6 Steps To Mastering Your Restaurant's Brand

felicia stingoneThis is part one of our mini-series with branding guru Felicia Stingone, former chief marketing officer of Union Square Hospitality Group and currently a partner at The Velo Group. At Velo, Felicia works with companies to help realize their potential through brand-led growth. She believes that brand can align and strengthen a company’s daily operations, culture, and marketing initiatives by ensuring the delivery of a differentiated brand experience that benefits all stakeholders. Felicia explains that Velo’s mission is to “help good companies win” through the power of brand. 1. Know your audience

The first step is knowing the customer and becoming their advocate. In Setting the Table by Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny describes the need to put employees ahead of all other stakeholders including the guest, in the value-building cycle of his trademark Enlightened Hospitality. There is certainly no doubt that in the case of a restaurant, as in any service oriented business, staff is critical to delivering a superior customer experience. As a former CMO, I believe that all brands also need a strong customer advocate who keeps top-of-mind the needs, wants and behavior of current and potential guests. A brand humanizes a company beyond physical interactions with employees. Over time, the brand becomes an expression of a company’s relationship with customers. Knowing your customers allows you to focus on the guests that you already have –the loyal and occasional guests. Making them happy is much more cost effective from a marketing perspective than attracting new diners. Your loyal customers become your best marketers.

2. Involve the entire company

Brand should not begin and end with marketing. A brand should unite a company’s purpose with its promise to customers. It can be the rallying cry for the entire restaurant – front of the house, back of the house, and out of the house. Too often, companies lose sight of this. Utilizing a well-defined and articulated brand strategy will not only benefit patrons, but also help drive alignment and, as a result, faster decision making within an organization. By using the brand to inform all touch points (i.e. training, messaging, uniforms, website, interior design, training, promotions, menu, etc.), a restaurant can deliver a more consistent, intentional and distinctive guest experience – thus ensuring they are following through on the brand promise to their guest.

"The brand is much more than just a marketing tool. It is a business tool."

3. Hire, onboard and train with brand in mind

How you, onboard and train people is also an expression of your brand. Employees throughout your restaurant will interact everyday with your guests, investors, suppliers, etc. They are brand ambassadors and they shape the guest experience daily. For example, Union Square Hospitality Group trains people within the entire organization in the tenants of Enlightened Hospitality. In the world of openness and transparency, Danny Meyer and his company are living a core brand equity that define and distinguish the Union Square Hospitality Group brand experience consistently across a varied portfolio of different restaurants and businesses.

4. Extend brand beyond brick and mortar

A truly great restaurant brand needs to maintain a relationship with their customers inside as well as outside the walls of the restaurant. It’s important to remember every step of the customer journey. The journey does not generally begin with the initial greeting at the door – it may have begun with a thank you email after the last visit, a personalized promotional text, a quarterly newsletter, a recipe or video interview, a review or recommendation etc. These moments are key touch points in the guest’s experience with a restaurant brand. With the increasing innovation and integration of technology catering specifically to the restaurant industry, there are more opportunities and new ways to better interact with guests at every one of these touch points.

5. Get comfortable with data

Restaurants have been slow to adopt technology, in part because the industry is so high touch. What many restauranteurs are now discovering is that by unlocking valuable data with new technologies designed to assist the restaurant staff and also benefit the customer, they can create a more meaningful guest experience. There is powerful information that can be collected at point-of-sale that will help customize communications and personalize the relationship with guests. When used professionally and with respect, many customers appreciate when their beloved brands recognize and distinguish them by their tastes and preferences.

"It used to be that the general manager held the secret key to guest preferences, but as companies scale restaurants need to be high tech while remaining high touch."

6. Become a publisher

Today the lines are blurred between the media and the marketer. Brands are becoming publishers. Restaurants are posting and sending out content – well designed and conceived newsletters or blogs, that are essentially “mini digital magazines” with lifestyle features, recipes, interviews, and videos. This content positions them as experts and makes a stronger statement about the brand, enriching the conversation between restaurant visits. And this all ties back to knowing your audience. Knowing what they're interested in, where and how they prefer to consume content, and what else they like to read or watch can help shape a very impactful content strategy, deepening brand awareness and loyalty.

Stay tuned next week for part two: The Importance of the Chief Technology Marketer.