brand

Why a restaurant’s brand is more important than ever

By Sydney Ahmadian

Long before multi-coloured window panes symbolized Microsoft, ranchers used brands to distinguish their cattle from other herds. A brand was a symbolic representation of the rancher’s business, manifested in real life on the haunches of their cows.

A great brand acts as a physical or symbolic representation of your business to help you stick in the minds of customers. The biggest companies in the world like Apple, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft pour billions of dollars into their branding efforts. That’s because customers connect and gravitate towards strong brands. According to Inc., companies with consistent branding campaigns even earn 23 per cent more income

Restaurant brands are built through customer touchpoints. Your brand lives in your menus, signage, and in how your staff interacts with customers. In a competitive and unforgiving industry like restaurants, consistent branding often means the difference between standing out and shutting down. 

COVID-19 forced restaurants to reevaluate their entire operations. As restaurants continue to welcome customers back and adapt to the “new normal”, it also has provided them with a unique opportunity to build a stronger brand from the ground up. 

This three-part series will cover all you need to know about why you need a brand evaluation, and where to start laying down the foundation for your updated brand. 

Why now: COVID-19 and brand sanitization

The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight, restaurants had to pivot their businesses from dine-in to takeout. Traditional branding elements like menus and flyers were replaced by safety signage and QR codes. As a result, many restaurants wound up sanitizing their brand along with their operations. 

Brands are built through customer touchpoints, and the pandemic forever changed how customers engage with their favourite eateries, thus changing the way restaurants need to approach their brand building. With the widespread adoption of new technology like QR codes, online menus, and cashless payment, restaurants now have several new customer touchpoints. And every touchpoint is an opportunity to build or diminish your brand. 

While this sudden shift in the industry presents a unique chance for restaurants to double down on branding, it also poses several challenges that could make your old brand obsolete. As we enter the “new normal” post-COVID-19, strong branding will be a necessary step for many restaurants to better position themselves for an uncertain future.

RELATED: Restaurant Branding During COVID-19: Being memorable

More competition in the the “new normal

After March 2020, competition across the dining services industry evolved rapidly to adjust for changing consumer habits. Home cooking had a comeback, meal kit services skyrocketed in popularity, and new restaurants emerged, creating more competition than ever. A strong brand can help you secure a spot for your restaurant in this ever-changing new landscape. 

New restaurants

According to the U.S. National Restaurant Association, 90,000 restaurants closed during the pandemic. A year-end report by Yelp states that these closures have led to a boom of new businesses looking to take their place. More new restaurants means more competition for customers’ attention. With the rise of delivery apps and ghost kitchens, the barriers to opening a new restaurant are lower than before the pandemic. Redefining and refining your brand can help you stand out in an industry that’s becoming increasingly crowded with new faces.

The convenience of home cooking and meal kits 

The convenience of meal kits makes it easier for foodies to create restaurant-quality meals at home. Truly Experiences estimates that the total meal kit service industry could be worth US$11.6 billion by 2022. Home cooking also soared in popularity during the pandemic and siphoned $50 billion dollars from the restaurant industry. When advertising with your new brand, remind customers about all the atmospheric elements of your dining experience that can’t fit in a box or be bought in a store. 

Limited customer attention 

The average customer’s attention span shortens year after year. According to Statistic Brain, the average person’s attention span when looking at a website is just eight seconds with a tiny, 28 per cent word-absorption rate. COVID-19 accelerated the competition for those eight seconds by spurring on the trend towards digital and in-home experiences. An impactful brand can give your restaurant a necessary edge within the online marketplace. 

Brand promotion

With more customer touchpoints moving from in-store to online, it’s important to focus a large part of your branding efforts on your online marketing. Branding your online presence will create organic interest in your brand which in turn, will translate into profit gain for your restaurant. 

Website

A great place to start your online branding campaign is your website. 77 per cent of customers check a restaurant’s website before making the decision to dine there, according to MGH. For a majority of your customers, your website will serve as a major touchpoint and provide your restaurant’s first impression. You want it to be a seamless, branded experience that endears your restaurant to prospective customers.

Delivery app profiles

As business continues to shift away from dine-in to takeout, restaurants have increasingly had to reckon with third-party delivery apps. Since so many customers use them, restaurants often can’t afford to not have a presence.

These apps pose serious branding challenges, however. Restaurants are not given many opportunities to insert individual and unique elements into their profile that would help their business stick in the mind of browsing customers. Tactfully inserting elements of your brand in everything you can control like logos, menu items, colours, and brand voice can help you get more online orders than your competitors. 

Social media

Social media gives you a touchpoint right into your customer’s phone. It allows you to put your marketing and promotions right into the palm of their hand. You can update them instantly on new policies or specials. As important, it also gives them a way to communicate and engage directly with you. Poor or inconsistent branding on your social media can undercut the rest of your efforts.

Tip: Use a professional template tool to create social media posts in minutes. 

RELATED: Instagram in foodservice: A cross-Canada case study

What a stronger brand could mean for your business

Your restaurant brand is how you communicate the tangible and intangible qualities of your business. It’s how you set yourself apart from your competition, and how you connect with customers on a deeper level.

COVID-19 sanitized many restaurants of their branding, which means that now is a prime moment to make a splash with a new brand. More competition from new restaurants and the convenience of home-cooking have turned up the pressure on restaurants to offer new experiences. An online branding campaign can help highlight what makes your restaurant unique and why customers should participate in the in-person experience you’re offering. 

A return to in-person dining means now is the time to show consumers the new brand behind the mask. That’s why taking a long hard look at your restaurant brand is more important now than ever before. Explore your reviews, both negative and positive, to find patterns you can correct now. Absorb higher standards of quality and service with your new brand. You can even go as far as to host a grand reopening of your restaurant to set your new brand in motion. 

A successful brand means more customers in the door, more brand trust, and more sales for your restaurant.

But where should you start? Stay tuned for part two of this series.

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