Skip navigation

Brands: MoreThan a Name

RELATING: Buffalo Wild Wings' "Get it to go" program speaks to the customer's need for convenience.

Most restaurant names have one thing in common:They don't tell the truth.

If they did, the only thing on the menu at Red Lobster would be bubbling hot lobsters. Likewise, consumers could expect a monotonous diet of ground beef and kidney beans at Chili's Grill & Bar, only olives and olive oil at Olive Garden and a profusion of fresh tomatoes at the Sweet Tomato namesake.

Furthermore, if T.G.I. Friday's and Ruby Tuesday's meant their appellations to be literal, they'd only be open on Fridays and Tuesdays. And fast-growing casual theme chains like the Cheesecake Factory and Joe's Crab Shack could considerably slash their decorating budgets to accommodate consumers' low-level architectural expectations.

A name is more than just its lexicon, it's a symbol or promise for a whole lot more. At T.G.I. Friday's, it's the casual, relaxed Friday atmosphere; at Red Lobster, it's that special seafood lovers' get together with family and friends. And at Cheesecake Factory it's a high-energy, high-gloss environment offering a huge selection of menu options, not just cheesecake.

What T.G.I. Friday's, Red Lobster and The Cheesecake Factory have in common is that they've built more than a name; they've built a brand.

The word "brand" literally means to "burn," and in their own way, Friday's, Red Lobster and The Cheesecake Factory have each burned a positive experience into the mind of the consumer. These successful operations have made their customers a promise. And that promise is a combination of food, service and atmosphere expectations that can be summed up in one or two little words. These are words without a literal English translation, words that, over time, have taken on a meaning greater than the sum of their parts.

Historically many services and products had physical points of difference such as geography, local ingredients or family or individual proprietorship. But in today's transient world, especially when it comes to restaurants, menu differences can be slight at best. With the advent of high-speed communication and transportation systems, imitation and duplication of popular concepts have become routine marketing strategies.

That's why restaurant brands need to incorporate emotional benefits into the brand promise to differentiate the brand. These emotional benefits should be an integral part of the user experience.

The restaurant emotional brand experience starts creating a bond from the minute the patron sees an ad, a name or a logo and doesn't end until the music, lights and aroma are only a recent memory. Every touch point in between is an opportunity to differentiate and reinforce the brand promise.

The brand promise is nothing more than what you want the consumer to think about your business. For instance, when consumers think of Volvo, they think safety. When consumers think of Apple, they think simplicity.

In fact, in the most recent BusinessWeek Worldwide Brand Survey, Apple increased its brand value an astonishing 27% based on the strength of its iPod music player. The fourth-generation iPod, introduced in July, is the epitome of user simplicity-everything is controlled with one dial.

The Restaurant Brand Experience
The user experience is extremely relevant for restaurants. Yet the restaurant industry lags in evolving its brand promise to continue meeting changing consumer needs.

For example, many chains and independents alike have added curbside or convenient carryout programs to address their patrons' needs to purchase prepared food quickly and conveniently. However, many other loyal customers are unaware of these newly developed programs because very few of the takeout services are branded. And, for those few that are, the branding tends to be descriptive and generic. Notice how similar even the most pioneering programs are:
* Curbside Take-Away-Outback Steakhouse
* Curbside To Go-Ruby Tuesday
* Carside To Go-Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Less descriptive, and more closely aligning the brand promise with the customers' emotional needs, are:
ï Carry Home Kitchen-Bob Evans
ï Get it to go-Buffalo Wild Wings
ï Get in. Get out. Get on with your life.-Chili's Grill & Bar

Brands for All Ages

Restaurateurs have another opportunity to connect their brand emotionally with patrons by showing their creative positioning and branding of kids' menus. Those that promise a family experience but fail to differentiate-between kids and adults are missing a key touch point. Restaurants that do a good job of addressing children's needs while tying it back to their parent brand include:
ï Coco's Bakery and Restaurant-Kids Rule! Menu
ï Chin Chin Chinese Cafes-Chinny-Chin-Chin Kids Menu
ï Perkins-KidPerks menu
ï Bonanza Steakhouse-Adventure Kids menu
ï Outback Steakhouse-Joey Menu

Marketers should not overlook the plethora of emotional branding touch points right on their own menu. Foodservice giants such as Tyson, Hershey's and Tabasco have done an admirable job of elbowing their way onto the printed bill of fare. But these endorsing brands, while meaningful, have their own distinct agenda. Their mission is not to reinforce your brand promise, but, rather, their own.

