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June 6th, 2017

5 Brand Lessons We Can Learn From “The Founder”

I recently watched a movie, “The Founder”, about the building of McDonald’s multi-billion empire. (Great movie BTW—stream it if you haven’t seen it!) It’s the true story of how Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman, met Mac and Dick McDonald, brothers running a burger joint in SoCal in the 1950s. Kroc was intrigued by the brothers’ “speedy system” of making food, and he saw franchise potential right away. He worked his way into the business and eventually maneuvered himself into the driver’s seat. He found a way to push the brothers out of the company, and you all know where the story goes from there.

Below are a few branding lessons we can learn from “The Founder”:

1) Create Evolution and Revolution

Evolution and revolution are necessary in building any great brand. With McDonald’s, brothers Mac and Dick took the assembly line concept that had been perfected by auto innovator Henry Ford and applied it to the hamburger business. They called it the “speedy system”. They streamlined the offering to just a few high selling items—burgers, fries, and drinks, and figured out an efficient way of order delivery. For scaling the business, Ray Kroc introduced standardization, automation, and discipline. In addition, by buying up land and leasing it to licensees, Ray Kroc owned all land upon which McDonald’s burgers were cooked—giving him the ultimate control over licensees.

2) It All Starts with a Name

A great name has the power to build a long-lasting relationship between a company and its customers. The name is likely the first thing a customer interacts with, so it’s the first impression. A positive connotation is essential, and the easier it is to say and remember, the better.

As Ray Kroc said to Dick McDonald after he had officially bought them out, “I remember the first time I saw that name stretched across your stand out there. It was love at first sight. I knew then and there I had to have it. It’s not just the system, it’s the name, the glorious name—McDonald’s.”

Why so much in a name? As Kroc says, “McDonald’s sounds like America. And simply put, McDonald’s is a better name than, Kroc’s. Would you eat at a place named Kroc’s? Kroc’s has a blunt, Slavic sound. But McDonald’s—that’s a beauty.”

3) Build Equity in Key Brand Elements

When Ray Kroc saw the illustration of the first concept store featuring the now famous golden arches on the sides of the building, he was blown away. He saw the arches as a way to separating McDonald’s from the rest of the pack. To this day, the golden arches, now forming the letter “M” in the logo, are easily one of the most recognizable brand elements across the globe.

old mcdonalds store

4) Make Your Brand Mean Something

Kroc could not stop thinking about how McDonald’s arches had a lot in common with the flags and crosses on courthouses and churches in cities and towns of the time. He began to imagine his buildings flanked by the golden arches as more than just a place with delicious burgers. He saw them as “a place where decent, wholesome people come together and share values.” He thought McDonald’s could signify family, community, and joining to break bread. “McDonald’s can become the ‘American Church’–feeding bodies and feeding souls—and it’s open seven days a week.” To build this brand image, Kroc sought out regular people looking for opportunity and brought in husband-wife franchisees, working side by side, as a team. Doing so, he built equity in the phrase: “McDonald’s is family,” until indeed these became the pillars of the McDonald’s brand foundation during those early years.

5) Don’t Take No for an Answer

Ray heard “no” countless times from the McDonald brothers. He persevered and eventually found ways to work around them, and ultimately to become more powerful than them. From there, McDonald’s became a multi-billion-dollar empire.

Say what you will about how Ray Kroc became the founder of McDonald’s; the takeaway everyone can likely agree on is that hard work and razor focus on your goal can yield a pot of gold—at the end of the arches.

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