McDonald’s in the USA recently announced that it will spend the next 18 months rebranding the way they present to the market. Whilst nothing is ruled out, all indicators point to this project not resting on the traditional merits of what you’d define as a ‘rebrand’ (I.e. they don’t intend on changing the logo). I think that the announcement used the word ‘rebrand’ to get more press. The goal is to become a “more trusted and respected brand,” said Don Thompson, McDonald’s chief executive.

In reality, even if they don’t update the aesthetic of the brand or the logo, what their intending to do is in fact still considered branding, and there is no doubt they need it. With the worst sales in 10 years (as of August 2014), sliding quarter by quarter negative growth; continued market share loss to up and comers (specifically Chipotle) added to studies such as that from social media research group Ingegy finding that 38% of all online conversation relating to McDonalds was negative. These are just some of the indicators that ‘they might have a brand problem’.

Where does it go wrong?

Why do giants like McDonalds experience these brand problems? It’s a perception issue. In fact, it’s always a perception issue.
McDonalds quite simply has lost the trust of the general population and in a world where trust capital is brand capital, and a wide range of alternative options available to the consumer, that just doesn’t cut it and very soon, things start going from bad to worse.

What would I do?

Here’s how I’d approach the McRebrand project

Mind map & get realistic
Develop a negative perception mind map and identify the perception issues that consumers have with the brand. Form a scrap book of the top 100 negative and most trending media articles targeting McDonalds to get a realistic picture of what’s not working.

Who are we speaking to?
Redefine our audience and what they value in life. We need to understand what’s important to them.

Who are our competitors?
Conduct a competitor analysis – who is doing this well inside and outside of our category. Two that spring to mind are Chipotle and Ben & Jerry’s. 2 brands on the rise who care about sustainability, the environment, doing things right, taking care of others. Find out how these brands communicate and how it’s different to McDonalds. Why do people trust them and not us?

Go back to our values
What’s important to us? What do we value? It’s time to go back to the core of who we are and what makes us human as a brand. A crisis forces people to re-examine what’s really important to them. It may be time for McDonalds to do that.

Start with the product
Tackle these issues like pay disputes, meat handling practices, steroid free beef and nutritional content head on. We cannot sell what we aren’t. We must tackle our most fundamental perception issues at the product level by delivering a product and an experience that will delight the customer. There’s no point trying to conceal things. Make the changes that need to be made.

Be transparent
It’s time to be real with the consumer public. People want transparency. They want the truth. Be truthful about our shortcomings and how we’re making changes because we care about the sustainability of the brand and we care about ensuring our company continues to deliver value to the people. Our advertising should centre around these statements and away from the glossy ‘pull wool over your eyes’ campaign.

Consider a brand redirection
If the sentiment of the people is movable, then there is no need to change the logo. If it is so far gone that it is irreversible, then someone needs to stand up, be courageous and change the brand, change the logo – do what needs to be done.

Be prepared for an uphill battle
The biggest communication challenge will be trust so be prepared for a battle. Without trust, the brand is seen as inauthentic and so the efforts must be all the more to convince the modern day consumer that we really are trying.

Is McDonald’s saveable? Will it survive this new era of sustainable food practices, organic farming and nutritional enlightenment? It’s a mega company and they aren’t going to go away that easily but I still believe they need to make some changes that are more than just surface level to win over a new generation coming through.

Here’s how Chipotle and Ben & Jerry’s are leading the way with their brands.