get started! Burgers, chicken, salmon, corn, vegetables.

While we're at it, lose the name and take up an acronym. Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC. You become BK.

Get a sophisticated color scheme. Maroon, navy, gray. No cartoons, ever.

Burger King is not alone. The most envied brands in the world frequently get messed up by thinking about the competition.

Look at Kate Middleton. The gossip papers have it that she's competitive with sister Pippa, that they have a "friendly rivalry."

I can't even wrap my head around that. I know her life's not perfect, but she seems pretty happy. And she's worrying about her sister? That is just sad.

How can you get to a place where you're thinking about the potential of your brand, and not whether you're measuring up to some imaginary standard set by your competition?

One important thing: Surround yourself with true supporters. People who want to see you become your true best self. People who pick you up, and don't drag you down.

Joel Osteen talked about that in his TV sermon today. (I'm Jewish, but I find his sermons motivational and inspired.)

He recalled taking over his father's ministry. There were friends who doubted Osteen's ability to do a good job.

Eventually, he removed them from his inner circle. "Some people you have to love from a distance."

Similarly, there was an associate of his father who doubted his vision for the future. For the "brand" if you will. To put the ministry on TV.

He admitted to being happy at the good-bye barbeque when the associate left.

None other than Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, re-assumed control of the brand when it became too commoditized and lost its way. It needed Schultz's personal stamp. That uniqueness.

The bottom-line lesson:

If you want to realize the potential of your brand, don't look outside of you. Don't trust the naysayers. Don't let yourself feel inadequate.

Instead, take stock of who you are. What you have to contribute. What makes you unique, and interesting, and special.

That's what the market wants to buy from you. That's what you have to offer that's of value.

Maybe it's different than what you had in mind. That's OK.

We all have a unique destiny, and as Osteen said today, there's a very short time to realize it.

Good luck!
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