Samurai with two swords preparing for battle.

QSR Marketing Al Ries Style—”Stop Following the Leader!”

Al Ries reminds us that just because the McGaints are utilizing one strategy that seems to be effective, that is not necessarily the only way to be a successful player in the QSR market.

Al Ries is a legendary branding strategist, bestselling author and originator of the concept of Positioning. If you took any marketing classes, or have read any marketing books, chances are you have read one of the 10 or so books Al Ries has written such as, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, or seen one of his many articles in Ad Age.

QSR marketing is one of his topics from time to time, and Al offers a perspective on how to compete against the McGiants.

When you’re a regional chain competing against the McGiants, you’re always out-resourced and out-spent. The assumption is to follow the leader because they’ve done the research. They’re getting all the PR. They’re the leader. They must be right. Right?

Consider McDonalds’ strategy of continuous line extensions. They offer just about everything. But, as Al Ries puts it:

“… line extension, menu extension, whatever you call it, weakens a brand. That’s exactly why the McDonald’s brand has been weakened. But McDonald’s is still the ‘leading’ fast-food chain. And nothing in marketing beats leadership. That’s the marketing principle that trumps the logic of line extension.”

So what are the 2 keys to competing as a regional QSR brand?

  1. Don’t copy the leader.
  2. Don’t try to be better than the leader.

Think about how many times this has been tried and failed.

  • Barnes and Nobles versus Borders. Borders who?
  • Best Buy versus Circuit City. Seen a Circuit City lately?
  • Time versus Newsweek. Newsweek was actually sold for $1.

I had a client that specialized in small burgers. That was their niche. At least five times they attempted to launch a big burger. Every single time, the consumer said NO! Stick to your expertise and focus your energy there. Mr. Ries further defines two ways to successfully build a brand against the McGiants:

  1. Be the first.
  2. Be the opposite of the leader.

No doubt you have to be creative to achieve either of these. Look at Taco Bell. The Doritos Taco. Brilliant! It’s absolutely in their area of expertise. Taco Bell breakfast? We’ll see.

Look at a much simpler model—Five Guys. They offer a limited menu in the face of massive menu expansions in the category. In fact, Five Guys has had the same menu since 1986. It’s always easy to look at examples that are in existence. The difficult part is finding your brand’s way of being the opposite or being the first—then sticking with it. And that’s for another article.

photo credit: Andrew Becraft via photopin cc


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