Reinventing your foodservice brand

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world into a different place. We'll all have to adapt to changes in perceptions and behaviour and tap into the sentiments of a disrupted market. How will this affect the foodservice industry? Marc McCulloch weighs in on the question.

Rediscover your brand

Mark McCulloch, brand and marketing strategist, believes the crisis has shaken up the foodservice industry significantly, but that there are clear opportunities to be found: "You have to reassess everything, question your brand, your DNA, values, team, and business. How can you diversify, are there options in e-commerce or home delivery? What stuff are you made of? Ask yourself what sort of brand you want to be and find your purpose. There'll be fewer restaurant options for customers to choose from, so if you’re relevant, if you offer value, there's opportunity there.

"Reassess everything, question your brand, your DNA, values, team, and business."

"Strong brands will be up and running fast, brands that are sort of OK will suffer most. Many brands are now showing their true colours. Brands like Brewdog, Yummy Pubs and Honest Burger do well, like many of the brands that did the free NHS1 thing, where others fell through and will have to do damage control."

Mark believes it's essential to stay engaged with your customers and team. "I've been reading 'The Thank You Economy' by Gary Vaynerchuck, and there's your base idea. What can you do to be helpful and how can you be remembered? Once this is over, you can be one of the good guys or women, which will serve you well. Give, help, support and be selfless. You never know where that will take you."

Mark's 5 key takeaways for foodservice brands:

  1. Stay engaged with your team and customers.
  2. Go the extra mile and show your gratitude.
  3. Offer value and work with your partners and industry.
  4. Up your content, advertising and personal contact: be visible!
  5. Be helpful, get involved, do what you can, even if it's free.

Get ready for reignition

Mark believes brands will need to get reattuned to the market. We can't just pick up where we left off. "The biggest change is that we'll need to take time to tune in to the feeling of customers. We want to get up and running, but this is really what we'll have to go through: social rehabilitation. Being OK with a room full of strangers and going outside. The same goes for your team, it'll take a lot of talking and coaching. Making people feel safe will be important. That may harm the atmosphere, but offering reservation for booths or areas can help. Screens and masks are things you'll have to handle. It's important to still offer a great experience that people can't get at home or have delivered. Offer value, but make sure you are ready to provide a safe and comfortable environment."

There's a lot to unpack on how this will impact restaurants and foodservice outlets. Think of hygiene, atmosphere, distancing and what'll be on your menu. Mark believes it's a matter of finding out by doing, offering value while keeping safety and comfort in mind. "It's like getting a goldfish, you need to test the water to get the temperature right. You can't just throw it in. You'll have to re-engage, re-educate and re-inform your customers to get them back inside for the big reignition."

The reopening will not be easy. Here are Mark’s 4 main focus points for restaurant operators:

  1. Demonstrate how you guarantee the welfare of your team and customers.
  2. Show the lengths you go to maintain hygiene. Bad scores, particularly in reviews, will hurt your business more.
  3. Bring your a-game in experience, safety and comfort to make the out-of-home experience valuable and something to return to.
  4. Work with partners and the industry on creating value, not discount wars.

Rethinking your brand

Mark believes that reassessing your brand is essential: "If you’re rethinking your brand story, start getting information. Collect data that helps you tap into the feeling and emotion of the market. Try to figure out what your customer needs." It’s a matter of realigning yourself with the market, with your consumer, and with your purpose as an organisation. To help you on your way, Mark shares some essential steps to get your brand story up to date.

Mark’s essential steps for your brand value reassessment:

  • Work with someone to go over your brand positioning and purpose.
  • Research market sensitivities and needs.
  • Use macro and micro market data and, most importantly, ask your customers.
  • Sort out your brand story, get your messaging right and reattune to your market.
  • Figure out what brand you want to be and make it happen.
  • Segment your market and approach each cohort with the right voice.
  • Don't try to boil the ocean, reach out to your loyals first.

Mark McCulloch (or Mark McC) has years of experience in the hospitality industry as a brand and marketing strategy expert at Supersonic Inc. and as a freelancer. He created the leading UK Food & Drink Marketing podcast 'The Spectacular Marketing Podcast' and keeps his finger on the pulse of foodservice in 'The Mark McC Supersonic Podcast'.

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