Foodservice Brand Positioning: Focus on Clarity

foodCompanies in growth mode are faced with an ongoing dilemma of keeping their expanding portfolio on plan with regard to their strategic branding direction. This is even more important when it comes to foodservice.

By John Matthews, Contributing Editor

Who are we?
That is a question we hear all the time from companies that are trying to better communicate to their customers. All too often, companies have grown in spite of the fact of not really knowing whom they are or what they stand for. Rather, the growth has been derived through a series of “bolt-on” tactics without the presence of a guiding strategic action plan that supports solid brand positioning. In the end, without this guiding force, companies find that their brand is disjointed and fails to capitalize fully on consumer opportunities.

While it would have been terrific foresight to have had this guiding brand in place on day one, the reality is that often the brand needs to take a test drive in the market place for a bit in order to vet its acceptance. When you’re talking about building a foodservice brand, this is even more important. Customers have to have a consistent message of who you are and must be able to trust your brand without reservation.

With that in mind, any company in business today can still tighten up its strategic vision and brand position. The goal is to capture what lies at the heart of this brand, what makes it a compelling brand for consumers and ultimately how it can become even stronger. If successful, a company can crystallize a shared, intuitive understanding of the brand and communicate more effectively to its customers.

Embarking on this process can be fun though. Through a series of meetings, questionnaires and customer intercepts, members of your team can truly see the brand unfold before their very eyes. Including a wider range of participants, from office to store personnel, can provide a wide swath of perceptions that all need to be considered in order to clearly vet the best path forward for the brand. Add to that process some select front line staff and the branding development process should be complete.
Done properly, the brand positioning exercise should not only identify where the company is today, but also determine the vision for the future.

Garbage In, Garbage Out: This is similar to the “chasing the shiny penny” syndrome. Organizations without a properly vetted brand position often let market factors dictate where their brand is headed. While nimbleness can be a fantastic attribute for a company to possess, nimbleness without guided structure creates a mishmash of branding messages and confusion for the customer. Before long, the guiding principals that once steered the direction of the company seem like a distant memory.

Describe Your Products/Services: So, start at the basics —the products. How would you describe the products you sell? Are they unique, do they carry some sort of special characteristic about them? If not, is your brand like all the rest? If so, how have you communicated the product attributes to your customers? Are they fast, clean, fresh, consistent or large? Taking the time to identify the unique characteristics of your products helps to delineate the uniqueness of your store from your competition.

What the Products/Services Do For Me: Next up, how are your products used and what benefits does the customer derive from using your products? Do your products make the customer happy and trouble-free? Are the products that you vend helpful in the customer’s life or do they simply serve a means to an end? Perhaps the products save time. Extracting the benefits of the products and how they apply to your customer population, again, can offer uniqueness of your brand.

How the Brand Makes Me Look: Everyone wants to look good as well as smart in the choices we make in life. Walking around the city with a Starbucks cup of coffee carries a bit of a status symbol versus Folgers. Successful brands capture a cult-like following of which only customers in the know are aware. The cool crowd can carry the strength of the brand and its products a long way through a viral approach of brand building. These brands are the most competitively protected brands because they are capitalizing on making their customers look good.

How the Brand Makes Me Feel: Similarly, how customers feel about your brand can propel your business significantly forward. When customers attribute your brand and products with an emotional connection and catalyst to their well being, you have a winner. Customers that feel energized and confident simply due to their interaction with your brand and products are customers for life. These customers will be ambassadors for the brand, and the benefits are immeasurable.
Strategic Action Plan: Lastly, after the brand essence has been identified, the objective of the strategic action plan is to create a detailed profile of what the company will look like in the future (products, consumers, geography, competition, financial performance, organization, etc.) and to identify the critical issues to achieve this profile. This will be the vehicle for the company to use in developing its operating plan, evolving its organizational structure, setting financial goals, determining markets to enter or exit, etc. Understanding your brand and its products will better strengthen its longevity.

Local Store Marketing
When promoting the brand, it is essential to understand the local audience and control the message customers are receiving. With foodservice, always promote freshness, quality ingredients and experienced employees. In time, if you are executing the program properly, these are the characteristics that customers will identify with your foodservice brands.

It is your responsibility to create news about your store—don’t wait for others to do this for you. Being proactive with the local newspapers to generate news coverage on your store is an excellent way to get third-party endorsement. Many of the editors—and in particular, the beat reporters—are constantly looking for news stories on area businesses. It’s up to you to entice them.

Feeding them with ongoing news and information regarding your store helps establish a relationship that they will appreciate.

Positive relationships with the media not only keep you top-of-mind with newspaper writers and the community, but also creates a bond in the event you need to mitigate any negative situation regarding your store in the future. Get to know your local newspaper editors, beat writers, DJs, newscasters, etc., so that you can continually feed them with news items regarding employee promotions, product and service launches, and other key newsworthy tidbits about your store.

While this may not translate into immediate sales, it can reduce your ad expenditures. Establishing a positive, proactive relationship with the local media will enhance the chance that they run news items about your store at no cost to you.

This type of news is well received by the public and keeps your store relevant in the community. For every mention that you receive in the local media, that’s one less ad that needs to be placed.

Plan on creating one news item per quarter at a minimum that you can send to all of the media. These news items can range from announcing a new product launch or service—or it can be a smaller news story, such as a new store manager announcement.

Create Your Media Contact List: Identify all of the smaller daily and weekly papers that service your three-mile trade area, as well as local radio stations, magazines and TV stations. Make it a point to visit each of these media outlets and introduce yourself and your store to them for future reference. Bring a free sample and information on your brand and your store; as well as your contact information. Establishing a relationship in advance of a need is a terrific way to stay top-of-mind with the local media. This will serve you in getting positive news into the paper and perhaps avoid negative news printed if that should ever occur.

Make Your Employees Star-Worthy: Our employees often were raised in the communities in which they work. As they begin to progress through their careers, peer recognition can be more important than monetary gains. If an employee was recently promoted at your business, why not announce this growth to the community with a one-paragraph press release? The employee feels recognized, his family feels proud and your business is held in high-esteem in the community for promoting one of their own. It is a pretty simple way to accomplish goals on many fronts.

Celebrate Mile Posts: When is your anniversary? You probably had to think about that for a bit before you added up the years that you have been in business. Imagine how difficult it would be for others to know how long you have been in business. It is entirely on you to remind and announce to customers key mileposts in your business. These mile posts help add credibility to your place of business by announcing to everyone, “we are still in business and we want your business!”

Be A Good Community Citizen: Pick a charity and create events to generate awareness and/or funds for that local charity at your business and promote this through the media. The media is often the mouthpiece for the community and they like nothing better than having a feel good story about a local charity tie-in at a business. Create a photo-op at your business to jump start the charity event and at the end when you present a check to the organization. The charity wins, your business gets foot traffic and the media has a nice story to counter the negative stories that they often publish.

Create A “Call to Action”: Every one loves a deal and writing a news story tying in a promotion at your store—especially if it is a charity or mile post —will garner a look from the local media. Be succinct in message.  Avoid too much personal advertising  in your message and instead create more of a public service announcement for better results. The media may pick up your announcement if it is a slow news day as a way of “filling content.” The more credibility you establish with the media in advance, the greater chance of your material being printed.

It is surprising how few small businesses spend the time to cultivate media relationships. The media is constantly on the lookout for news and having a pipeline of sources only makes their jobs easier.

In most cases, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil and a steady stream of news from your business will establish this pipeline for the media.



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