You vs. Them – A branding lesson in understanding your audience
23/07/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

You vs. Them – A branding lesson in understanding your audience

You’re reaching the launching point of a new brand and you’re anxiously waiting to unfurl the new look and brand to the world. You’re certain it will be received with positive feedback, or, at least, it won’t be hated. You know this because you’ve guided the process from beginning to end based on what you know and like mixed with some gut intuition. The brand launches and something isn’t right. People don’t dislike the brand, nor are they drawn to it quite the way you thought. The audience doesn’t react or attract the way you planned and you’re left wondering what went wrong.

This scenario plays out quite frequently. The storied brand was supposed to draw in the millennial audience, but decision makers used their own ideas, perceptions, and, often times, misconceptions, to guide the brand’s look and feel. The results isn’t necessarily an outright failure, but the glaring miss will get bigger and bigger as time goes on if not rectified.

Unfortunately, branding can be quite subjective and very personal to the people involved. No matter how objective we seek to make the process of designing a brand, there is always a bit of subjectivity that seeps in. More often than not, during the evaluation of design is where subjectivity comes into play. Over the years we’ve discussed how we can go about reducing the amount of subjectivity in branding, but we haven’t found the answer as of yet.

The problem arises because crafting a brand is inherently a very personal task. Usually brands are forged in the hearts and minds of a person despite some stating that it’s purely a business transaction. In short, they’re building it to make money. Despite the financial goals, we inevitably end up in back and forth over look and feel that’s fueled by that person’s feelings, rather than the audience of focus.

So how do you start thinking like your audience? Here are a few ways to begin:

Find peace with the fact that you may not like the look. If you’re not a member of the audience you’re trying to attract, then you SHOULDN’T “like” the look very much. It’s not for you. It’s for them. In order to move forward you’re going to have to swallow your pride of authorship and make peace with not liking the look. Unless you and people like you are going to be patronizing the brand, your opinions and personal tastes have to be put aside.

If you don’t get it, it’s probably a good thing. A lot of times we catch clients saying, “I don’t get it.” It usually happens when the age, sex, or cultural divide is significant between the client and their intended audience. Our response is always, “you’re not supposed to, they are.” This is when focus groups can be a good tool. Getting a small group of people that represent your core audience will help assess the strength of visual elements in a brand.

Don’t look to family/friends for feedback. Feedback is crucial in helping form ideas and designs that hit the mark for your audience. However, random, knee-jerk feedback is rarely valuable or accurate. Asking your spouse if they like something isn’t viable feedback upon which you should build a brand. People’s perceptions are formed based on a culmination of what they know and what they have experienced. Their reactions to certain questions will inevitably be skewed by preconceived notions and ideas. Therefore, if you want innovative thinking, asking friends and family is an exercise in futility. You’ll definitely get an answer, and it will certainly be bad advice.

Force yourself to see the world through their eyes. It comes down to forcing yourself to see through the eyes of your audience rather than your own. This is the toughest thing to do, but one of the most important skills you can foster. When you start to trust what your eyes are seeing, despite what your gut says, then you can start to pull together brand identities that work and succeed. It’s about them, not you, so always try to reset into their thinking before evaluating visuals. What would they like? What would speak to their personalities and world?

Seeing the world through another’s eyes is difficult, but something that must be done if you’re to create a brand for an audience other than yourself. It takes purposeful controlling of pride and gut reactions to objectively evaluate design through the lens of others. However, when done correctly, it can be the difference between a disconnected concept that you like, and a holistically connected concept that’s isn’t your favorite. One of those scenarios succeeds, the other plateaus.

Here is more on building consumer connections for restaurant brands

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Key components of successful branding: Be brave. Hold steady.
12/07/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , , , , , ,

Key components of successful branding: Be brave. Hold steady.

One of the biggest causes of brands missing the mark on innovation is loss of bravery from one or all parties involved. What usually starts as bold conviction early in a project wanes to a point of “different enough” by the time implementation rolls around. The fear of creating something that’s not going to work with a market. But where do these emotions derive?

There is an underlying need for certainty when crafting a new brand – be it a startup branding initiative or a rebranding effort. People want assurances that the new positioning, identity, and other elements will resonate, take hold, and grow successfully. Having this desire for a benchmark for what’s “right” results in emulating existing brands. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s working for Craft Brewery X, so we should do the same.”

Unfortunately this thinking is exemplary of fearful thinking and it results in “me too” brands, their products, identities, and all other facets. The world doesn’t need another Stone Brewing, and you’re not going to outdo a brand at its own game. No one can be a better Stone, than Stone themselves. It’s okay to respect and even admire the leaders in an industry, but finding your own stride and your own unique brand takes courage and bravery.

