A Great Brand Experience, not Imitation, Will Win Customers

I enjoyed a great discussion with my Principles of Marketing students yesterday about using price as a marketing strategy tool to fight competition. The case of Burger King going after McDonald’s dominance in the breakfast category was our topic. BK is offering a breakfast muffin sandwich for $1. A commercial for the product makes it clear that its inspiration is McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, but the point of difference is a $1 price. “It’s not original, but it’s super affordable” is the message.

To my surprise, the focus of the discussion quickly turned from using the Breakfast Muffin sandwich as a flanker brand to what is wrong with Burger King. The students’ lament: if you want a more profitable brand and higher market share, fix the brand experience. Several students shared stories of service failure they experienced at BK. One student said she called the corporate office to complain and gave my name saying that “you need to call my marketing professor so he can tell you how to fix Burger King!” I’m waiting on that call… not!

The issues raised by students in our discussion were a perfect segue to introducing the role of marketing communication. It is communication that supports the other elements of marketing strategy, but it must work in concert with other marketing mix elements. BK hired one of the hottest shops in the ad industry, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and the agency has delivered great work. However, as one of my students in another class pointed out, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. The same goes for building a great brand. Advertising and promotion is part of the equation for success, but creative campaigns cannot hide inferior product design, bad pricing strategy, or poor customer service.

For consumers today, brand relationships are often built on experiences. If you deliver a bad experience, why should you expect customers to be willing to repeat it? There are simply too many options to have to endure experiences that do not meet expectations. No one expects BK to begin white cloth table service, but giving customers a consistent experience positively reinforces the brand in their minds. It is an impact greater than a king with an enormous plastic head or a $1 breakfast sandwich could ever hope to make.

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