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Personal branding from BNBranding

4 Ingredients of small-business branding – Learning from breakfast cereal and a 4-buck burrito

small-business branding from branding experts at BNBrandingBranding is a popular topic in the business press and in business schools these days. Unfortunately, coverage of big brands like Tesla, Nike and Virgin make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires. As if small-business branding isn’t even a thing.

Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.

Small-business branding is very doable. In fact, many business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand emerges.

small business branding from bnbrandingIt does not happen the other way around.

You can’t just come up with a nice name and a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation and a realistic brand strategy, you’ll never have a great brand.

If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant.

Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that small-business branding shares four important things with fortune 500 branding:

Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood.

Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?

small-business branding - big fat burrito from the brand insight blog BNBrandingIn Bend, Oregon there used to be a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It wasn’t the best Mexican food in town, but for many years it was the most popular, despite an embarrassing location and many other shortcomings.

Taco Stand was in a tiny building in a hard-to-find spot next to a run-down laundry mat.

It was never open for dinner. They had no web presence, advertising budget or social media following. And yet, for 20 years it was a successful little business, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand had all four ingredients of an iconic brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.

The owners of Taco Stand consistently delivered on a very simple value proposition: Big flavor for a small price. All the locals knew you could get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.

They never wavered from that focus. Consistency led to a loyal following, which added to their credibility, which led to profitability. There’s good money in rice and beans.

Small-business branding and a big-business blunder.

Most people think differentiation and credibility is easy for big corporations. Companies like Kellogg’s can launch a new brand with a massive multi-media campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging.

But even the big boys make mistakes that leave a bad taste.

brand credibility in cereal branding Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…

The idea at Kellogg’s was to launch a cereal that could compete with all the rising stars of the natural foods industry. The consumer trend was overwhelming… people wanted healthier breakfast alternatives. They wanted whole grains, fiber and good taste without all the sugar.

So Smart Start was positioned as a “healthy” and “wholesome”adult cereal. The elegantly set promo copy described it as “Lightly sweetened, toasted multi-grain flakes and crunchy oat clusters.”

It was launched in 1998 with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and a Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of  full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.

Great name. Great-tasting product. The greatest package design in the history of breakfast cereal. And a premise that was complete BS.

When my kids were young they liked Smart Start. And for some reason I felt okay about serving it to them, despite the fact that I knew it was a big, fat lie.

One glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see that Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be.  It’s loaded with sugar… 18 grams of sugar plus high fructose corn syrup, honey,  molassass,  sugar, sugar and more sugar.  That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

So much for credibility. So much for authenticity.

From day one, Smart Start was built around a brand promise that the product could never deliver upon. It was doomed from the start because the actual product was not aligned with the brand promise.

Over the lifespan of that product Kellogg’s tried a number of things to stem the bleeding. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they tired the old line-extension trick… They did a “Strong Heart” variation that has 17 grams of sugar, a Strawberry Oat Bites variety and an antioxidant variety.)

Just keep launching new flavors and spin-offs of Smart Start , maybe they’ll forget about its UN-healthiness.

The packaging also devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design slowly become less and less unique with every variation.

So Smart Start’s credibility was sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to nutrition labels. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.

Even a big company like Kellogg’s, that has deep pockets and a 33% overall market share in the cereal isle, can’t get away with that.

In October 2019 Kellogg’s settled a $20 million class action suit for false claims of being “healthy” “nutritions” and “wholesome.” The suit involved five flavors of Raisin Bran, 16 types of Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smart Start cereals and 24 types of Nutri-Grain bars.

I bet they won’t be putting the American Heart Association logo on their packages from now on.

 

So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?

Smaller companies can’t afford to mess up like Kellogg’s. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances. If you launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind, you’re going to fail.

brand credibilityDon’t choose a name, like “Smart Start,” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.

Naming is hard, and when it’s not done right it’s a recipe for a small-business branding disaster. The name and the identity design and the packaging and the claims need to be aligned with the brand strategy and the product itself.

Make sure your product claims are not only truthful, but also relevant to the target audience. 

For instance, “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition. It would be a silly claim to make because people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. It’s not relevant.

Credibility would also suffer because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.

Be consistently authentic.

If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do fancy dinners. If you do sugary cereals, don’t try to compete in the health food world. The big food brands have learned that lesson… now they just buy-up successful natural food companies instead of trying to do their own brand.

For more on what all great brands have in common, try THIS post.

For help with your small-business branding and marketing management, schedule a test drive with BNBranding. We’ll run you through a simple brand assessment that can help jump-start your branding efforts. 541-815-0075.

2 Branding firm BNBranding

Restaurant Branding — Recipes for failure and success

BNBranding logoAt what point does a trendy new restaurant become an iconic brand? And when do all the branding efforts under the sun produce nothing but another shuttered dining establishment?

The restaurant business is littered with cases of meteoric success and dramatic failure. It’s an inherently volatile business. This is the story of several competing restaurants in a small but rapidly-growing market. It’s a story of restaurant branding success — and failure  — that any business owner can learn from.

Prior to 2000, the culinary scene in Bend wasn’t much to write home about. Some would say, non existent. So when Merenda opened in 2002 it generated tons of buzz.