ATTITUDE: Fun-loving Houlihan's uses humor to endear with its Nooner express lunch program.

Outback Steakhouse and Chili's Grill & Bar offer excellent examples of menu branding that reinforces their own brand promise. Each has done an admirable job of distinguishing mirror-image menu items; so much so, that even the same fried onion offering feels distinct to the Outback or Chili's experience. After all, what is the menu item difference between Chili's Awesome Blossom and Outback's Bloomin' Onion? The Chili's Wings Over Buffalo and Outback's Kookaburra Wings are not just appetizers, but comprehensive emotional brand experiences.

The emerging Chin Chin Cafe chain has innovatively trademarked dim sum as Dim Sum and Then Sum, showcasing both a sense of humor and a belief in variety. The Chicken Kitchen chain takes this branding tactic one step further. Its creative menu places intellectual property rights on ChopChop, an innovative chopping and mixing tableside preparation. And funloving Houlihan's recently instituted its signature, highly suggestive, Nooner, a 15-minute lunch.

BONDS: Menu subbrands like Red Lobster's Light House Selections create a subtle emotional bond to customers.

These successful operations share in the knowledge that brands are growing, living, evolving organisms that must be adaptable. For example, in stark contrast to yesterday, today's menus reflect an about-face from low-fat fare to low-carbohydrate cooking and sensible eating. Some distinctive ways that the new healthy eating trend has created an opportunity for a restaurant brand to bond with its customers using menu subbrands include:
ï Joe's Healthy Habits-Flanigan's Seafood Bar and Grill
ï Light House Selections-Red Lobster
ï Smart Eating-Ruby Tuesday
ï Carb Cutter Menu-Buca di Beppo
ï Guiltless Grill-Chili's Grill & Bar
ï Eatin' Right Never Tasted So Good-Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar

The Omnipresent Brand
Countless other ways of communicating with customers become part of the brand promise. Over the past few years, many establishments have launched continuity or loyalty programs on the Internet. The creative emotional branding component of these clubs provides the organization added leverage.

These are more than just VIP, gift card and coupon clubs. Benihana, for example, coined "The Emperors Club." And, for Tony Roma's, the customer becomes the emotionally rewarding "Roma Rib Expert." Some other good models include:
ï MVP Club-ESPN Zone
ï My Rock-Hard Rock CafÈ
ï The Overboard Club-Red Lobster
ï The French Club-Champagne French Bakery CafÈ
ï Amici (Italian for friend) Club--D'Amico and Sons Finally, while it is both important and profitable to brand the significant touch points within the organization, all is for naught if your employees do not live and deliver the brand promise.

Restaurant employees are the pivotal touch points of the restaurant brand. How they interact with customers is critical. For example, consumers don't plunk down their money for the privilege of wrapping their own chicken and lettuce cups at PF Chang's. Rather, they pay for the soothing experience of being transported to another place and time by a wait staff that enthusiastically presents the lettuce wrap appetizer as an excuse for playing with your food.

Employees should be motivated to "live the brand." However, many managers only communicate the brand promise to the restaurant patron and not to employees. Management often assumes that employees think like they do. They assume that employees have bought into all the emotional benefits laid out to the board of directors, franchisees and shareholders. They forget that employees deliver on the brand promise and emotionally connect with the customer.

While it is important to brand the significant touch points within the organization, all is for naught if your employees do not live and deliver the brand name.

Building Your Brand's Potential

Six key steps to developing a successful foodservice brand include:

1. Identify your brand promise. Ask yourself, is it believable? Is it sustainable? Does it differentiate? Is it consistent with your offering, your target and your capacity to deliver on the promise?

2. Ratify the promise. Aggressively solicit feedback from your organization's stakeholders. Find common ground on which you can live side by side.

3. Incorporate emotional benefits in the brand promise. Uncover the key emotional benefits that have relevance for your customers and employees— not just your investors and management team—and make them part of the promise.

4. Strengthen that promise throughout all organizational touch points. Consider subbranding for menus, dayparts and services. Use creative names and emotionally connecting slogans and logos to set your brand apart

5. Communicate the brand to employees. Daily. In everything you do.

6. Live the brand. Are you motivating your employees to "live the brand?" After all, each restaurant employee is a brand ambassador.

William Lozito is the founder and president of Strategic Name Development, a brand-name consultancy specializing in brand development and testing. He has food industry marketing experience with Pizza Hut, General Foods and Pillsbury. He may reached at [email protected] or 952-830-4100.

TAGS: Trends Archive