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Guide to Brand and Demand

So you’ve perfected your menu, chosen the best ingredients and are confident that customers are going to love what you have to offer them.  What’s next?  It’s tempting to think that excellence in product is enough to drive a successful business but, as it turns out, marketing plays a huge role in your success and failure.  There are a ton of things to consider when building out a full marketing launch plan; this guide covers two of the most important: building your brand, and some basics of creating demand.


Step One:

The Basics of Brand

“What exactly is a brand?”  That’s a question that has been asked by just about anyone who has ever worked in any sort of business.  The answer is likely not as clear cut as you’d like it to be.  Jerry McLaughlin gives a great definition, “[A brand is] everything the public thinks it knows about your… offering – both factual and emotional. Your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”  That’s crystal clear, right?

Think of it this way, when one of your customers or prospective customers hear your business’ name, what do they think?  What do they know?  What do they think they know?  What do they feel?  What face do they make?  What colors come to mind?  What scents do they get a whiff of?  What sounds pop into their head?  All of those things that happen in that split second when a consumer hears your business’ name – that’s a brand.

Step Two:

How to Build a Brand

The question that comes next is obvious; so how exactly do you build a brand?  The answer to this comes down to three steps:

  • Ask yourself what you want your customers’ response to be when they hear your business’ name.  In every way that’s outlined above, what do you want their most visceral reaction to be?  Define it.  Put it in words, in pictures, in sounds, and maybe even in smells.
  • Now, look at every single touchpoint a customer or prospective customer could ever possibly have with your business.  Every single one.
  • Does every single touchpoint evoke the reaction that you want it to?  If not, change it until it does.

These three easy steps get a little complicated when you consider all of the things that are a touchpoint with your brand.  Let’s talk about where to start.

There are two big buckets – experience and design.

When thinking about experience, this is the act of coming to your location, consuming your product, interacting with your staff.  This encompasses really big decisions like what kind of food you serve and seemingly small decisions like what font is used on your employee nametags and whether or not your employees wear name tags.

Take a look at a few brand elements to get you started. Remember, the decision made about each of these elements works alongside all the other decisions you make to roll up to one cohesive brand experience.

  • What kind of food is served?
  • How is the food served?
  • What kinds of plates are used?  What kind of cutlery?
  • Are napkins paper or cloth?  White or brown or some other color?
  • What uniform do your employees wear?  Do your employees wear uniforms?
  • How do employees greet customers?
  • Do patrons have to ask for condiments or do they come with every order?

The Design bucket includes almost everything else and is comprised, again, of both big and small components.  This encompasses everything from, “What is the ambiance of my space?”  to, “What does my website look like?”  to, “What do my business cards look like?”  Remember, you want all these elements to work together to drive a cohesive experience.  Here are some elements to consider:

  • What is the design of my space?
  • What is my website experience?  Can people make reservations or place orders online?
  • What do my social media channels look like?
  • What do my advertisements look like?
  • Do I do email marketing?  If so, what’s the tone and imagery of those emails?

If this seems like a lot to consider, that’s because it is!  Remember, every interaction a customer has with your brand is an opportunity to either build your brand or tear down your brand.  Brand interactions that provide a consistent experience – one where the same emotion is evoked every time – help your brand to be the best it can be.

Step Three:

Getting Started in Driving Demand

Now that you’ve got the best brand experience for your customers, it’s time to just sit back and let the customers come to you, right?  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. You’ll want to develop a comprehensive marketing plan to make sure customers come see you.  Here are some strategies to consider:

Using Google for Fun and for Profit

First things first – when people are looking for something, they often pull up Google Maps or Google itself to find out what’s nearby that’s good – “burgers near me”, etc.  This means that one of your prospective customers first windows into your business is through your Google My Business page.  Make sure all your information is up to date and accurate – location, hours, description.  Then, make sure to add photos – of the space and of your food.

Often when people are choosing where to dine, they lean on reviews.  You may want to run a promotion or incentive for customers to leave a review on your Google My Business page.  Then, when someone searches “burgers near me”, they’ll find your restaurant with a compelling description, note that you’re open, see the positive reviews, drool over your mouth-watering burger photos, and come for a visit.

Another thing to keep in mind with Google is that their primary concern is to make sure their users are always looking at information that is fresh and accurate.  If Google is ever confused about whether or not the information they’re serving is factual and accurate, they won’t serve it.  This means that you need to be very diligent about making sure your business’ name, address, and phone number are consistently accurate across every single place it’s listed online.  If Google is even a little unsure of information about your business, that could be the difference between a first-page ranking (good!) and a second-page ranking (nobody will ever find you).  So, make sure to check all your listings – Yelp, OpenTable, local directories, and social channels – for consistency and accuracy.

Another tool that Google offers is Google Alerts.  This is a great way to stay on top of what people are saying about your business, if you’ve been mentioned by a local reporter, and more.  You can set a Google Alert to email you every time a new page is indexed with your business’ name on it.  This is a great way to stay on top of what’s being said about your business.

Using Social to Tell Your Story

Once patrons have found you, they want to engage with you even after they’ve left your establishment. Social media is a great way to keep that relationship going. Particularly in the restaurant space, Instagram is your new best friend!

Here are some ways to use Instagram to help customers stay engaged with your business:

  • Food photography!  Your most powerful asset is to keep pictures of your delicious offerings in front of your customers!  Whether you hire a professional photographer to take an arsenal that you can deploy over time or one of your staff is an iPhone photo master, use Instagram to show off your food.
  • “Lifestyle” photography!  Are your employees always psyched to be at work?  Sharing pictures of their smiling faces or “behind the scenes” snippets of your establishment give customers a backstage pass to your establishment.
  • Customer or supplier photography!  Do you source tomatoes from a great local farm?  Do you have a local business that you love delivering lunch to?  Featuring clients and suppliers spread the love and show your business as part of your community.
  • Remember, Instagram isn’t just for still images anymore.  You can post slideshows and videos right to your feed.
  • And, Instagram stories are a great way to capture less “perfect” representations of “a day in the life” of your business.  These images and videos only stay active for a day and can be used to promote specials, introduce events, and more.
  • One fun, new feature of Instagram stories is the polling feature.  Do you want to let your customers decide on today’s special?  You can take an image of your blueberry muffin and your poppy seed muffin and insert a poll, via “stickers”, that let people vote on what should be the day’s sale or special.  It’s a fun way to keep your most engaged customers even more engaged.

Using Community Engagement to Find New Customers

Particularly when you’re just getting your business started, it’s tough to overestimate the impact that participating in community events can have.  Donating gift cards to basket raffles, taking part in local street festivals/fairs, and sponsoring local sports teams are all great ways to build your business’ exposure in the local community.

In addition, depending on how large or small the town you’re in is, you may want to do some cold outreach to your local business and food reporters; they’re often looking for stories and may be able to feature your business in some way.  Press coverage is almost always good!

Another option is to partner with businesses that have a similar target customer base to run cross-promotions.  For example, if you’re a fast-casual establishment with lots of healthy options, maybe you partner with the bike shop across town to offer a coupon or promotion to their customers in return for promoting a free tune-up to yours.

Step Four:

To Conclude

It’s never a bad time to conduct a brand audit or test out a new strategy to get customers in your door.  There are many things you can go do; these were some ideas to get you started.  Happy marketing!