Branding. We Have the Sales

The text came in at 11:06 a.m. It included a picture and a caption, “Rated R.” 

But the photo was probably not what you are thinking. The picture showed a half-covered and extremely enticing…box of curly fries. “R” is for Arby’s, you see. And Arby’s is one business that’s been making some noise lately. In the midst of a fitness-fueled anti-fast food culture, Arby’s has carved out a niche; they have also carved out 20 consecutive quarters of sales growth.

Now, do I have your attention?

In the third quarter of 2015, Arby’s reported 9.6 percent same-store sales growth in the U.S. They’re doing that, according to Business Insider, thanks to increased foot (or wheeled) traffic to their stores. They’re outpacing competitors like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell by a brisk 7.4 percent. But how? How is one of the least healthy fast food options available beating larger and more entrenched competitors in a shrinking marketplace?


Arby’s has the meats. They also have catchy commercials that tell consumers things like, “Bacon is a present pigs give you when you’re good.”

Yeah it is.

Arby’s is taking advantage of some clever market positioning and a branding campaign to instigate an old business strategy—Arby’s is zagging. While McDonalds and Taco Bell fight an uphill battle to associate their stores with healthy, vegetable-based food options like McSalads and Cantina Bowls, Arby’s has doubled down on their signature product: meat. Yes, you can buy a salad at Arby’s (the roast turkey Farmhouse salad is pretty good), but they aren’t advertising the fact. Arby’s is serious about one thing—meat. And their branding reflects it.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 12.29.07 PM

Now, thanks to a focused marketing effort, when you think Arby’s, you think meat. When you think McDonalds, you could think any number of things from cardiac arrest to coffee to special sauce. When you think KFC, you might wonder who will play Colonel Sanders next. When you think Taco Bell, you could think breakfast or burrito or Doritos Locos Tacos. When you think Burger King, you probably have nightmares about that creepy King character.

In other words, the message of Arby’s competitors is convoluted. It’s confusing. It’s not focused.

But your business doesn’t have to be like that. You can have a focus. Of course, you sell sporting goods equipment, which means you don’t just sell one product. You sell thousands of products. Or do you?

Are you selling products or are you selling a lifestyle? Are you selling something more than fishing tackle, something like an adventure? Family time? Nature? Think about what your store is really selling. Read between the pegboard lines, then decide.

Deciding how and what to market your store as may seem like a many-headed beast. But it’s really not such a hydra if you ask yourself some easy questions.

  • What are your competitors selling?
  • What is their store’s image?
  • How is your store’s image?
  • How can you…zag?

One of my favorite lessons in branding comes from Marty Neumeir. Neumeir is a designer, writer and business advisor who has worked with companies like Apple, Adobe, Google, HP, etc. He’s also—you might be surprised to learn—68 years old. You don’t have to be a young gun to know great marketing. The rules really don’t change that much, just the tools.

Neumeir’s book, Zag, is a bastion of clever marketing strategies that are adaptable to any business. It doesn’t matter if you sell brisket or bobbers. The gist of it is this: Be different. Do what your competitor does not. Let them zig while you zag.

That’s exactly what Arby’s is doing. While their competitors chase their own tails in every direction, Arby’s is pulling on the only tale that matters to their marketing strategy. It’s probably the tail of a cow, and they’re taking it to unprecedented sales growth.