Strengthening Brands

When it comes to a brand, most believe it resides in the province of marketing. That is an often fatal falsehood that almost always leads to failure, a distrust of brand in general and being left in the dust by the competition. The truth is the province of brand resides in the C-suite, with the leader of the entire operation, whether it is the CEO or the owner. If it doesn’t, the brand will fail.

That’s because brand is not about marketing, but about holding a preferred position in your marketplace that offers a brand promise and fulfills it in everything you do. That means brand is a strategic business decision that affects every corner of your operation, whether it’s how the kitchen is laid out in a restaurant or the production process of a food manufacturer.

To prove my point, let’s start by defining what brand really is. Most believe it’s a logo, color palette and some messaging that defines what the company does and offers. However, those are only representations of the brand. The brand itself is the strategic position of the company.

Case in Point

Let’s consider the brand of Starbucks, both the good and the bad. Especially at its peak, everything it did pertained to its brand of providing a refined, cultural experience. It certainly had consistency in look and color palette, but everything also reflected the idea that a Starbucks space was an experience for the cultured person in all of us.

Therefore, it invented a new language of coffee and spent money to educate the target audience on how to order a grande mocha or a short latte. They had a dignified system of ordering – even waiting for the barista to finish making your coffee felt like you were getting something special, not just java poured in a cup. 

The décor was stylish and subtle. The employees were young, often educated and looked a little “arty.” They were also trained to assist in the education of consumers. The seating areas were designed so that people can stay all day if they’d like. It was not an in-and-out burger joint. Starbucks even included Wi-Fi to encourage customers to hang around.

Everything from the message to the look to the operation to the individual tactics within the space made up the brand, which means the brand began with and followed a business plan from CEO Howard Schultz. 

Most importantly, by the brand presiding in the office of the CEO, it ensured stringent consistency across the entire brand and a buy-in from everybody involved, including the customers who saw themselves in the “experienced, cultured” brand. 

Downward Spiral

The failings of the brand also fall to the CEO, which is another reason why the brand belongs in the C-suite. In the case of Starbucks, it devalued its brand by stepping away from the “cultured experience” in ways that seemed tiny, but added up to a less believable and less important brand. 

Starbucks opened drive-thru windows. It started selling its own branded coffee in grocery stores. It even introduced instant coffee. Those were CEO decisions and, negative or not, these decisions affected the brand.

All, in fact, were damaging to the brand. Drive-thru windows are not about an experience. Its own branded coffee goes against the grain that, at Starbucks, you could get a coffee you never have before from a region you’ve never visited. And instant coffee – do I need to say more?

The success or failure of a brand resides completely with the leaders of the company itself. That means if you own a restaurant, the success or failure of the brand does not reside with the advertising agency you just hired. It resides with you.

That also means that you must buy into the brand because the rest of the organization will look to you for how much they should embrace it. The power of driving the brand comes from the leader, so you must remain enthusiastic, decisive and supportive. Otherwise, the rest of the company will think of it as the flavor of the month, which it assuredly is not. 

Helpful Tips

All great brands start with the company leader. To believe in the right brand, you must remember the three things for the brand to succeed:

  • It must be different than your competition. If you say and do the same things as your competition, target audiences will default to the market leader. You have to put a stake in the ground because if you are for everybody, you are for nobody.
  • It must be a brand promise that you can deliver. With any meaningful brand, there are often changes that have to be made to fulfill that promise. But you have to fulfill it.
  • It must be meaningful to the target audience. It must be the single most persuasive thing you can say to the target audience to make them prefer you. It must be an aspirational self reflection of who the target audience believes it to be.     

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