Above all, be real.

If your restaurant is communicating in the same way it did before the COVID-19 pandemic started, chances are good that your brand messaging won’t resonate the way it once did.

Brand messaging refers to the communications on your website, on social networks, to your customers and prospects directly, and in your marketing campaigns.

Whether you’re starting a new restaurant or trying to grow an existing restaurant, how you communicate impacts whether you build and grow a sustainable business.

Here are three insights to help you evolve your restaurant’s brand messaging for today’s landscape.

1. Audit messaging for topics that no longer apply

If you’re writing a business plan for a new restaurant you plan to launch, you can build strategies for the new normal and differentiate from entrenched restaurants that have failed to evolve their messaging.

Spend some time looking at what other restaurants in your area and around the country are doing. In fact, as we explained in our article on business plan tips, learning from other business owners is one of the best techniques to put your restaurant on a path to success.

But, not all of those lessons will be applicable in your geographic region. You’ll need to be flexible because state and local governments are reacting differently across the country—and often are reacting in unpredictable ways.

If you run an existing restaurant, then you must assess how the post-COVID-19 world impacts your business.

For example, if you’re running ads promoting big parties in your private dining room, you should stop those ads for now. It will be impossible for large groups of people to safely gather for at least another 6 to 12 months.

Every restaurant, just like every business, needs to adapt and evolve in order to survive and thrive.

Even the largest companies are struggling. Just in 2020 alone, a record 46 companies with at least $1 Billion in assets have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And numerous large restaurant chains have also sought bankruptcy protection this year.

So many aspects of daily life have changed since the coronavirus entered our lives. Your brand messaging for the new normal must reflect these changes.

Here are a few obvious topics that may create friction with customers and prospects:

  • Large social gatherings
  • Physical interactions between people outside of their homes
  • Coughing or sneezing without covering the face
  • Face-touching
  • Crowded restaurants or cafes
  • Lack of transparency about your restaurant’s safety and sanitation policies

Does your legacy communication include recommendations or language that no longer apply?

Do the photos or videos on your website or those you share on social networks depict behavior that is no longer appropriate?

Audit your current messaging and cull out any references to group events that can no longer be attended, and activities or personal practices that are no longer safe.

Instead, focus on things that are top of mind for people today: no-contact ordering, curbside pickup, and expanded delivery options.

Ultimately, you must avoid making statements that are out of touch with our current reality or you’ll look clueless (at best) or callous (at worst).

And, listen to what customers want. You may think you understand what customers want today, but don’t assume that you do – ask them.

For example, if you’re offering family meal packs during the pandemic, ask your customers if this is something they’d love to have even after things return to normal. Knowing this information lets you plan for the future and also shows your customers that you care about them.

2. Authenticity is more important than ever

Authentic interactions have been in demand for some time.

This trend of prioritizing honesty and human connection has grown even more important as restaurants adapt to the new normal.

We’re currently facing more large-scale, shared uncertainty than most people have experienced since the last world war. The pandemic has attacked multiple fronts—health, social interaction, finance, education, labor, and more. Its impact is hard to avoid.

Uncertainty and anxiety make people yearn for stability—for people and brands they can trust.

And, authentic human-driven business practices build trust. They reassure people that there’s a port in the storm.

As you update your marketing strategy, consider your brand and what it stands for. Then look for ways to engage with your audience over your shared common ground.

Don’t hide from the realities—people want to know about your safety and sanitation policies. And, while that’s not typically a topic restaurants have shared before, it must be front and center now.

So, don’t just tell customers what you’re doing to keep them safe and healthy. You must also show them.

And, feature your restaurant staff in your social posts and photos. People value personal connections and are missing their friends and family. They’d love to see familiar faces from their favorite restaurants.

Social media marketing is a great channel for these kinds of more intimate interactions. Just don’t forget to include your restaurant’s branding in your social posts and shares.

And, as you craft every new brand message, speak from a place of authenticity. Be honest about what your restaurant is facing. Be open about the values that drive your business.

And, above all, be real.

For example, if you’re trying to create value based on the way you price your menu items, it’s perfectly fine to leverage marketing psychology and principles like the decoy effect to persuade people to buy specific menu items. But, your pricing should be real and authentic. Don’t just create random menu items or prices that feel inauthentic or contrived. People will notice.

And, if you find that your visual branding just isn’t on track with your authentic business, check out this free brand identity guide.

3. Create consistent, strategy-driven messaging

In order to ensure that your brand messaging is effective, you should build a strategy and define certain key elements that will complement and help you communicate that messaging.

This is sometimes called the brand messaging framework and it contains these elements:

Brand promise—what you actually do.

Brand positioning statement—how you differentiate in the marketplace.

Target audience—conduct market research and assess your target audience. Focus on their pain, their needs, and their desires.

Mission—why does your restaurant exist, and what values are essential?

Voice—knowing your brand’s personality will help you to develop your brand voice and tone of voice.

Elevator pitch—how would you describe your restaurant brand in one sentence? How about in one minute?

Your unique selling proposition (USP) —what your restaurant stands for. For example, a big chain’s USP is found in consistency: everything they do is meant to deliver a consistent user experience.

Restaurants that are flexible and evolve their brand messaging to adapt to the pandemic and beyond, are the ones that will succeed.

How are you evolving your brand messaging?

Katie Lundin is a Marketing and Branding Specialist at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. She regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business, and design on crowdspring’s award-winning small business blog.

Expert Takes, Feature, Marketing & Promotions