What crispy, golden treat is branding defined? (And how can it help you?)

by Craig McBreen · 27 comments · Branding

My father loved to take excruciatingly long drives.

Growing up in the small state of Maryland, we’d often venture out to Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the cozy surroundings of Western Maryland.

So, what in Newt Gingrich’s hairpiece does this have to do with branding?

Well, please read on for a not so scientific explanation.

As a kid I hated, hated these long excursions. Good lord, the man would drive for hours and those precious pee breaks were few and far between.

But one little delicacy kept from me holding this against him and scorning him for life. Ah, the wrath of a 9-year-old fat boy.

I loved cheeseburgers, but there was something else that would often make my day and dull the pain of four plus hours in a Ford Pinto.

The smell. The color. The salty goodness. You probably already know what I’m writing about. Those crispy little things cooked up by an estimated 33,000 plus restaurants with the famed golden arches.

I think the Belgians are credited with inventing French fries, and good thing, as the French might scoff at the fast food version McDonald’s perfected.

And Gordon Ramsay might call me a “donkey,” but I’ll admit a slight weakness for fast food. At least, fast food fries.

Listen, I like to cook. In fact I’ve made my own Pommes Frites, double fried just like the crafty Belgians, but sometimes a boy has a Big Mac, um, French Fry attack. Less often now, but when I was a kid I would’ve bit your fingers off to get to those golden strips of goodness.

And that was, ahem, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But those fried tubers have not changed much over the last 30-plus years.

And that’s where this boring story comes to a grinding halt and we talk about good old fashioned branding done right. I think Don Draper would be proud.

The other day, I was listening to Mitch Joel’s stellar podcast, and his guest, Bob Hoffman briefly described what a healthy brand is all about.

I’m paraphrasing of course, but according to Bob, a healthy brand comes into existence when:
1. You make a really good product.
2. You treat customers right.
3. And create good advertising around it.

That stellar brand? Well it’s simply a byproduct of doing a lot of other things right.

But by turning branding into an activity, you’re barking up the wrong tree. It’s more about consistency and just delivering on a promise.

And one little promise the wizards at the golden arches continually deliver on: Those crispy, golden fries.

I know, after watching “Food Inc.” many people want to drive a stake through the heart of Ronald McDonald, but the clown, the Big Mac and all, are part of one of the biggest brands on this third rock from the sun. Ray Kroc’s baby is often listed as one of the world’s most recognized brands.

So, trying to cram a brand down someone’s throat ain’t gonna cut it. Consistently delivering on a simple formula will. McDonald’s is beyond gigantic, and they sure advertise, but there promise is oh, so simple.

How are you doing in this department? Once you’ve defined your brand, use the purpose behind it to distill a steady, spot-on delivery.

Are you delivering? Making customers happy? And what about your online presence? Is it simply shouting “I’m the best” or are you doing all of the above and delivering great stuff based on that foundational purpose?

Part of Mitch’s discussion centered on how in the world brand-building truly comes to life on the web. The big consumer brands are taking on this challenge daily, but what about you and your little world?

How healthy is the foundation of your brand? Are you delivering? Are you being consistent.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur with super-cool doodad, a designer looking for work, or an aspiring pro-blogger, you need that brand bedrock to persevere and flourish.

Like Mr. Hoffman said, “a healthy brand is simply a byproduct of doing a lot of other things right.”

So before delivering on any promises, make sure your brand has purpose, clarity of mission, and every touchpoint delivers on said core. Oh, and then reward yourself with some deep-fried goodness (just don’t do it every day).

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Shonali Burke October 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm

“… according to Bob, a healthy brand comes into existence when:

1. You make a really good product.
2. You treat customers right.
3. And create good advertising around it.”

Now, if only every single company that thinks a new website warrants a press release would read your post!
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Craig McBreen October 22, 2012 at 12:15 am

Hi Shonali,

Good point. It seems delivering on a promise and treating customers right would spread more buzz than just about anything, including a shiny new website. No need to embellish either, ’cause we all know “spin” sucks ;)

Thanks for coming by.


Carolyn @ Wonder of Tech October 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm

You had me at “Don Draper”.;-)

Yes, we took long car rides too, with my mother smoking and a car that had no air conditioning and black vinyl seats. I wasn’t on a plane until I turned 18.

I wonder how much better my childhood would have been had I owned an iPad and had Netflix.