Restaurant Branding BNBrandingAs the Bend Bulletin reported, “Chef Jody Denton pioneered a renaissance in fine dining in Central Oregon.”

But the Merenda brand wasn’t about fine dining. It was about partying. It was a loud place in downtown Bend where large groups would gather and drink generously from an outstanding wine list and a good assortment of adult beverages. Not great for a quiet dinner date.

The vibe was more urban — the energy level more electric — than anything previously found in Bend. Many nights you couldn’t hear yourself think, and the bar scene at Merenda became a notorious pick-up joint for older divorcees.

Meanwhile, across town in a nondescript location next to a car dealership, a restaurant called Zydeco quietly began to build a loyal following. The contrast was dramatic.

The first, most fundamental element of any restaurant braning effort is the name.

So let’s compare… What a great name:”Zydeco.”

It’s fantastically memorable with positive associations of fun in New Orleans. It’s authentic. Zydeco served delicious cajun cuisine, which was certainly unique for this town. It’s also an aspirational name that the restaurant has grown into over the last 15 years.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOn the other hand, “Merenda” just didn’t work as well. It sounds nice and has an elegant, upscale ring to it, but it’s so much softer than the product and the experience. The name didn’t fit the vibe and the location. Plus, if you want to get nit-picky, “Merenda” translates to “snack” in Italian. But it was not an Italian restaurant.

Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  

Many of Merenda’s customers were only there because it was THE place to see and be seen. It was a superficial relationship, not a genuine bond. Success by association. When new restaurants like Zydeco opened, the crowds thinned out at Merenda.

At Zydeco, it was more than that… It was the service, the friendly, family-owned vibe, and the overall, everyday quality that set it apart. It was upscale, but accessible. Popular but not trendy. It wasn’t trying to be cool, but it was. And still is.

Trendiness is a common problem in restaurant branding, fashion and high tech. The next big thing or hot spot is always right around the corner. So successful brand managers have to find ways to stay relevant with their past customers, or become relevant to a whole new group.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticRelevance, differentiation and credibility. Those are the three ingredients of restaurant branding success.

After five years Chef Denton got distracted. Just when Merenda neeed a little extra attention he opened another restaurant less than a block away. And his place called Deep never got above water.

Brands need constant attention.

This seems like a no-brainer, but many people dream of having a business that runs on autopilot and generates an endless flow of effortless revenue. That doesn’t work in any industry, much less the restaurant business.

You have to mind the store.

In 2005 Cornell University published a seminal study on why restaurants fail. One of the surprising contributors was simply a lack of attention, time and effort by the owners.

“Failure seemed to stem from an inability or unwillingness to give the business sufficient attention… The immense time commitment was mentioned by all of the survey respondents who had failed.”

restaurant brandingAt Deep, Denton was determined to create something completely different. As he told The Bulletin: “That’s been kind of my business model: finding what Bend doesn’t have and filling that void. I’ve always enjoyed the environment of a sushi bar. It’s always been something appealing, both from the restaurant’s and the chef’s standpoint.”

What he failed to consider was how much attention his other brand required. He was spread too thin and his upscale sushi place was ahead of its time.

Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success in restaurant branding.

Being different from the competition is certainly important, but it’s not everything. Tiny morsels of Kobe beef served on a hot rock for eight dollars a bite… That’s different! “Angry Lobster,” Monkfish paté, grilled yuzu and marinated, chopped maguro tataki were all impressively different, but not appealing enough to inspire repeat business by a large group of people in a relatively small market.

Bottom line: Deep was a high-end sushi place in a meat and potato town.

All successful brands have a clear, well-defined concept that goes beyond the product.

As I have said in previous posts, if you want to build an iconic brand, first own an idea. The Cornell study proved that clarity of concept is essential to restaurant success.

“Perhaps the key finding was the focus on a clear concept that drives all activities… Successful restaurant owners all had a well-defined concept which encompassed an operating philosophy and business operation issues. Failed owners, when asked about their concept, discussed only their food product.”

In other words, successful restaurants have core brand concepts that go beyond just the food.

Denton certainly had vision beyond food for both his restaurants. But the concepts behind Merenda and Deep were based more on Denton’s past experience and personal preference than on the realities of the local market.

There’s an old saying… “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

In Denton’s case, his restaurants served the classes. His high-end brands only resonated with a small segment of the population, and he didn’t reinvent Merenda when he needed to.

In the end, Denton’s concept for Merenda was not clear enough to sustain the business over the long haul. (Being first in the market isn’t a sustainable brand strategy for a single restaurant.) And the concept for Deep never had a chance. So both restaurants were shuttered and his investors came away empty handed.

Eventually, Merenda reopened under a new name with a new owner. “800 Wall” never created the buzz of the original, and it’s now cruising along, probably doing fine in the summer, but not exactly inspiring loyalty or write-ups in Gourmet Magazine.

Zydeco, on the other hand, has grown and evolved. When they moved into a larger, fancier location downtown they bought a loyal following with them. It’s now more popular than ever, despite the fact that new restaurants keep popping up around town.

For more on brand strategy, try this post.

If you want help with your restaurant branding, call me.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

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