Branding- more than just poking cows with hot metal

Here in Montana, the word “branding” has a few different connotations. If you’re down at the local diner and hear someone talking about branding, most likely they are talking about putting their mark on their cows. However, this word has also been adopted in the marketing realms to mean about the same thing- putting your mark on your business (just not quite as painful). Your brand is everything in marketing. It says who you are, what you offer, and it becomes your reputation.

Recently, a friend of mine who owns a restaurant in the area committed what most people in the industry consider to be marketing suicide- he destroyed his brand. He had been operating his restaurant for about four years and had built a great, steady business upon the foundation of quality food at reasonable prices. Whenever I drove by, his parking lot was full, and we made it a regular place for us to go out as a family.

He and his wife had also started another restaurant- a pizza joint-  in our small town in a building that they rented. This seemed like a side venture for them as they typically closed their main restaurant down in the winter and I’m sure this helped bring in some money during the slow months.

This spring, however, I noticed something strange. They had replaced their sign at their main restaurant with the one from the pizza place. I was very curious about what was going on, but life was keeping me very busy and I didn’t get a chance to stop in and talk with them. However, about a month after they made the change, I was having lunch in a different restaurant, and I heard some people bemoaning the fact that such a successful and reliable restaurant had closed.

This spurred me to make the call to my friend and see what had happened. He explained that they had decided to move the pizza joint in with their other restaurant to save money on rent. He said they were still serving much of the same food that they had been in their original restaurant, but they’d just gone with the pizza place’s name when they combined the two together.

I attempted to explain that by taking down his sign, most of the people in town and returning summer home owners were very confused and assumed they had closed down and now it was just a pizza place run by someone else. I tried to explain that by doing what he’d done, he was walking away from the wonderful reputation and reliable clientele that he had built up for the past four years. I continued to tell him that in my opinion he was committing the greatest blunder a business could make- he was wiping out his brand. I also tried to explain that it wasn’t too late to restore his brand by putting up his original sign and maybe adding something like, “Now serving Pizza too!”, but he stuck with his move and unfortunately, all summer long, I overheard people wondering what happened to his restaurant and wishing it was still open- even though it actually still was. All I can say is that I hope my friend’s business did not suffer too much from this learning experience.

Plain and simple, marketing is all about building your brand- from logo to photos to brochure to website to ads to everything! It all must be consistent and of the same quality. It all must get across the same feel and the same message. I was lucky enough when I first got started with Potosi to have my ad guy explain this to me in great detail, over and over (thanks Rob Esperti). It took a little while for it to settle in to my brain, but eventually I got it.

Then, once you’ve built a great brand, for Pete’s sake, don’t change it. The largest companies in the world have the simplest logos for a reason. Look at McDonalds and their “M”, the Nike “swoosh”, the Facebook lower-case “f”. Would McDonalds ever think about changing their name to Frank’s and changing their signs to an “F” instead, or would they change from selling burgers to hot dogs? Never. And if they did, would people still go there to eat like they do? Nope.

So, my advice is think real hard about what you are branding ahead of time. Plan it all out- the logo, the brochure, the website. Get an idea of what its all going to look like, the feel and the message, before hand. Then put it together in a consistent, high-quality manner. Then, never, ever, ever change it.

Oh and one other thing: if you are thinking about buying a business, make sure to get a very comprehensive understanding of their current brand. When we bought Potosi, it took us a long time to overcome the residual carnage left over from the prior owner’s business (The Lodge at Potosi), even though we started our business from scratch and even changed the name to Potosi Hot Springs Resort. We didn’t just start at ground zero, but right from the beginning we were climbing out of a hole because of their terrible reputation. In this case, ignore what I said in the above paragraph and change the brand as much as possible…


Nick Kern

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