The marketing game is played on a worldwide stage, and if any of your competitors anywhere in the world start to perceive that your brands are vulnerable, because of your missteps or because you are more concerned about other matters, they will take action to wrest away market share from you.
And once one of your competitors fires a successful volley over your bow, it will embolden other competitors, creating a feeding frenzy for your business that you won't be able to turn back.
That's all because you neglected your major asset. The moral of the story is to take care of your brands before your competitors take care of you.
Nothing, in all the annals of marketing, is sadder than to see a great brand deteriorating. And that's what we've been witnessing with the gradual but steady decline of McDonald's.
The management at McDonald's "has presided over the demise of one of the great brands in the history of American business," as a restaurant analyst for NatWest
Securities put it.
There's no doubt that McDonald's competitors are becoming bolder, sensing that it is a weakened beast, ripe for the killing.
In a frontal attack, Burger King has fired up the Big King, slathered in what looks like the same sauce slathering the Big Mac. You can be sure Burger King wouldn't have dared challenge McDonald's a few years ago. It would have feared retaliation.
But McDonald's has botched recent product introductions, including the infamous Arch Deluxe. So BK's top brass weren't exactly trembling in their boots when McDonald's started testing a supposed Whopper killer called Big & Tasty out in California.
That move, anemic though it was, was designed to scare off Burger King from invading the Golden Arches with the Big King, but obviously BK called McDonald's bluff.
And now other competitors realize just how vulnerable McDonald's is-too befuddled to retaliate against its hated rival.
So far the skirmishing has taken place on our shores, but the owner of BK, the British conglomerate Grand Metropolitan, has global ambitions for Burger King and senses it can rough up Ronald McDonald around the world.
International sales are growing much faster than domestic sales for McDonald's, although it has reported six straight quarters of operating earnings growth outside the U.S. below the chain's near 20% target, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Big King could evolve into a world beater. Indeed, BK reported after one week it was selling 3 million Big Kings a day, or 70% over the initial projections. Ads for the 99 cents introduction make Big King's advantage clear, "Only it has more beef than bread."
Keeping a great brand strong is mostly in the details, and "I don't think the focus on details is there," a stock analyst told the Journal. Vaunted McDonald's service used to be crisp and efficient; a supervisor was on the spot making sure everybody was doing their jobs. Now the staff is often lackadaisical or dim bulbs.
Once a brand is on a downward spiral, it's not easy to get it going in the other direction. One place to start, I've believed, is to refocus your efforts on the brand's core strength.
I sometimes think that brands get off track because their keepers get tired of doing the same old thing. Budweiser tried to reach a younger audience with its "frogs and ants" advertising, but this great brand has a shot at stemming an eight-year sales slide by running ads emphasizing its heritage and tradition-the essence of the brand. And even Nike reminds itself it's the product, and not just the mystique, that makes the brand successful.
"Our product story does get lost in our advertising sometimes," Chris Zimmerman, Nike's director of U.S. advertising, told our family newspaper. "We recognize that our ads need to tell consumers we're about product innovation and not just athletes and exposure."
You get the feeling that McDonald's has lost its way when it runs ads showing hairy-legged Chicken McNuggets and a kid-bashing Ronald McDonald. Does it come