There are 78,671 pizza restaurants in the United States, 6,814 pizzeria chains (two or more stores with the same owner) and some 975 independent pizza (one of a kind) restaurants according to Ask.com. Those numbers make standing out in the massive chorus of competitors a real challenge, especially in this very tight economy. Successfully out-branding your competitors is a continuous battle for the hearts and minds of your customers.
Branding strategies and marketing mediums have changed enormously since Jay Conrad Levinson introduced the guerrilla marketing concept more than 20 years ago. Tactics that were considered radical are either mainstream or outdated now. The buzz today is social media and networking, yet traditional and mass media are still as strong as ever. The one thing they have in common is that they all guarantee that they have what it takes to propel you to the top.
So what is the magic combination from all of the innumerable choices you have today that will set you apart from the rest of the crowd? The short answer is: there isn't one. While you should always advertise, the media doesn't matter. The real secret of great branding is in the message, not the vehicle you choose to deliver it in.
Brand strategy is nothing new. However, the expectations customers have for your product and service are stronger than they've ever been. That's why you need to create the most promising, targeted brand experience possible to ensure long-term success.
A good brand message starts with a story. If you're not sure how to create a story begin by examining your menu. The recipes you prepare are what make you unique: Where did they come from? How were they created? What makes them special? What makes you special will define your message and create a brand identity.
Make your story compelling by describing taste, texture and smell. Describe how your pizzas are made. Do you have a wood-burning, coal-or rotating oven? Are your pies hand tossed? How many kinds do you have? If there is something special about your ingredients, like you make your own sausage from a recipe passed down to you from your great, great grandfather, or if your tomatoes are handpicked in California, make sure to let your customers know. Customers also love to hear about your roots, it gives them the feeling that they are your friend as well as your customer, and a connection is formed.
Your décor and service play a major role, as well. If you don't have great customer service you may get customers in, but you won't keep them. If your message is about making each of your customers your friend then always remember to treat them that way. The message should be consistently reinforced throughout all phases of the organization and all levels of staffing, all of the time. In other words, the key to creating a strong brand strategy is to increase awareness in such a way as to establish persuasive feelings, reactions and a favorable view toward your brand as a whole.
Once you have established your brand identity the next step is all about consistency and focus; they are the keys. