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The Major Thing Missing From Most Restaurant Brands

At MAKERS, we’ve encountered many restaurants from small startups to large multi-national behemoths. In these encounters, the conversations inevitably end up in the golden question, “How do we get more traffic and sales?” As if it were a magical switch in a dark room that someone only needed to find and turn on. While their expectations may be to uncover a secret tactic, what I’ve found is that no one tactic flips the switch. What we have found is that the brands that struggle the most are missing one major thing.

There is an astounding amount of misconception surrounding what “branding” actually means. Professionals in the creative industry are some of the worst offenders. “We’ll do your branding” and “we branded that restaurant” are phrases you hear and read often… but they’re wrong. “Branding” isn’t the act of designing a logo and/or system of graphic elements. It’s not primarily a visual endeavor.

Branding is the practice of establishing a company’s differentiated and relevant presence in market with the intent of attracting and retaining a consumer group. When applied to restaurants it gets a little more detailed.

Restaurant branding is the practice of establishing a differentiated and relevant offering, from food and service through ambiance and marketing, that attracts and retains a group of people.

Yes, identity and other graphic design workstreams are an output, but only after the strategy has been set. In its purest form, branding is all about thinking and strategy first and foremost.

Now that we’ve cleared up the definition of “branding,” let’s talk about what is the major thing missing from most restaurant brands.

When you scour the internet and social media for restaurants, you find yourself mired in food imagery. (Duh.) But what if I told you that was a bad move? You’d probably think I was crazy, but here I am, telling just that.

Restaurants, like many other businesses, have a believability problem. That problem stems from a shallow branding strategy. In short, the one thing missing from many restaurant brands is depth. They’re nothing beyond their food, and they think food is all they need. However, perceptions of food are both highly subjective and suspect from a consumer’s perspective. After all, we’ve all ordered fast food at one point and I doubt any of us received something that looked like the photos that guided our purchase. Furthermore, how often do you say to yourself, “that was the best steak I’ve ever had and none shall top it!”? I doubt it’s an extremely rare occasion.

Put bluntly, while your food may be good, it may not be the best. And that’s okay because people aren’t really buying the food.

Sure, the food may be the thing that draws them into an initial trial. And it may very well be something that gets them to come back. But the key to repeat business and loyalty is the deeper story and culture that makes your brand unique. People can get a burger, pizza, tacos, and more on almost every street corner in every city. What makes them choose one taco over the other? Story. What makes people BELIEVE your claims? Story. What makes people befriend and belove your brand? Story.

Humans, all of us, are attracted to stories that lead us to believe a brand’s position and message. It’s not enough to say, “We have the best pizza.” The inner skeptic in all of us laughs and scoffs because that’s a baseless claim coming from someone’s ego. Instead, we look to find out what makes your pizza different, interesting, and worthy of a trial. Once we’ve tried, we want to learn more about the brand that made it. What drives their pizza passion? Why do they do this? Does that purpose align with my cultural values and beliefs? When the answers to these questions align, believability is built, loyalty is fostered, and customers turn into Patrons.

Depth is what creates this perfect scenario. Depth is the aforementioned “switch” that you need to flip in order to drive traffic and sales. Depth comes from strong restaurant branding, strategy, and design.

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