On February 6th, 2020, Buzztime launched the inaugural episode of its new podcast, The Industry Buzz. The following is a transcript of the podcast.
Buzztime Host Michael Wagner, Community and Content Specialist (MW): Welcome to our very first Industry Buzz podcast. Our goal is to interview foodservice industry thought leaders and connect you with resources and insights to build your knowledge base. The first Industry Buzz topic is bar and restaurant branding, so we’re featuring Jeremy Wells of Longitude Branding. Welcome Jeremy, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Guest Jeremy Wells, CMO and Partner at Longitude Branding (JW): Thanks for having me, I’m honored. I’m Jeremy Wells with Longitude Branding. We are a hospitality, bar and restaurant branding agency founded in 2010. We help businesses outline their brand, identity, purpose, and goals. A big part of what we do is educate people, even if they’re not a client of ours. So at the Longitude Branding website, you’ll find plenty of complimentary resources on bar and restaurant branding: from ebooks to articles. Soon we’ll be publishing a book in spring 2020 called “Future Hospitality.” You can follow the book’s progress – and Longitude’s bar and restaurant branding projects – on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
I’m relatively new to this industry, most of my career has been in online design and marketing, with a focus on user experience. As I transitioned to hospitality and bar and restaurant branding, my background has proved helpful. After all, as I now develop and define what a physical experience is like in a restaurant or bar, I’ve found there is a lot of overlap. Online or in the real world, it’s all about a user-friendly experience.
MW) So let’s start with the basics. What is bar and restaurant branding, Jeremy?
JW) If you were to ask 5-10 people what branding is, you’d get 5-10 different answers. Here at Longitude, we define bar and restaurant branding as synonymous with reputation.
Think of it like this: We have a personal reputation with friends, family, and coworkers. The building blocks are: how we look, the words we say, how we say them, and what we do…our actions. It’s the same with bar and restaurant brands.
In bar and restaurant branding, you want to look the right way and create the right perceptions. You want to say the right things and then deliver on those words by taking action. If any of those bar and restaurant branding elements are out of line? It can really harm your reputation.
The purpose of what we do at Longitude is to help you align how you look, what you, and what you do. When those 3 elements are aligned, that develops your reputation and builds your bar and restaurant brand.
MW) Many people think branding is just a logo – and a small element of their business. But you’re saying it’s more than that. It’s your reputation. Can you explain further?
JW) Yes, a logo is important in brand identity. That’s one of the primary things we do at Longitude is help create a visual identity that aligns with a business’s goals, vision, mission, and culture. But yes, bar and restaurant branding is so much more.
It goes back to ensuring you’re aligned in everything you’re doing with bar and restaurant branding. You can check all the boxes and look the part. You can hire an awesome designer to make a great logo or an interior designer for your restaurant. But if you can’t communicate your concept or your unique selling proposition, it will cause issues. If you say all the right things and look the part, but when people come to your bar, you’re not delivering on those promises – you’ll confuse people.
For example, if your visual bar and restaurant branding sets you up to appear as a high class, fine dining spot, but when people arrive they discover you’re a dive bar – or have bad service – it’s confusing and disappointing.
Instead, you want everything to be aligned. That’s how you build a bar and restaurant brand. Design – logos, websites, and the like – are important, but just as important is what you’re doing and how you’re delivering on quality.
MW) I like this quote from Howard Shultz, the former Starbucks CEO. “Authenticity is what makes (brands) last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will still loyal to the brand.”
JW) Authenticity is extremely important in bar and restaurant branding. People want to do business with authentic brands. Think about authenticity on a personal level. If you’re not authentic to yourself, and try to be something you are not, people see right through that. The same is true with inauthentic bar and restaurant branding. That’s when you start getting bad reviews – and culture with staff disintegrates. You’re out of alignment.
Many of our clients come to us with a “vision” of who they want to be and what type of business they want to have. But it’s all in their mind, not on paper – and it doesn’t match up with the reality of their business today. That’s where you can create confusion. Customers may think you’re one thing, and you’re not. Employees may get confused if you aren’t translating that vision to your team.
Authenticity must be put into practice through a strategy.
MW) Can you be a great restaurant without a strong brand?
JW) If you define bar and restaurant branding as your reputation, it’s extremely hard to be successful without a good reputation. Think of a business with a bad reputation, it’s unlikely they get referrals or good reviews. People hear horror stories from past employees. There’s a lot going against you with a bad reputation. Just like an individual with a bad reputation, it’s going to be a stumbling block. Our goal is to remove those hurdles so that you’re running full steam ahead.
MW) What can you do if your bar and restaurant branding – or your reputation as you say – is in bad shape? Can you recover? How?
JW) A lot of our bar and restaurant clients have faced that challenge. Maybe they’ve bought a bar and the reputation is coming with that purchase. Or, they’ve been in business a while and their past isn’t going to carry them into the future. I think there are a few ways to think about repairing a bad reputation or brand:
- Go back to the basics. Take a look at your menu, operations manual, assess your culture and the technology you’re using.
- Shift your bar and restaurant brand identity. How are you communicating your brand to the public? Is it in alignment?