When you’re truly innovative, you won’t have the assurances of previous case studies or examples. The forest is dark, and scary. The only tools you have are sound strategies based on trend analysis, market insights, and foresight. You have to have a mix of gut and trust of knowledge. You have to build the case, believe in it, then eventually take a leap in the abyss knowing that you may be wrong. But if you’ve done the legwork, crafted the strategy, and built the brand’s components to bolster and build around that strategy, the leap shouldn’t be that scary.

Be brave, hold steady. That’s how brands like Stone Brewing, Chipotle, and other innovators rose about the crowd. They trusted their instincts and knowledge, while crowd was following the leader.

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Rise of the apptroverts
02/12/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , , ,

Rise of the apptroverts

Originally posted on Medium

You’ve seen them. You may even be one. They’re the people at the table whose faces are glowing from their smartphones almost completely disconnected from the world around them. While they may be disconnected from their physical space, they are simultaneously uber-connected to the entire world. These are the Apptroverted masses, and they’re more powerful than you may know.

The Apptrovert is a sect of the Millennial consumer group. If you’ve happened upon any conversation pertaining to marketing in the last few years the word “Millennial” was probably dropped more than bass hits in a techno song. Millennials have the buying power right now and brands want their money. The problem is that Millennials aren’t a group of people with the exact same interests. Sure, there are commonalities across the whole, but one of those commonalities is that Millennials strive to have their own personalities in the connected universe. That’s the source of their Apptroversion.

For Apptroverts, spending time with friends is always a good thing, but making sure everyone else in their networks know about the time spent is more important. Causing the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) effect amongst their circle makes a statement about their status in said circle. The project a I-am-doing-awesome-stuff-my-life-is-amazing-and-the-world-must-know-about-it mentality. What’s interesting is the unbroken tether to their smartphones disconnects them from the physical world around them. At the same time, they become connected to a bigger universe with immediate clout and influence built by their connections to others.

The connection and concurrent disconnection epitomizes the merge of digital and physical experiences for brands. To translate: A brand’s retail experience must have a digital accompaniment that is greater than or equal to its physical space. That doesn’t mean marketers should create special apps for in-store visits. It also doesn’t mean physical space experiences will be come less important or obsolete. It does demand greater thought be put into how a brand’s digital and physical experience work in tandem to create a more powerful overarching engagement.

The goal with any successful brand should be to integrate into a consumer’s life. For the Apptroverts that means accentuating physical experiences with features that enable them to do a number of things.

  1. Project their experiences to their network. The Apptrovert will talk about what’s happening in real time to their digital audience. Smart brands will give them new ways to do so that inject the brand seamlessly.
  2. Build upon the physical experience in innovative ways. They aren’t completely disconnected from their physical surroundings. Something new and fresh will get them reengaged while also giving them more fuel for their social network engine. Rethink the traditional idea of physical experiences to leverage the power these Apptroverts yeild.
  3. Get them to interact with their current companions. Just like they want to experience something new in the physical space, they also want to be engaged with their companions. If brands think of new ways to infuse a digital experience with which a group can interact they will see Apptroverts turn to loyalists.

The digital world isn’t going to take over brick and mortar although some doomsday sayers continuously claim this to be the future. However, technology will continue to innovate what we all consider physical. The Apptroverts are spearheading the demand and fueling the launches of technologies that innovate in this manner. This market of early-adopters and super influencers are key to pushing into the next phase of any brand whether it be startup or existing. All hail the Apptroverted public!

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Avoiding the big froyo freeze
10/09/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , , ,

Avoiding the big froyo freeze

Three tips for frozen-yogurt operators to survive market saturation.

Originally published on You can read the article here.

Frozen-yogurt shops are reaching critical mass as sales and momentum start to slow down. The next obvious step in this fad is for the segment to reach its breaking point when weaker brands begin to fall away leaving only the strong to survive. Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean change has to be negative. Fro-yo brands with less market penetration don’t have to fail, but in order to persevere they will need to change the game in some way.

The fro-yo frenzy started with the introduction of a build-it-yourself format. That new format, mixed with a pay-by-weight pricing structure, helped the craze skyrocket exponentially. The segment’s pioneers saw quick success that lead to others jumping on board to claim their piece of the American dream.

Changing the game isn’t easy, but there are a number of directions in which these brands can grow and gain more market ownership. It will take visionary leadership and the chutzpah to take the risk, but there are opportunities within reach that are ripe for the picking. These opportunities include extending the offering; creating cobranded experiences; crafting a fresher, better story; or a combination of any of the three.