People could learn a lot from McDonald’s even if they hate the food. McDonald’s branding is an amazing example of how to become a household name. They are consistent and they deliver.

Very excited about the new direction of your blog, Craig. I look forward to more interesting articles such as this one! :-)
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Craig McBreen October 22, 2012 at 12:23 am

Hi Carolyn,

If I was only so cool ;)

Oh, man, a smoke-filled chamber, huh? And black vinyl bench seats, right?

And you’re so right, these kids today don’t know how well they’ve got it. The new Honda Odyssey has a rear-seat entertainment system with a 16-inch widescreen that shows side-by-side images or one panoramic view.

Yes, McDonald’s has branding nailed down. A simple formula works.

Thanks! I’m excited too and do have a lot planned.


Carolyn @ Wonder of Tech October 22, 2012 at 12:32 am

Yes, bench seats. In 2010, we splurged on a car with two TV screens in the back seat, one on each front seat headrest. My kids rarely use it because they’re playing with an electronic device.

They usually are wearing headphones so they don’t have to hear me rant: “In my day…” I admit that we rarely hear, “Are we there yet?” ;-)
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Craig McBreen October 22, 2012 at 12:47 am

Those good old bench seats. Funny how we never wore seatbelts back in the day either.

Yes, kids are gadget hounds and those small screens are much more interesting to them.

Don’t ya love it when they tune you out with the earbuds? He he … Yes, I always go on about how in my day we only had three channels, but they hear “wa, wa, wa” just like Charlie Brown ;)


Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 22, 2012 at 1:03 am

Lol, yes, my kids have heard about the 3 chammels and no DVR olden days too. But I stopped whining about it when my youngest asked me whether we had electricity when we were young. ;-)
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Craig McBreen October 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Years ago watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” … the scene where George Bailey is on the phone with the operator, my youngest son asked if that’s what it was like when I was a kid? … ;)


Mars Dorian October 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I think the whole “promise concept” is the one of the most neglected and maybe even undervalued but yet important parts of a brand.
As any kind of brand builder, you set up an expectation, and it’s really your job to fulfill.

I do not like McDonalds at all, but they have build that exceptional promise where a burger tastes pretty much the same, no matter on which side of the planet you are on.
(just like Coca Cola).
The better your promise, and the more you able to fulfill, the less you have to do in the future to make the same people buy from you.
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Craig McBreen October 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Hi Mars,

Yes, and when you deliver on a promise, that’s when word spreads about your brand.

An interesting twist is what you wrote about with the JK Rowling book. A promise includes consistency and there are expectations when you reach a certain level. Failure to meet those might mean a slight slip or disaster. I’m not a McDonalds fan either now (was when I was a kid though), but they have that promise and consistency down better than just about any brand on the planet … You’re so right about Coca Cola, as they do it just as well.

Thanks for stopping in, Sir!


Krista Kotrla October 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

TRUTH! >> “How healthy is the foundation of your brand?”

Couldn’t agree more with the call-to-action for companies to know their purpose, their values, why they exist and how they will consistently deliver on those guiding principles.

Your business culture should facilitate your brand… and if you keep it simple, you enable your entire team to shine that brand with confidence. Powerful stuff!

p.s. if you are looking for a good laugh related to this topic of dangerously yummy fries, google “Jim Gaffigan McDonalds” and watch his 9 minute stand-up comedy bit. It’s hilarious! :-)
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Craig McBreen October 23, 2012 at 2:45 am

Hey Krista,

Glad you agree!

And yes, your entire culture should indeed facilitate your brand. Bravo!

“The extra long bonus fry in the bag” … funny stuff. Every time I hear Jim Gaffigan I think Hot Pockets though. ;)

Thanks for stopping in!


Andrew Stark October 22, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Hi Craig

When you see the sign you know what to expect, and even though they have monthly specials to liven up the menu you will always see a Big Mac, fries, and coke on the menu.

In fact if you went to McDonalds and fries weren’t on the menu you’d get right back out and go somewhere else.

Online you need to use the same picture everywhere and get know as the expert for one specific niche. Don’t be a SEO expert one day then selling CPA products the next.

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Craig McBreen October 23, 2012 at 2:50 am

Hi Andrew,

That’s the thing. Many don’t like the place, but the reason they are so incredibly successful is because they deliver on a simply brand promise over and over and over. “You want fries with that?” … ;)

I’d say you’re right about hitting the exit too.