- Focus on creating a game plan. Most of the businesses we work with who are struggling to repair a reputation have never had a solid strategy. They’re just running around, chasing shiny objects. Instead, we help them define where they are, and where they want to go.
- Survey your customers. That’s a simple thing you can do. We do that for our clients. Ask customers in person after a meal, or send a survey out to your email list, or even use Facebook polls. Ask them to be brutally honest. Solicit feedback and look for trends as to what customers are seeking.
Sometimes you can do all of the above bar and restaurant branding on your own. Sometimes you need help, which is why companies like Longitude exist. It takes hard work no matter what. Some may start from scratch: new name, new menu, new everything. Others will take a “refresh” approach by implementing feedback from surveys, doing a few visual updates. It depends on how bad your reputation is.
MW) What are the hallmarks of a good bar and restaurant brand? And also, what company is really doing a great job with branding right now?
JW) I’ll give you 4 hallmarks of a solid bar and restaurant brand…
- First and foremost, your team loves working there. They’re excited to come in. There’s a healthy internal culture.
- Take a look at your reviews. If there are more bad reviews than good ones, there’s probably a bar and restaurant branding issue. A healthy brand will have more positive reviews.
- Customer loyalty is a good indicator of a great brand. That means referrals, and people who come back frequently. You can track this in your POS.
- This last one is hard to track because it’s about emotion: How do people feel about your brand?
A great example of a strong bar and restaurant brand would be Chick-fil-a. They do not try to be everything to everybody. They’ve had some issues in the past for sure. But the people that do give Chick-fil-a their business are real brand advocates. They’ll recommend it to their friends and family. In turn, Chick-fil-a delivers on the promises they make. You can see that shining through in their culture, the environment they’ve created, and the food quality.
It’s all about knowing who you are as a company – and being authentic. Another bar and restaurant branding example on the opposite spectrum of Chick-fil-a is Egg Slut in California. They have a completely different market than Chick-fil-a, and again, that’s a GOOD thing. They’re true to themselves. Egg Slut has developed a great reputation in their market.
You don’t have to fit a specific mold to be successful when it comes to bar and restaurant branding. Be comfortable enough as a company to say “we’re committed to this and this is our brand promise. And whether you’re a customer or employee, we’re going to try getting you on board with that.”
MW) So, where does bar and restaurant branding go wrong?
JW) It goes back to the idea of reputation. Branding can go wrong on small scales, or larger scales like big PR nightmares. It’s small things over time that can do the greatest harm. Without a strategy or game plan in place, those little things can damage your brand and business.
For example, many new restaurants start out strong with great food and service. Then over time, the quality starts going down. We all see reviews that say “I used to love this place, but now the drinks are watered down.”
To have a great bar and restaurant brand you must always be improving. You need to be self-aware and keep your core strategy in mind. In times when you’re confused or unsure of what decision to make, if you have a strategy to fall back on, it’s going to be valuable for you.
MW) Can you talk about how customers experience bar and restaurant branding? Is it just when they’re with you?
JW) Not at all. There’s a lot that goes on branding-wise before and after that on-premises experience.
It’s similar to a blind date. If your friend sets you up with someone, they’ll give you a description of your date: what they like to do, their interests. You might go online and look them up on Facebook and Instagram. That same thing happens with bar and restaurant branding. Someone recommends a bar or restaurant, and we all head online, right?
All these different touchpoints are creating perceptions. But what we’ve found is that most restaurants and bars are actually not doing justice to their business online.
This is where my background in user experience and online design comes in. So many restaurants may have not made a Facebook or Instagram post for months. Or their website doesn’t have a menu right upfront. Maybe you can’t book a reservation online. These are all bar and restaurant branding deal busters for guests.
Essentially, you are creating a brand perception before someone even sets foot in your business! That is, IF they set foot in your restaurant. Because if we go back to that analogy of the blind date, if I’m snooping around on my blind date online, I might see something I don’t like and cancel the date.
However, I think that the bar and restaurant brand experience is most neglected after the guest visit. This is a missed opportunity. If a guest has a great experience, how can you cultivate that relationship? Using the blind date analogy, how can you woo them back for a second date?
You want to ensure you stay in contact with the customer. Think about loyalty programs. Do you have their contact information so you can send emails, texts, or Facebook messages? You want to keep in touch, and build a connection with each customer so they come in again – and there’s always that “next date” in mind.
MW) If there was one key piece of wisdom you want to share about bar and restaurant branding, what would it be?
JW) Have a game plan on paper.
Get a second opinion. Get your team on board with it. For example, at Longitude, we do pretty intense workshops with our clients and their entire team. If you don’t do all of that, that’s ok. You just need to define – on paper – your bar and restaurant brand. Outline this is who we are, this is what we value, and this is how we’ll live out those values. Then, communicate those things to your team and customers. That’s a good place to start. How you look, what you say, and what you do. Then, you want to do your best to deliver on the promises you make.
It reminds me of the saying “if you fail to plan, then plan to fail.” For the most part, you can’t go into business – or build a strong brand – without a plan.
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