Differentiate your restaurant from the "sea of sameness"

Have you noticed? There is much visual similarity among restaurant brands. The interior environments look much alike. The exteriors are similar. How effectively does one brand differentiate itself from the competition? Not very. What to do?

3-D Branding: The Strategic Differentiator

The best way to overcome the “sea of sameness” is through 3-D Branding. This strategy results in a unique and proprietary environment and customer experience that differentiates a brand from its competitors. You achieve this by visually communicating the essence of a brand by integrating brand positioning, identity, trade-dress and architecture. In this sense, you develop a 3-D interpretation of a brand. Everything the customer sees and touches is unique to this particular brand. The environment itself communicates to customers the brand’s personality and distinctiveness in the marketplace. Brand leaders understand that great branding is much more than a great logo.

With 3-D Branding, the customer experience becomes a unique reflection of the brand. Note that any restaurant is actually a collection of many individual “customer operating zones.” Customers behave differently in each zone. Their needs and expectations are different. By identifying these zones and understanding how customers behave in each zone, you can craft zone-specific design solutions that distinguish a brand from its competition, while meeting the zone-specific needs of your customers. The brand becomes integrated with each and every customer zone (inside and outside of the store). Customers can see and feel what makes the brand unique. The decor, architecture, in-store communications, and trade-dress reinforce the brand positioning. This level of brand integration and attention to detail is often overlooked. Many restaurants do nothing to blend the brand positioning with the customer experience.

A Four-Step Process

So how does one go about developing a 3-D Branding strategy? The solution involves a systematic, five-step process, as follows:

1.) Assess What Equity You’ve Got. What is the equity currently in your brand? What do customers say about you? About your identity? About your restaurants? How would you describe what makes you unique and different? What is the feeling or personality of your brand? What are the “attributes” (words and phrases) that best describe your brand? In the case of the Buffalo Wild Wings, brand attributes include “fun, excitement, social, and casual.” It is useful to secure objective feedback from customers, lapsed customers, and non-customers. How do they see a brand? Do they agree that your 3-D Branding reinforces your brand attributes? Have them evaluate and critique each key zone (both interior and exterior). Here is where interviews, surveys, and customer research are particularly useful.

2.) Identify What Has to Change. Based on this assessment, what is it about your store design that needs changing? What needs improving? Where does your store design fall short when it comes to reinforcing and supporting your brand attributes, personality, and brand essence?

3.) Benchmark Best Practices. In all likelihood, someone out there does a better job of 3-D Branding than you do. Why re-invent the wheel? Identify who the leaders are when it comes to 3-D Branding. They may be outside your industry. Find out what they do well, and how they do it. The benchmarking process allows companies to make huge business improvements by “adapting” best practices that have already proven to be both successful and doable. What you learn will guide your own 3-D Branding strategy and optimize your store design.

4.) Validate Design Solutions. Before implementing design changes or building prototypes, it is a wise idea to validate your new strategy and your plan to execute it. These new design solutions may look great to you and your colleagues, but how will your customers react? Secure objective feedback from customers, lapsed customers, and non-customers. Have customers evaluate whether your new strategy reflects and reinforces your brand attributes.

Three-Dimensional Branding at Buffalo Wild Wings: Designs That Differentiate

King-Casey developed a three-dimensional brand strategy for Buffalo Wild Wings, a full-service restaurant/sports bar chain. No matter where customers look, they get a sense of the brand’s personality, atmosphere, and “retail promise.”

Our recipe for Buffalo Wild Wings’ 3-D Branding uses a bold yellow and black exterior design inspired by the logo. The result is an architectural design that can be recognized from over half a mile away, drawing in customers and clearly standing apart from other restaurant concepts.

Buffalo Wild Wings’ distinctive black and yellow trade dress is carried throughout the interior to create a totally integrated 3-D branded customer experience. Improved communications are also branded and re-designed to improve the customer experience and increase the ease and speed of ordering.

A multitude of design details reinforce elements of the brand’s trade dress. Wherever the customer looks, there is no doubt that they are in a Buffalo Wild Wings. Three-dimensional branding results in a unique, proprietary environment that is difficult for other brands to “copy.”

The new interior was divided into distinctive customer zones, each tailored to the unique preferences of different target audiences (such as the family zone, singles zone, quiet zone, entertainment zone, and so on). The essence of the brand is visually communicated in each zone by integrating positioning, brand identity, trade-dress, and architecture.

Check What You Have Now by Mapping Your Brand Hierarchy

Map out how your brand is currently being applied to your restaurant environment. What’s working well? What’s not? Then develop design solutions that collectively result in a three-dimensional expression of your brand positioning and brand essence. Develop new strategies that integrate the brand with the store’s exterior trade-dress, departmental wayfinding, department environments, product merchandising, and customer communications. Getting this right will be a major step in differentiating your restaurant from the competition.

For additional details on 3-D Branding, you can download a complete report from King-Casey.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

Expert Takes, Feature, Buffalo Wild Wings