Yes, agreed. Some try to do way too much and the message gets diluted. Simple formulas based on your core work, so say the folks at the golden arches.

Thanks so much for stopping in.


Annie Andre October 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

All i could think about was mcDonalds during this whole post. Personally i’m embarrassed when we travel and people find out we are from north america they think McDonalds. Then they say, wait, you are not fat so how can you be American or Canadian.

The branding, yes, fries are the same everywhere you go. In Japan, in India, in France and beyond. Micky d’s did a good job of branding, promising the same experience and taste, But on the flip side, they have given Americans a bad name. It’s seen as negative in other countries yet they still exist. so i guess they are donig something right. Sigh. i told you i was stuck on the whole mcdonalds thing. I hate them.
I’ve noticed the same love hate relationship with my readership. I get lots of love but i get lots of haters too. Yes, i get hate mail telling me i am an awful person for travelling to foreign lands with my children. So i have learned that you can’t please everyone so i just ignore them and focus on the ones i can truly help and resonate with.
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Craig McBreen October 23, 2012 at 3:05 am

Hi Annie,

That’s pretty funny. Have you ever seen the movie “In Bruges?” There’s a really funny scene with Colin Farrell and some American tourists that made the movie for me. But then I wondered if Europeans think all Americans are fat and lazy.

Back to Micky D’s. Not everyone loves them, but they do the branding thing better than just about any other mega-chain.

With all that said, I can’t remember the last time I ate there. My wife and I both cook and my fries, um frites are 100% better. But I was a chubby little American kid, so maybe the evil fries were responsible … ;)

Hard to believe people take the time to chastise you for being a bad parent when they really have no clue what kind of parent you really are. Bizarro and some just love to criticize and hate. Show them the hand or just press ignore … They’re probably just jealous that you live in France … ;)


Ralph October 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Craig, this post conjures up 3 things for me completely unrelated to branding.

1. While in France we hit a roadside snack shack which to our surprise had THE BEST fries I have ever eaten. Ever. They were likely fried in duck fat. Just salty enough and sprinkled with rosemary. I think our shock that such a basic looking place could serve something that good contributed to the experience. They even served us at our table if you can believe that. We found out that the place has been there forever and the fries are a huge draw. Hmmmm……maybe a brand promise alignment afterall.

2. Regardless of what McDonald’s says or does Food Inc. alone confirms that, for me, no matter the consistency a brand has if it is doing something that is as abhorrent as what is deemed to be true in that doc there is something wrong with their promise. I stopped eating that “food” many years ago. Sure, those damn frites are killer but nothing that chain does speaks to me of promise. Not sure if their campaign to be transparent has hit your area yet but here in Toronto they are on a social campaign to change the publics view of their food by “answering” those tough questions people have for their food and processes. For me it’s an empty gesture because nothing seems to have changed in how they do business. Maybe they are trying but I remain skeptical. After all their mascot is a clown. Hmmm……

3. Be who you are and speak to people on their level. To me a brand is people. Who else comes up with it? So, I am totally on board with consistency of message and transparency (even though I slaughtered Mickey Dees for it above).

Great post Craig. Lots to think about here. Cheers!
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Craig McBreen October 23, 2012 at 3:24 am

Hi Ralph,

1. Duck fat fries sounds like the best thing ever. Now we’re talking old school brand promises and I guess word of mouth gets them all the business they’ll ever need. Tony Bourdain did a show somewhere in the states actually, where the owner cooked up duck fat goodness. Wish I could remember where.

2. Well I think it’s simply delivering on a consistent recipe for years and years. Not everyone likes them, but their formula works better than just about any other mega-chain I can think of. Me? I’d much rather support my local pub where they brew their own IPA and make killer grub, but the junk food palace’s methods have worked brilliantly for years. We could open up the whole factory-farming debate, but that might just implicate 90%+ of every restaurant and grocery story chain in business.

I have seen stories of overweight Chinese attributed to the proliferation of fast food outlets. So maybe making the entire world fat will be their legacy, I don’t know … ;)

3. Me thinks you’re right.

Nice comments, all. Thank you!


Mary Stephenson October 24, 2012 at 1:58 am

Hi Craig

Yes, our expectations of branding going to have to find direction on that one, but shall work on it.

