stronger brand

3 steps to building a stronger brand

By Sydney Ahmadian

A great brand is pivotal to marketing your business. It helps people identify people, companies, and products. Without it, customers won’t know what your restaurant is all about. COVID-19 sanitized many restaurants of their branding, making now the perfect time to build a stronger brand presence.

You don’t have to be a marketing guru to build a brand from scratch. All you need to start is a pad of paper and a pen.

To start, we’ll help you define the key ingredients that make up your new brand. Then, we will walk you through a gameplan for communicating that stronger brand through all your customer touchpoints, like your menus, decorations, and website.

RELATED: Why a restaurant’s brand is more important than ever

Before we kick things off, you need to know where your brand stands today. Spend a few minutes doing a brand evaluation to identify weaknesses and strengths in your current branding.

Brand evaluation

To evaluate your restaurant brand’s current status, ask yourself the following:

  • Is your restaurant frequently mistaken for another? If so, it’s likely because your restaurants share similar colours, products, “vibes”. Your business could be redirected toward a competitor if customers mistake the two restaurants. 
  • Are you struggling with business, despite selling a great product? Customers need to get inside before they can eat. Strengthening your brand could help you bring equilibrium to your income:quality ratio.
  • Does your current branding need an update? If your restaurant has been around for more than 10 years, chances are that it’s time to bring your brand up to speed.

Now that you’ve taken a closer look at your current branding, it’s time to dive into the key ingredients you’ll need to build on it: your brand story and brand identity.

The key ingredients: brand story and brand identity

Your brand story holds the DNA of your brand. It’s the intangible and emotional motivations behind your restaurant’s founding. A weak or poorly-conceived brand story makes an unsteady foundation for your brand.

Your brand identity contains the physical elements that represent the intangible parts of your brand story. These could be colours, sounds, and even smells.

Let’s take the Italian chain Buca di Beppo, for example.

BdB was founded by a non-Italian man from central Illinois named Phil Roberts. His aim was to build a grand monument for his love of Italian Red Sauce. This is Buca di Beppo’s brand story.

To help tell it, Roberts chose matching brand identity elements like bright red paint, Italian music, extravagant decor, and oversized Italian dishes. Buca di Beppo found great success in places where not many Italian restaurants existed; like the midwest and Hawaii.

When new owners decided to dilute BDB’s brand identity with muted decor and smaller portions, the restaurant nearly went bankrupt. That’s because when BDB’s brand identity changed, it lost the unique connection it made with customers.

By following our branding gameplan, you can avoid the same kind of branding inconsistency that almost sank BDB.

Branding gameplan

How do you build an enticing and stronger brand? You start by taking a deep dive into your brand story. Your brand story will then dictate the direction of your brand identity.

Step 1: Get reacquainted with your brand story

Every restaurant is unique. The characteristics that make your restaurant unique form the core of your brand story.

A great way to get a feel for your restaurant’s brand story is by gathering important documents like images, letters, certificates, or newspaper articles from your restaurant’s founding and history. These often get at the core of what you were trying to accomplish when you started your restaurant.

Finding your brand story requires you to dig deep into what makes your restaurant unique. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the three most important values to the founders of your restaurant?
  2. Why did you (or the founder) choose to open the restaurant?
  3. Who are some key players that helped to shape the culture within the restaurant? How would you describe them to a stranger?
  4. How do you want people to feel when they walk away from your restaurant?
  5. Why should someone pick your restaurant over a generic restaurant in your same niche? What do you offer that makes your restaurant special?

Whether your brand story consists of three words or 3,000, you’ll know that it’s ready when you feel excited to share it with the world. Now it’s time to finish building your new, stronger brand by updating your brand identity.

Step 2: Establish your brand identity

Your brand identity is made up of the tangible elements of your restaurant that tell your brand story. Decor, lighting, colours, menu fonts, music, and even smells help customers get a feel for your brand. The more consistently you stick to your chosen elements, the stronger your brand will come across.

Tip: look at your business with fresh eyes and forget your current branding.

An easy place to start creating a new and stronger brand identity is by picking five new colours that fit your rehashed brand story. Use colour psychology to match themes found in your brand story. Try to keep two colours neutral (black, white, brown, beige) to ground the palette. If you’re feeling stuck, pull colours from early imagery and play with changing the hues.

Creating a physical or digital board, like a Pinterest board, can help you visualize your brand identity. Add your five colours, fonts, and logo ideas. Don’t forget to include pictures of your restaurant history, food, and textures so you can see it all in one place.

Your brand identity should now feel three-dimensional and reflect your brand story. When complete, list key components of your brand identity in a “Brand Guide” document.

A note about consistency: Successful brands build trust through consistency. Take your time when considerinthe core elements of your brand story and identity because once you establish them, you’ll want to stick with them. 

Step 3: Create a customer journey map

Before making changes to your menus or signage, walk through your dining experience in a customer’s shoes to find branded touchpoints. A customer journey map can also identify motivations and areas of friction within their dining experience.

Here’s how to create a customer journey map for your restaurant.

  • Create a customer profile. Start by creating an imaginary customer, like a video game avatar. Give them a name, a backstory, a big appetite, and a short attention span. Do they have kids? Are they dining alone? What are their top three priorities for their dining experience?
  • Look for a place to eat. Pretend your customer is in the mood for the type of food you serve. Do a Google search for restaurants in your area. Narrow the search down to your type of food. Note what your competitors’ first impressions look like. Find your website and look at it with new eyes. How well does your online menu work? What is the story your customer avatar is getting from all the individual components? Are they consistent?
  • Dine in person. What is your customer’s first impression of your restaurant when they walk through the door? What does their experience tell you about the food they’re about to eat? What does the whole process of sitting down and choosing menu items look like? Do the menu options tell a story of the restaurant as a whole? Are your menu QR codes working and linked to the proper places? What compels your customer to come back with a friend for more?
  • Order your food on an app: Consider using major food ordering apps such as Doordash, SkipTheDishes, and UberEats. Have your food delivered to try the full experience. Do the menu options tell a story of the restaurant as a whole? Does your packaging match your brand identity? What compels your customer to order again?

Now that you’ve walked through your restaurant’s service experience, you should have a list of touchpoints that need updating. With your style guide and gameplan in hand, let’s put your new brand on the face of your restaurant.

Check out part one of this series on restaurant branding and stay tuned for part three.

Sydney Ahmadian is a self-described digital marketing nerd and writer on the MustHaveMenus editorial team. Before you ask, yes, writing for a restaurant tech company will make you incredibly hungry all day long. When she isn’t drooling over MHM’s 16,000+ restaurant-specific templates you can find her cooking in the kitchen of her Bay Area treehouse