1. Extend the core offering

As it stands today, most frozen-yogurt joints sell their core product and maybe rendition of the classic milkshake. There aren’t many brands that go beyond that offering. The small, café-like experiences are poised to take on a larger offering into new day parts. Red Mango and Pinkberry are seeing success in doing this with their smoothie offering.

By adding a unique beverage lineup, a fro-yo shop turns into an actual café that opens the doors to a full day of service.

Breakfast is a rapidly growing daypart that sees large returns, and Greek yogurt is a huge market that’s untapped by many concepts out there. Besides cafés that resell Chobani or Oikos products, Red Mango seems to be hip to the trend by serving frozen Greek yogurt and regular yogurt parfaits—but even that’s not enough to tackle the breakfast daypart. With the build-it-yourself bar already setup, it only makes sense to create a build-your-own parfait offering for breakfast. Sure, different machines may be necessary, but that’s what innovation in the face of adversity requires.

With a breakfast comes the demand for beverages. The natural choice of beverages is coffee or tea. Many quick-serve restaurants have seen large jumps in revenue after adding specialty coffees to their lineup. Thanks to the likes of Starbucks and Caribou Coffee, drinking into the evening has become a lifestyle. By adding a unique beverage lineup, a fro-yo shop turns into an actual café that opens the doors to a full day of service. And that means more revenue and a point of differentiation that’s easily sold to the market.

2. Create cobranded experiences

Some concepts aren’t meant to stand on their own. Yum! Brands is known for its cobranded locations that combine a Taco Bell and KFC, Pizza Hut and Wing Street, or other brands in the portfolio. The idea is to combine forces to conquer an area where one brand would potentially poach the other. In the case of frozen yogurt, the opportunity to cobrand with another concept facing a downfall is prime.

The cupcake craze is already on the way out, but that doesn’t mean the demand has completely died. Cupcake bakeries have a great format with the ability to offer catering as a line of business. An operator could offer cupcake and fro-yo sandwiches, cupcakes topped with fresh fro-yo flavors, and other concoctions that create a new experience for consumers. Being the first of its kind would spark a blaze of interest all built on two fads that still have merit. The new brand would pull market share from both formats, frozen yogurt and cupcakes, while technically being first-to-market.

3. Craft a fresher, better story

Most frozen yogurt shops all have the same look. If you close your eyes you can picture it easily: White plastic accouterments mixed with bright, vibrantly colored tiles. The logo is probably a mix of greens, oranges, and pinks. The story is one based on a healthier dessert with fruit toppings sitting next to sugary candy sweets.

A brand’s story that’s honest and legitimate draws in passionate fans. Think of TOMS shoes and Chipotle: Both brands have embraced a bigger picture beyond their offering and have been rewarded with extremely loyal, raving fans. In the frozen-yogurt world, no brand has really done more than peddle their dessert in a run-of-the-mill interior experience.

The good news is that stagnation of story and experience leaves the door wide open for a game changer. What if the product was more natural or organic? What if a brand told the story of a cow to creamery journey much like Chipotle does for the world of burritos? What if a frozen-yogurt brand tied itself to a philanthropic movement entirely? People respond to a higher purpose that aligns with the brands values and vision.

It’s an inevitability that the frozen-yogurt world will change. How current fro-yo brands approach this change will determine the viability of their business. By taking a strategic look at their offering, opportunities and brand story, smart brands can find a way to change the game and avoid failure.

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What’s causing TGI Fridays downfall?
10/07/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , ,

What’s causing TGI Fridays downfall?

This article was posted to LinkedIn by request from their team, you can read it on that platform here.

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking with Alexander Kaufman from the Huffington Post about TGI Friday’s new promotion (AYCE Appetizers for $10) and the ramifications of it on their brand.  The article covers a lot of my opinions which were naturally confirmed by other restaurant experts, but I wanted to take the time to dig a little deeper.

For those that don’t know, TGI Friday’s launched a new, aggressive promotion where customers can get all the appetizers they can eat for only $10. It’s analogous to the slimy used car salesman. TGI Friday’s is pandering, peddling and pushing it’s low quality food at any cost. “What’s it gonna take to get you into an appetizer today?!” They might as well put a inflatable flailing arms guy out front of every location.

