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Is your restaurant brand evolving?

Is your restaurant brand evolving?

To stay relevant, restaurants must survey the market and reinvent themselves.

Does your brand stand for great food delivered fresh and hot, friendly and responsive service and clean facilities? Or does it stand for okay food, service you get everywhere and an environment best described as “unacceptable” to guests?

Very likely, your brand is somewhere in between. Also very likely, it is not as good as you view it to be.

One of the universal traits we observe when we take on a client is their absolute belief that they know their customers quite well already, and that the key to growth is to go find more people just like their current customers and entice these “newbies” to come to the restaurant. They base this conclusion on one or more of the following reasons:

• We’ve been in business several years.

• We’ve conducted volumes of surveys in our restaurants to understand our guests.

• This is the way we’ve done it before and we were successful.

Sometimes those statements are true, in which case we always tell the prospective client they don’t need us. But better than 90 percent of the time we find that not to be the case. Consider this:

• 10 years ago who had heard of social media beyond some tech-savvy folks in the technology corridors in California, Northern Virginia, New York and New England?

• What experience do you have replacing your baby-boomer customers with Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials?

• Do you know how to speak to those demographic groups effectively?

Yes, you survey your current guests. The trouble is, unless you already have taken the step to re-position your concept to replace your current guests (unless you are a new concept) you will not find the answer to growth in your current guests. The reason is that the future will develop focused on the new demographics mentioned above.

And those guests who tried you and rejected you in the past? Those are the ones you need to listen to and learn from. Talking to your current users will make you feel better about your brand because they will usually tell you what you want to hear: your brand is fine… that’s why they still use you. But if you want to grow, you need to hear from people who will tell you some things you may not want to hear… but need to.

Only then can you develop a winning brand, making it stand for something special. Ask Chipotle, Panera and other category killers what that feels like.

To get there will require some gathering of intelligence on your brand and your markets, and a plan that calibrates both marketing and operations so you can effectively communicate to the right audience. Just buying some research won’t be enough. You need to know how to interpret the data and make it actionable. If you do, then success is within reach. If you don’t, partner for that expertise to help you. Just don’t be afraid to admit you need help. Many of your peers do.

What else can you do to develop your brand?

1. Remember to act as well as plan. Planning is good, but you have to act at the same time to keep the brand moving forward operationally. Sometimes we see brands spend considerable time and resources putting their company through brand development exercises, trying to get the “voice” of the brand just right, and not allowing anything to happen until those sessions reach conclusion. We support doing those kinds of sessions for sure, but not at the expense of inaction. At the end of the day, if you aren’t talking with your guests and prospective guests on a regular basis, you will fail. Keep that in mind when you consider putting all marketing activity on hold to go through another 4-6 weeks of planning to “get it just right”.

2. Avoid “sexy” in favor of solid and consistent. Execution of the brand promise is what establishes the brand, not a lot of glitz. Good communication of a brand promise is not about high-level creative so much as it is about understanding your target audience, developing the right message to that audience and delivering it efficiently. No creative in the world will be effective if delivered in the wrong way to the wrong audience.

3. Don’t shortchange the need to communicate the brand promise. It is tempting to cut corners when food costs are hurting margins. Avoid the easy temptation to trim your marketing spend on outreach. And be sure to devote the marketing budget to outreach, not internal administrative costs. It will repay you in the end.

Chris Petersen is president and c.e.o. of Brandstand Group, a brand strategy, management and communications firm. He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected] or by calling 866-265-4779.

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