What A Walk Down Fast-Food Memory Lane Means for your Marketing

You still see them every so often – those old, unique fast food buildings. Remember when you didn’t have to see the sign to know where you were? The shape and color of the building told you whether it was Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut or Jack in the Box. You spotted the building while mom was driving you down the road in the back of the station wagon, and begged her to stop so you could get the next in the collection of movie-themed tumblers, or the newest Little People toy to build your town. It drew you in, and became part of your interaction with the brand.

But times have changed. The buildings in the past used to scream “Come hither, I am Taco Bell!” But today, you could simply swap out a sign and be eating a burger instead of a burrito. Take a look at what I mean:

I suspect this transition has more to do with construction costs, real estate concerns, or improving workflow efficiencies than branding. I can’t help but think, however, that perhaps buildings no longer play the role in branding that they once did. Today, brands have many more ways to reach the audience than standing out on the street and making you take notice. A tactic that was once relied upon to draw in customers has become less important. Many of these old buildings have been demolished and replaced with shiny, new, cookie-cutter structures. The branding of the past has met the demolition ball.

Nostalgia versus Reality

These fast food giants recognized the need to assess, and continually re-assess, what marketing strategies, tactics, and designs were most important to their brand. Furthermore, they investigated what was most important to their audience in today’s world, for today’s generation. They didn’t hang onto nostalgia for the sake of sameness (which I must admit, makes me a little sad. I miss the architecture and the unique look and feel each one of these buildings brought to the neighborhood.) Yet from a marketing perspective, they knew they had to address modern needs and wants. In that spirit, I’d like to ask you to consider the following:

  1. Are there aspects of your marketing and branding that you’re holding on to simply because “that’s what we’ve always done?”
  2. Does your marketing best serve your audience today?
  3. Does your brand, and the experience it provides your audience, speak to what they need and want from you today?
  4. Have you recently asked your audience what they need and want from you, or how they’d like for you to communicate with them?
  5. Are you giving them what they want?
  6. When was the last time you performed a brand assessment, taking a critical and objective look at your brand?

Chances are, you’re unsure about some of the questions above. Maybe you want that red roof and collectibles promo to work just as well today as it did 20 years ago, but it’s just not doing the trick anymore. Perhaps you’ve thought about a new direction, but worry you’ll make a mistake so you stick with what you’ve always done. Or what if everything is going just fine, but you’re missing an opportunity for growth?

Don’t be afraid to ask these questions. Rather, be afraid to NOT ask these questions. The answer is likely not a date with the demolition ball, but rather an afternoon with Windex and some paper towels, and maybe a little (or a lot) of fresh paint. We’ve helped many companies through this process over the years, and always love seeing the “a-ha” moments, the clarity, and the emotional connection that’s just waiting to be built with the client’s audience – in new ways and old.

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