Thinking about what to expect in hamburgers. A number of years ago I was at Sizzlers and this older woman, daughter and granddaughter were there. The little girl was probably about 5 years old and obviously order a hamburger and fries. Well the server brought the order to their table and placed the hamburger in front of the little girl. Her expression was priceless. She took one look at the open face burger and immediately shoved it to the middle of the table and crossed her arms. They spent the next 5 minutes trying to convince her it was a hamburger. We had left before we seen how it all turned out. I am sure in her mind it was supposed to look like McDonalds.

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Craig McBreen October 24, 2012 at 3:30 am

Hi Mary,

Man, can’t remember the last time I was at a Sizzler. That’s pretty funny. The kid was conditioned by the manufactured McDonaldland burger ;) I’ve seen more than a few kids do that same exact thing, but never with a burger. They usually scarf those down. Well, hey eat half the burger and just a little bit of everything else like kids do. Then they want to know what’s on the menu for dessert ;)

Thanks for stopping by.


Adrienne October 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm

McDonald’s definitely has it done in the branding department Craig and like most everyone’s comment above, we could learn a thing or two about them. When I see the golden arches I immediately think of big mac whether I like them or not. Obviously so many people do or they wouldn’t still be around.

Long car rides… We took short ones but they were enjoyable. No stops for fast food though, back when I was a kid that was rare where we lived.

I definitely agree with what Shonali said that if you “make a really good product, treat your customers right and create good advertising around it” then you definitely should have a winner. You should at least but that’s the best start you can have.

Like the tweaks you made to the blog Craig and always enjoy your posts. Thanks for delivering the best here my friend.

Enjoy your day now!

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Craig McBreen October 25, 2012 at 2:35 am

Hi Adrienne,

They sure do! Yes the Big Mac and fries certainly come to mind. But the thing is, they’ve been delivering this for so long.

Well, I’d say you were lucky then … missing out on the marathon rides ;)

I’d say those are the golden rules of branding, and like Bob stated, a healthy brand is simply a byproduct of doing a lot of other things right.

You get the gold star for noticing the tweaks! :) Nobody has even mentioned that even though it made them a few weeks ago. Spot-on!

Thanks for coming by and hope you have a good one!


Davina K. Brewer October 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Gonna stick a little fly to the ointment, for the small biz – advertising. Not all companies can afford big media buys and awareness campaigns; and for that matter, not all marketing is paid-for media and advertising. That said, it’s a big part of building the brand – that awareness, that name recognition. Even smaller businesses can do it by making the most of their exposure, smart strategy re: paid and earned media, good CRM, etc. All of that takes time, strategy to have a clear purpose for the business now and tomorrow. Oh and my FF attacks, think you’ll find me (and maybe Bill Dorman) at Checkers. FWIW.
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Craig McBreen October 25, 2012 at 2:43 am

Hi Davina,

Go ahead and stick that fly in the ointment ;)

That’s for sure. When it comes down to the small business owner, I would say consistency across the board is what’s needed. Now sometimes that’s hard to accomplish, but part of my job is to learn the “personality” of a business and try and give a little humble advice. And I’m glad you brought up Paid, Owned and Earned media, because that a push for me … trying to get the smaller businesses to focus on Earned and realize that’s part of the consistency.

“All of that takes time, strategy to have a clear purpose for the business now and tomorrow.” Indeedy!

Good points, Davina, esp. with CRM!


Jeevan Jacob John October 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm

McDonald’s is a great brand, isn’t it?

(But, I don’t suppose they are a “healthy” brand – as in providing healthy food. A lot of my ideas changed after I watched “Food Inc.” – all that stuff is hard to believe, but considering how powerful these food companies are, they could very well be doing it and covering it up).

Thanks for the post, Craig. I still have a lot to think about my upcoming blog – the brand (well, I am my brand! But, I have to go deeper with it – define my brand and define how my brand can help my visitors).


Craig McBreen October 27, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Hey Jeevan!

Indeed they are, but not everyone loves them, that’s for sure ;)

Nothing healthy about them and I’ll be honest, I think it’s very funny when they pretend to be. Yes, “Food Inc” reveals a lot, but it implicates not only fast food chains, but just about everyone in the factory farming cycle.

You’re welcome and don’t hesitate to shoot me an email if you have any questions.


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