Although the promotion seems like it’s in the same vein as other promotions they’ve run in the past* this one seems more like a last ditch effort to stave off the inevitable: TGI Friday’s is failing. There are a number of drivers pushing towards this inevitable decline:

  1. They’re known for processed and frozen foods that aren’t great and definitely not healthy
  2. Their atmosphere is no longer unique and devoid of the attitude it once had
  3. Run on a business/operations model to which the market no longer responds

We all grew up eating at Casual FSRs whether it’s an Olive Garden, Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday. These approachable restaurants touting fun-times and new experiences popped up all over the place decades ago. Their rapid growth could be attributed to a multitude to their new dining experiences, but that would only take a restaurant so far. The main reason places like Friday’s were about to replicate their concepts was the creation of processes that controlled consistency from location to location.

You could go to a Friday’s in New York and have the same experience you’d have in Florida. The food would be the same, the people, atmosphere, and so on. This assembly line approach to creating a restaurant experience was the foundation for their rapid growth. This strong backbone continues to keep things running, but a few recent trends have taken root and they’re directly chopping away at the core of the Friday’s model.

Farm-to-table craze hit the US market and with it came an ever-growing awareness around fresh ingredients and responsibly grown produce. Processed foods are now constantly demonized, and the rush towards eating better continues to skyrocket. Eating “healthy” isn’t about dieting any longer. It’s about eating fresher across the board and taking an acute interest in how animals are raised, how food is grown, and the effects of additives on the human body. Terms like “all natural”, “locally sourced” and “responsibly grown” are now apart of our vernacular.

People don’t want processed foods. They don’t want to eat frozen garbage that’s dropped in a fryer, or a bag of pasta heated in a boiling pot of water. It doesn’t matter how cheap you make it. That pushes the quality further into the gutter in the consumer’s mind. TGI Friday’s compounds their dedication to frozen, non-fresh foods by selling said food in a freezer at your local grocery store.

The second reason for the downfall of brand giants like Friday’s is their dining experience is worn out. The atmosphere of TGI Friday’s was always a zany, high energy, fun-time spot. Jokes about the amount of flare worn even made it into cult films like Office Space. It was a spot to go in the neighborhood because the other spots were rundown independent bars that were smoky, dingy and depressing. Casual FSRs brought a clean spot with a great vibe and changed the game.

However, with growth comes dilution of the restaurant’s brand. TGI Friday’s can’t be a neighborhood spot because neighborhoods have attitude, character and personalities that are different from anywhere else. TGI Friday’s is the exact same at every location. It’s been the same for decades. Nothing has changed which means we’ve all been there, done that.

In order to stay interesting and keep new trials and loyalty at a high, you have to grow and reconfigure the brand naturally. This means creating new ideas that reinvigorate the experience and interrupt the norm customer have come to expect. TGI Friday’s is the same today as it was yesterday and the only changes are the new promotions for cheap food.

Finally, the third reason Casual FSRs are declining and failing can be attributed directly to the Fast Casual movement. Independents and new small chains built on the fast casual format have sprung up with amazing atmospheres Their experiences have new character and authentic personality. These guys are fulfilling a desire in the market for higher quality food at a good price. Most Casual FSRs can’t offer the same.

The fast casual format alone has eliminated the need or desire for a full service casual experience. New fast casuals serve craft beers, craft cocktails and amazing food. They meet the markets demands for fresher ingredients and more sophisticated flavor profiles. What’s more is this format can keep prices low on the food because there isn’t the need for a large staff to run the ship. People aren’t concerned with having someone wait on their table. In a fast casual format the food is brought to you and you’re left in peace to enjoy the meal which is all most people ever wanted anyway. Save the waiters for a night out at a fine dining restaurant.

The very things that constructed the backbone of casual FSRs behemoths are exactly the things crushing them. This traditional model is dying quicker and quicker. Unfortunately, the only way these slow casual restaurants will change the inevitable is with a full overhaul of the business model, operations and food. It doesn’t look like any of them are even considering it.

What are your thoughts on the promotion and the future of TGI Friday’s and/or the slow casual restaurant model?

* – TGI Fridays ran a promotion pushing 2 for $20 in 2012.

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10 Common Brand Archetypes in the Restaurant Industry
10/11/13 Branding & Marketing Strategy , In the press # , , ,

10 Common Brand Archetypes in the Restaurant Industry

Originally published on Branding Magazine

Most of us have used, or are at least familiar with using, archetypes as a way to identify and profile a core audience. There have been quite a few books written on the topic outlining numerous archetypes. Although informative, the books rarely focus on a specific industry as unique as the restaurant industry.

Archetypes tailored to food service may seem similar to other industries, but there are a few key differences. Their biggest point of differentiation is that individuals often shift their archetype. Whereas one day Mrs. Jones may be more interested in a hearty meal, the next day she wants to eat healthier. This means that a person may take on the characteristics of many different archetypes in any given span of time because of the emotional and physiological drivers of food and eating.

