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“So, what’s your story?” Undoubtedly we’ve all been asked this question during networking or small talk. But when someone inquires about a restaurant’s story, the answer can make or break whether customers walk through the doors once, twice or ever. Thankfully, Dave Nelson from SecretPenguin, a local creative agency that has gravitated towards building memorable food brands, let attendees of Kitchen Council’s recent Food Branding Secrets event know that refining your story and telling it to people isn’t rocket science. By utilizing three branding fundamentals, your brand can turn a casual observer into a brand evangelist.

Like all aspects of business, branding starts with providing clarity. What do you do and why in one simple line. Do you make the best brisket north of Austin, made from a family recipe your grandfather guarded with his life? Do you provide a community space for neighbors to enjoy coffee, pastries and more because you know neighborhoods and spaces are nothing without people coming together? Whatever your food brand does, this one sentence should hook anyone and communicate your value.

Standing out is the second fundamental utilizing brand identifiers like a logo and colors as well as your brand experience. A competitive landscape analysis will help you identify your audience, goals, differentiators and potential challenges. Identifying each of these pieces will inform the experiences you create with your brand, what will make customers choose you and what obstacles you can turn into opportunities. Another crucial part of the experience you create for customers… memorable moments. Creating memorable moments before, during and after a customer encounters your brand can be as big or small as you’d like. SecretPenguin has examples of it all, from coasters that ask to hold your drink for you, signage directing people to the men’s and women’s bathrooms as well as the way to ramen, or building relationships with customers through social media. Whatever your moments are, make sure it connects to the clear brand statement you’ve created and your customer.

This brings us to the third fundamental, which happens to be the most important: it’s not about you. Where does your customer fit in your story? For tips on working through this aspect, Nelson recommends reading “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller. A free tip without buying the book? Make sure you are making the customer the main character in your brand’s story, not yourself or your product. A good restaurant has four aspects that all revolve around the customer: excellent operations and food/drink, exceptional service, a great atmosphere and lastly (because it isn’t the lynchpin) stellar branding and marketing.

Three steps. All involving your customer. Simple enough, right? The beauty of Dave’s talk is that good branding is truly accessible to every food entrepreneur no matter what their budget is. His recommendation on how much money you should spend on marketing? Seven percent of your budget.

True marketing success lies in finding your differentiators, examining every part of your brand story and writing it out and refining. It seems SecretPenguin let the real secret(s) to food branding out after all.

Story and photos by Ashley Rae Turner.