While the value of a restaurant brand may be measured in terms of what the public, your customers and the local community thinks, feels and expects from your place, there’s another group with whom your brand value must rate high. Successful operators invest more (and often even before they spend on any external branding) on the inside brand with employees.
Starbucks®, Zappos® and Whole Foods® are all examples of major brands that started small, today are international power brands that built their brands from the inside out. The leadership behind these companies believed that when your internal culture rocks, the rest things like attracting customers and delivering on brand promises comes easier and more efficiently.
So as a restaurant operator how does this thinking translate to your business, especially if you are small and have limited resources that need to go a long way?
Like we preach in almost every blog post on Restaurant branding, great branding starts and grows when operating from a clear brand essence (purpose, values, points of distinction, personality, positioning and promise). This is critical to start any type of internal branding initiative.
Create a 1-2 pager that summarizes your brand essence. Every year, you should revisit and update your brand essence document as things can change.
The next 5 steps are opportunities where your brand essence needs to be present and reflect your ideology, brand look and feel, and brand language.
In most markets, restaurant operators are consistently adding staff to their team. Instead of posting a generic ad, include copy that is on brand and represents your brand’s personality.
2. Onboarding and training
Once you hire someone, make sure that your brand is a part of your onboarding process or new hire orientation. Beyond food safety, company policies and customer service, make sure to devote time and energy to explaining what your brand stands for and ways the employee can protect it and contribute to its success. And when employees get reviewed for job performance and skills, don’t forget to test their knowledge of your brand, its uniqueness and even the supporting tools. Employees are one of your most important brand representatives. They should know and live the brand.
Don’t keep your brand development in a guarded vault, involve your employees in making it stronger. This can mean setting up feedback channels where employees submit ideas or even voice frustrations. It can also be through hosting brand-centered special events for your team that include group exercises to get them engaged in the brand and work together. I recently addressed a group of travel agents in Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont and after my talk on branding the sponsor organization, Ensemble hosted a cheese-sculpting contest, where teams built something that represented a fictional brand. This was a blast. Every team got 10 pounds of cheese to carve up. The creative ideas that came out of this fun exercise were amazing.
4. Ongoing communication
Brand communication with your employees needs to be a part of the daily culture, not just a once a year activity that they forget and are not engaged with. Sending out a quarterly newsletter or even brief email memo on milestones to celebrate, customer feedback, seasonal promotions or even publicity earned can be a low-cost way to keep employees thinking about the brand. Posters in the break room can be another way to express the brand. And running employee contests that incorporate the brand messaging can be effective, too.
5. Recognition and appreciation
Everyone likes to be acknowledged for his or her contributions and feel appreciated. Tokens of gratefulness don’t need to be super expensive, give movie tickets, gift cards or even VIP parking privileges to employees who contribute ideas or demonstrate stellar brand ambassadorship. Feature a star employee in your newsletter or on a wall of fame in the kitchen. Name a menu item after them for a month.
The key to turning employees into brand ambassadors starts with keeping them engaged, contributing and informed. Building a brand from the inside will take effort and some resources too, but it will also make all of your other marketing and branding investments much more efficient, too.
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