These frequent shifts further emphasize the need to use archetypes as a way to focus brand efforts as opposed to the more literal approach of demographic research in the restaurant industry.

In my experience as a restaurant brand strategist, I have encountered a number of archetypes that seem to pop up frequently. The following isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’ve outlined the 10 most common that I’ve seen.

Couponer. We all know them, the do-anything-to-save-a-penny kind of person who clips coupons, buys Groupons, and Scoutmob’s their faces off. These bargain hunters will go to just about anywhere that has a deal. Although they’re not loyal, they do spread the word about a restaurant, as they like to brag about their latest savings.

Hipster. If it isn’t mainstream and corporate, they’re going to love it. Keep it lo-fi and DIY. They like the craft and respect the handiwork that goes into every little detail. Hipsters like to keep a good thing a secret, so don’t expect them to tell the world about an establishment. They are incredibly loyal as long as it never becomes a mainstream joint.

Superparent. Well-informed young people are bearing children and they’re bringing their penchant for research, knowledge and understanding to the table. They want food that’s good for their family. This means more organic, gluten-free, and produce sourced locally. Affordability for the quality is also a hot button issue for this archetype. The Superparent will exercise a great deal of loyalty, and are likely to referring other Superparents to a restaurant.

Evergreen. Some may call them hippies, but this group has grown beyond that stereotype. The Evergreen is looking for a socially responsible company beyond the cuisine and food offering. What light bulbs are being used? What green efforts are being employed throughout the operations? What is the carbon-footprint? The answers to these questions appeal to the Evergreen greatly. A socially conscious establishment will find unbreakable loyalty and a word-of-mouth fanaticism from this archetype.

Pseudo-Foodie. They’ll talk about things like “presentation” and “chef-driven,” and they’ll pay attention to textures and technique. They’ll do this at a fast casual restaurant and post about it in great detail on Yelp. These are the Pseudo-foodies and they clock over 20 hours of Food Network programming per week; adding to their “expert knowledge.” You won’t find much loyalty, but will find some word of mouth as they must be sure let everyone know about their latest culinary experience.

Fitness Freak. One part Healthnut, and one part Gym Rat, the Fitness Freaks seek a healthy restaurant experience that caters to their dietary needs and, often more importantly, their image of fitness. For them, Fitness isn’t just something they strive to attain, it’s a lifestyle they constantly announce to the world. Healthy food options, with nutritional information are going to appeal to this group.

Straightshooters. No hoopla. No nonsense. They just want good food for a good price. They’re not worried about sourcing, green initiatives, calories, and so on. They want it with the least amount of bells and whistles. The good thing about the Straightshooter is they can be quite loyal to simple brands. They may not broadcast it to the world, but they will be a sustaining force behind any solid concept.

Socialite. Did you just open? Are you the hottest place on the hottest scene? Are celebrities and high rollers frequenting your spot? Then you’re prime for a Socialite to grace your establishment. The Socialite wants to see and be seen. They want to be at the newest openings at the most expensive restaurants. They want celebrity status. They’ll tell everyone they can about your new spot, but will most likely accompany your accolades with a flimsy undermining comment to ensure it’s understood that they deserve better. The Socialite will come back as long as the restaurant is the talk of town. Once it gets quiet, they’ll be on to the next.

Wanderluster. These are the culinary adventurers. If it’s new and unheard of, they’re going to be there digging in. The Wanderluster is looking for a new experience with new, different food. This could be mean extremely new like schnitzel, or just different than the mainstream like Thai. Either way they are constantly expanding their culinary horizons and experiences one concept at a time and they’re super excited to talk about it. The Wanderluster is more likely to be a blogger as they also like to document their experiences.

Manly Man. Don’t let the name fool you. Women easily fall into this archetype as well. The Manly Man wants a heap of savory, deliciousness on a plate for a good price. These people couldn’t care less about your dainty plates of healthy food. They want it good and they want a lot of it. They’re ready to eat well and drink great beer without a second thought to anything but price. They want value, but will pay for the goodness they get. Manly Men also like to talk about their gluttonous exploits and will devote themselves wholeheartedly to their favorite hearty hotspots.

As stated earlier, these are just 10 of the common archetypes I’ve experienced and seen in action. When developing brand messaging and identity, it’s essential that we look to archetypes as a guide, and not as an absolute totem.

What food-lover archetypes have you encountered? What kind of characteristics of brand loyalty to they tout?

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