In today’s noisy advertising environment restaurants must cut through the clutter with a cohesive advertising and marketing strategy. Franchised and chain restaurant brands spend a great deal of time, effort and dollars on this critical aspect of their business model. Creating and enforcing their brand image is a crucial task for their marketing teams. Smart restaurants marketers understand the need for a consistent brand voice with a clearly defined marketing plan. This consistency is vital because locations in the chain must present consumers with the same image and message to avoid confusion and brand dilution.
Spotlight on branding
In the past, restaurant advertising consisted mainly of print and broadcast advertisements along with word of mouth. Branding isn’t accomplished solely through conventional advertising. Although advertising uses the branding elements, it refers to so much more. Branding is the practice of making a name, symbol, reasons, and guest experience stand out in the minds of consumers. Branding gives the company and its products a competitive edge above other companies which provide similar products. Thousands of restaurants serve hamburgers, but why when people think about burgers, their minds immediately go to McDonald’s or Burger King? It’s because of the power of branding connects the product to a bigger picture. Today’s savvy consumers expect more than merely a place to have a meal. They are not only hungry for lunch but eager to connect with the experience the product or service provides.
Additionally, many consumers want to know what a company stands for, it’s mission, how it goes about its business and why you should eat at a particular restaurant. The need for guest engagement has led restaurant marketers to pivot from purely traditional advertising to creating a total restaurant experience. These experiences include social causes the guests share, their experience with friends and family via social media and their connection to a community. The evolution of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Yelp, as well as search engine optimization, and online ads have become the new messaging channels used by marketers to increase “occasion to use” and brand loyalty. Today’s chain restaurants employ tactics including traditional advertising, social media messaging and participating in local events that support the community. Creating value and loyalty through brand image and guest experience lives in the mind of the guest long after the meal.
Creating a connection is key
A restaurant must connect with the lifestyle of consumers. The first step to doing this is to have a definite name, image, and brand message. Usually, the owners of the business and a branding team come together to discuss and decide on what the restaurant will mean to their future customers. This step should be accomplished at the beginning of the business planning.
Jennifer Williams, the founding partner, of “the watsons,” a New York City based branding firm, describes the importance of restaurant branding like this: ” The National Restaurant Association reports that Americans spend $799 billion a year on restaurants. Beyond clothing, restaurants are the most searched type of business online. Competition is fierce, and branding is more important than ever before. Whether yours is a franchise or independent restaurant, it takes more than great food and service to lure customers and build loyalty and repeat business. It takes a well-defined brand that resonates emotionally with your customers. A brand is essentially the personality of your business. Moreover, its value is derived from the connection people make with it. In today’s crowded restaurant sector, where many chain restaurants offer similar menus, your ability to differentiate yourself – can make or break your success.
For a franchise restaurant, the first element of successful branding is understanding the market in which you’re doing business. While a franchised business relies on the existing equity created by the brand, your ability to adapt to the specific needs of your local customers is crucial. Where you are, should dictate the modification of product offerings and services. For example, if your franchise is in a business area, you would consider delivery and corporate catering. The ultimate goal is to leverage existing brand awareness while servicing specific local needs. For independently owned restaurants, your brand identity, complete with name, logo, positioning and messaging, convey the feeling you want the restaurant to provide. From there, continuity is king. A consistent look, feel, product and service let customers know that your brand delivers on its promise every time. When a customer knows they can count on experience, they always come back for more. And finally, while data shows that 78% of people find restaurants through friends’ recommendations, social media has exponentially increased the power of word-of-mouth. Use your social presence to reinforce your local positioning, to advertise your brand benefits and to prove your promise of exceptional food and service.”
The right ingredients for the branding recipe
Many restaurant marketers contend the most compelling reason for branding is the lasting feeling it imparts on the customer. Williams continues by saying: “The most critical element of branding a restaurant is not any physical item but rather, the feeling you give the customer during the entire branded experience. It’s the confidence you give them in the quality of your offerings, how you treat them during their interactions with your brand, and how the brand positively reaffirms their lifestyle choices. From packaging and food to the way you greet and thank your customers, all of your brand touch points work in concert to achieve brand satisfaction and allegiance. In the end, it’s as much about the way you make a customer feel, as it is the food you serve them.”
Aiming your brand at a target audience
The marketing plan tied to the brand must present a clear image, feeling, and message to its desired user. The strategies chosen will depend on the restaurant’s concept, menu, target audience, location, human resources, and budget. The target audience is one of the most significant deciding points when strategizing a marketing plan . For example, if a quick service restaurant’s target audience is older guests, then a print and television strategy focused on price, value, and convenience might be best to touch the potential guest. On the other hand, if the audience to reach is teens and millennials around college campuses, then the marketing focus would shift to social media with messaging based on clean food, social responsibility, and sourcing of ingredients.
Real world results
As an example of how branding can power the expansion of a restaurant, Williams relates this story regarding one of her restaurant clients: “We had the opportunity to work with the New York City QSR restaurant chain, fresh&co., led by veteran restaurateur, Steve Tenedios. At the outset of our relationship, the chain stood at five stores, offered a compelling and market-aware concept, but lacked a strong voice and consistent brand identity. Since the most critical part of branding is connecting with customers both inside and outside the restaurant, this meant a complete re-skinning of the fresh&co. brand – from tagline and menus to signage and packaging. We leveraged fresh&co.’s unique approach to food, which was a first-to-market focus on clean, healthy, local and taste-driven options. By clearly distinguishing their difference, in a market saturated with pre-made sameness, we had a powerful story to tell. One that resulted in helping the brand realize sales increases across day-parts, as well as rapid expansion to more than 15 stores in less than two years.” Williams summed it up by saying: “What must be said is that the heart of this success was Steve’s willingness to embrace change and take necessary risks. Here at “the watsons” were thrilled to have that kind of partner and to shine a light on a high-quality, novel brand.”
From sound bite to the first bite
Without proper branding; creating consumer connections becomes difficult in today “sound bite” world. The acceptance to utilize branding as a critical component to a restaurant’s success ultimately will separate the growth brands from those that will remain stagnant. In my opinion; your focus should be on branding. The results of branding are proven as a tool that builds a solid foundation for both franchised and independent restaurants.
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