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Why Consumer-Facing Enterprises Need To Evolve With The Modern Customer In a time of constant change and increasing customer expectations, the greatest danger facing most brands today is loss of brand relevance.

By Walid Fakih

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McDonald’s UAE
A McDonald’s outlet in Dubai

In a time of constant change and increasing customer expectations, the greatest danger facing most brands today is loss of brand relevance. Markets are constantly shifting, with new technologies popping up every day, changing the customer experience practically by force. As more informed spenders, customers expect more from the brands they buy from.

In order to survive, brands need to evolve in a way that differentiates them from their competitors, and at the same time meets the needs of the customers who matter to their business. Oftentimes faced with an issue of relevance, brands struggle between two ends– wanting to gain parity with competitors and adapt to market needs, while feeling worried about losing established brand heritage and credibility. At McDonald's, we are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of our legendary Big Mac. Although this sandwich is synonymous with the McDonald's brand, it is unrealistic to think we continue to do the same thing, offer the same food we have done for decades, and still resonate with a completely different type of consumer. In a continuously changing marketing landscape, how can brands continue to own the conversation? Here's how we are doing it.

1. EMBRACE CHANGE

Comfort and stability are tempting, but they only last so long. To be successful, you have to preserve your values and tradition, however, this has to be within the context of current times, customer expectations and requirements. Before you know it, the market will flip on its head and if you're not agile, you'll be left behind. One of the biggest challenges all brands face is how to stay at the top of consumers' minds as their tastes continue to evolve. Your business must become a collective agent of change, and brands unwilling or hesitant to do so quickly become irrelevant.

At McDonald's UAE, for example, we have a keen focus on something we call the Experience of the Future, which has included everything from our digital ordering kiosks and table service to our mobile apps. These tools and small yet impactful updates have allowed us to maintain a modern in-restaurant experience for our customers.

A McDonald's outlet in Dubai Source: McDonald's UAE

2. INNOVATE

When you provide memorable experiences and exciting new opportunities, you show your customers you are passionate about staying current, embracing change, and providing the best experience for them. Get in there, on the ground with your customers to find out what new things they're doing and what they're hoping to see from your brand in the future. The best brands don't react to consumer trends after they manifest, they lead on them.

However, all these innovations would amount to nothing if the product/ service –in our case, the food we serve- did not live up to the customers' expectation. And this is trickier than one would imagine. It's a fine balancing act between reinventing the old favorites to meet the requirements of the current consumer, whilst constantly adding new choices to the menu. For instance, with customers being much more informed and aware in terms of what they're eating, we created a mayonnaise that has 50% fewer calories, and we use a healthier blend of sunflower and canola for frying with 80% less saturated fat; we are always mindful of what the consumer wants. The customers are evolving, and companies that don't, will fall behind.

It is also necessary to bear in mind the needs and preferences of the local customer. A company may have a successful formula globally, but that alone is no guarantee of success on a regional or local level. Even though Mc- Donald's is an international conglomerate, our menus incorporate an array of options that appeal to the taste and preference of local customers. For instance, during Ramadan, we added a date pie to the menu, while, in line with local traditions, all our ingredients are inspected and approved by local authorities and halal officers at the countries of export and upon arrival at port of entry. Every company has to be respectful of local traditions and culture, and weave their business strategy around it, and not vice versa.

3. LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS

Every consumer facing brand needs to continuously innovate and not be afraid to challenge the status quo when there is a need. And this can only be achieved with a deep insight into what the customer wants, as well as the current trends. Sometimes brands forget to listen to their customers. Even if feedback is negative, it can include useful information about how customers perceive your brand. If you hear directly from customers about what they want to see from you, listen to them as often as possible.

Something that we've implemented to allow us to do this is that we have appointed Guest Experience Leaders, who are front of house staff dedicated to giving customers a memorable dine-in experience. They're there not only to ensure their visit is seamless, but also to listen to their thoughts and feedback. This has helped us maintain this ongoing conversation massively.

A McDonald's outlet in Dubai Source: McDonald's UAE

Brand relevance is never a sure thing. Anything can change at any moment. As a result, smart brands understand the rules of relevance, and earn and re-earn their position in the market place each and every day. So, take time to consider how you can build a more relevant brand. Maintaining brand relevance is the key to remaining valuable to the people who matter to your business and where it's headed.

In essence, for a brand to retain relevance in this age of fleeting customer loyalty, it has to constantly innovate, adapt to change, and make sure to be constantly aware and listening to its stakeholders. However, it has to do so with one eye on its history and tradition. A legacy is built over years and there is a real danger of a company getting carried away in keeping up with the current trends and squandering it all away. With the right balance, you can retain both modernity and tradition, and that's the recipe to remain relevant, no matter what the pace of society.

Related: The How-To: Franchising Your Brand In The Middle East

Walid Fakih

General Manager, McDonald’s UAE

Walid Fakih is the General Manager at McDonald’s UAE. Having been appointed in 2013, he is responsible for the dayto- day operations of the business, and driving future growth. With a significant number of years of both international and regional FMCG management experience, Walid is a key asset to the continuous growth, development and management of McDonald’s UAE, and an important member of the management team.
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