Kevin J. Walker - September 2018

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September 2018

Building a Brand Platform for Your Restaurant 

by Kevin J. Walker, Co-Founder of Boardwalk Graphic Design Firm

Kevin co-founded the firm he now leads, Boardwalk, in 1990. At its inception, Boardwalk was a graphic design firm with more talent than experience. It’s first project was the successful rebrand of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. In addition to its work in corporate identity, Boardwalk quickly became a preferred vendor to the consumer products divisions of many of the major entertainment giants in the Los Angeles area. It has since grown into a full-service branding consultancy, adding outsourced innovation, strategic planning, brand positioning, naming, copywriting and marketing services to its original portfolio of design and marketing communications.

Kevin is the author of the ebook, “A Brand is a Promise Kept – Branding Essentials for the Busy CEO”, along with several white papers on branding. All are available, for free, on the Boardwalk website. Kevin also publishes a weekly blog, “Brandtalk", which covers useful insights, global news, humble opinions and everything else concerning branding. “Brandtalk" was recently added to Alltop and will soon be available on other news aggregation sites. Free subscriptions to “Brandtalk” are also available on the Boardwalk website.

September 2018

I was in Paris once and ran into a family of American tourists. They asked me if I knew anywhere good to eat. “Yes!” I said, “There’s a fantastic bistro right around the corner.” But they stopped me, explaining they were hoping for a restaurant from home – like McDonalds. Such is the power of branding that Micky-D’s was their top choice in a city world-famous for its spectacular gastronomy.

Every restaurant owner understands branding to some degree. You were making branding decisions when you decided what type of cuisine to feature, what kind of service to provide, and what kind of ambience to offer. It’s all about customer experience and, since you knew what kind of experience you wanted to deliver, you knew what kind of brand you wanted to have. That’s what we call the art of branding – branding by instinct or gut feel. But to build a brand of lasting significance, you have to get your customers to buy into your vision. You have to engage them to learn why they patronize you. Then you have to invite them into a long-lasting relationship that grows in value over the years. To do this well, you have to enter into the science of branding. You have to build a brand platform.

Not only does the brand platform define your restaurant, it defines you, the driving force behind the restaurant. It lets your patrons know who you are and what you stand for. When a brand platform is properly constructed, every piece of marketing communications the restaurant sends out will allow the market to recognize, appreciate and trust the sender. That’s gold.

Any marketing effort that hopes to land on target must be launched from a solid brand platform. When you devise your brand strategy, you’re actually making a business case for why your restaurant should be positioned in a particular way. You’re sleuthing out your true competitive advantage, the reason your market will want to march right past your competitors and walk in your door. And, just like a political party runs on a platform made up of declared policies called planks, so is the brand strategy defined by a set of declarations – also called planks. But just what are these planks in the brand platform?


Plank #1 – Market Definition

Your market is more than just your customers. Your market is composed of every group whose perceptions of your restaurant are important to its future success. So yes, that means customers, employees, and vendors, etc. But it also means financiers, competitors, regulatory agencies, the press and more. It’s important to list all these groups, being careful not to omit anybody. When completed, you can look at that list and know … that’s your market. These are the people you have to reach with your messaging. You can’t afford to run multiple marketing campaigns to all these different groups. Nobody can. You’re going to need proper positioning to ensure that any marketing messages you run will authentically resonate with all of them – equally well.


Plank #2 – Purpose statement

Now that you can “see” your market all on one piece of paper, you have to look at your restaurant through their collective eyes. Ask yourself: What purpose do you serve in the life of that market? Think of your restaurant as a “tool” that your customers use for the purpose of achieving some sort of result. What is that purpose? Do people patronize your establishment because they want a taste of Italy? Do they come to relax in a casual, homey environment? Do they lunch there because it’s guaranteed they can get in and out super fast?

If you try to guess at the answers, you’ll only get obvious, superficial results. To get to your deeper, true purpose, conduct some one-on-one interviews with sample members of each group that forms your market. They’ll give you the insights you need. For instance, while doing their own research, McDonalds learned their purpose, to a large extent, was to deliver uniformity from one location to another; to provide familiarity and comfort in a complex, bewildering world. Now they spare no effort to deliver exactly that, much to the satisfaction of many American travelers. That’s the level of understanding you want to get to. When you have the real picture of why people eat at your place, write a formal purpose statement from your market’s point of view, and in your customer’s voice.


Plank #3 – Brand Promise

What differentiates you from your competitors? There’s a wonderful film called Big Night. It’s the story of two competing Italian restaurants, just a block from one another. One is a struggling, fine-dining establishment. The other is a popular eatery, happy to trade on ethnic clichés and good cheer, but not too fussy about the food they serve. Both restaurants were playing to their strengths. What’s your strength? What’s the one thing you offer that nobody else can? Another way of looking at it: What customer can you serve better than anyone else? Again, you can uncover this when you do your one-on-one interviews.


Plank #4 – Mission Statement

It should be stressed that the mission statement is an important plank in your brand platform and a great deal of care should go into drafting it. That said, it’s one plank that’s relatively easy to define. Simply put, your mission statement declares how you intend to fulfill your purpose, as defined in your purpose statement. Don’t worry about the tactics you’ll use to fulfill your purpose. They are likely to change over time. Keep your mission statement all about the long-term strategy or strategies you intend to pursue. The mission statement should put a lot of emphasis on how you intend to leverage your brand promise, or competitive advantage.


Plank #5 – Positioning Statement

Make sure you finalize the first four planks before tackling this one. The positioning statement defines how you want your brand to be perceived by the market. More to the point, the positioning statement defines how you want your market to experience your restaurant – and how you want them to feel about it. When people are asked to describe what they like or dislike about a brand, they often begin their sentences with, “I feel …”. Think about how you feel about the brands that matter to you. McDonalds? IHOP? That fantastic bistro around the corner? You get the idea. Base your positioning statement on your first four planks and on the insights you gleaned from your one-on-one interviews.


Plank #6 – Brand Strategy

In essence, the brand strategy is an outline that puts the first five planks into a cohesive, actionable plan. It takes your internal values, commercial offerings, and optimum customer experiences and puts them into the context of your competitive environment. It explains your unique position within the market and describes why that positioning is likely to drive business. A well-crafted brand strategy should be able to guide your restaurant for 15-20 years of success.

Marketing fails when it makes an offer to the market but forgets to communicate exactly who is making the offer and why. In today’s world, transparency matters more than ever. Diners want to know who they’re patronizing. They want to know who you are, why you’re in the restaurant business, and why they should care about your restaurant. The brand platform provides all that in a snapshot. It will be reflected in your decor, in your advertising, and in every touchpoint you have with your patrons. It will drive awareness, demand and revenue. And you’ll be rewarded with every marketer’s ultimate prize: Brand loyalty.


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