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Is your brand living on borrowed time?

When the Iron Curtain crumbled over a decade ago, and countries in the former Soviet empire opened up to the West, McDonald's was first through the door. Its Golden Arches brand was everywhere, a symbol of prosperity and cultural change.

But McDonald's is in a mature market, caught in a price war with its rivals Burger King and Wendy's, and this January McDonald's reported its first quarterly loss since it went public in 1965. Worse still, as an indication of brand health, the University of Michigan's Customer Satisfaction Index notes that McDonald's has ranked near the bottom of the fast food industry for customer satisfaction since 1994.

In the beginning, people were blown away by McDonald's service and consistent quality - it truly was, for the first time, fast food. But is fast enough for today's more discriminating consumers? Is McDonald's still delivering on the promise of the brand? And, as the fast food market opens up to include sushi, nachos, noodles, and sandwiches, how relevant is it now? Although there are other choices on the menu, when people think of McDonald's, they think of chips and burgers. There are now more Subway sandwich shops in America than there are McDonald's restaurants. Burgers and fries are no longer first choice when it comes to fast food. People aren't eating healthier. They're simply making different choices.

Took its eye off the ball

At one time McDonald's was the epitome of a strong global brand, but it took its eye off the ball. It neglected its customers and ignored market trends. A strong brand resonates with customers as being different and distinctive in a way they admire. And that enables it to charge a premium for its products and services. But McDonald's doesn't have that anymore.

The replacement window market is much like fast food in two important respects. Both are mature markets, having slowed down considerably since the early years, where high levels of growth and profit were common, and most companies within these markets now compete on price. Firms in both industries would be wise to re-examine their brands and the products they offer.

Like McDonald's, some national direct sell home improvement companies have woken to find themselves in a blind alley, caught napping by a market shift from PVC replacement windows to fast growing conservatories, vertical sliders, roofline and composite doors. If one key element of good marketing is making sure you are in the right markets at the right time, where do you stand? Is your brand living on borrowed time?

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