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Branding Truth 01: Your definition of “branding” is wrong. Don’t worry, the dictionary has it wrong, too, and so do many companies who label themselves “branding agencies.”
I’m not being nitpicky or splitting hairs just to display depth of knowledge or prey on a technicality. I push the issue because misunderstanding the true definition of “branding” creates a scenario of buyer’s remorse at best and outright failure at worst. Either way, you’re left unhappy and with less money in the bank. I don’t want that, and I’m certain neither do you.
The proliferation of “branding” as an integral component to business success simultaneously elevated the power of design for business and created a gap of misunderstanding and miscommunication between agencies and their clients. You must know exactly what you’re buying before making the leap into hiring an agency partner and spending the necessary time successful branding requires. A lot of agencies sell the buzzword of “branding,” but in reality, they only offer graphic design services. I’m not saying the tactic is malicious or intentionally misleading, but that doesn’t excuse the reality, and it certainly doesn’t absolve selling half-baked services.
Yes, graphic design is a part of the bigger branding picture, but it’s only one of many facets that comprise a fully-formed brand. The outputs from graphic design are the things people can see—the “pretty pictures” as some call them. It’s the logo, menus, website, and other visual communications that represent the restaurant in the world. They’re what grabs attention and attracts people to the restaurant. It’s easy to see how those elements became mislabeled as “branding.” Their tangibility and visual appeal make it seem they are branding. They are not.
The visual outputs we all see from a restaurant cumulatively fall under the term “brand identity.” It’s the perfect label if you think about it. This is the visual identity of a brand, just like me wearing a black v-neck t-shirt and slim-fit jeans creates my look to the world around me, logos and supporting graphic elements create a restaurant’s look to their audience.
Brand identity is a critical component of the branding discipline. If the visual communications don’t properly communicate the various aspects of the restaurant, that brand fails to attract and connect with people. But to ensure an identity communicates effectively, one must possess an understanding of what should be communicated. And that’s the core of what “branding” truly entails.
Every business creates a brand simply by existing. A brand is an amalgamation of what a company does, how they do it, and, the most important element for today’s audiences, why the company exists. Most businesses ace the first two components of what they do and how they do it. Rare is the brand that identifies why they exist and why it matters. Therefore, “branding” is the process of excavating a company’s purpose, then aligning their products, services, people, personality, and communications to bolster and build that purpose in the world.
“Purpose” is one of the toughest components to identify and excavate. I think it’s because most companies’ sole purpose is to make money and food with little else. While the potential of financial gain is an obvious goal for existence, that thinking myopically focuses everything on good food and good service, and nothing more. Cue the hero shots of sizzling steaks and the penchant for following trends like Blank and Blank restaurant names (more on that later.)
Today’s restaurant landscape is fiercely competitive. That reality, combined with the subjectivity and fickleness of flavor trends and service, aren’t enough to build a restaurant brand primed for growth. At some point, someone will think your food is garbage, and the service won’t always meet their needs at that moment, at that time. In one fell swoop, good food and good service are erased, and if nothing else exists to position your restaurant, your restaurant brand fails. When done successfully, restaurant brands build something stronger and deeper than good food and good service.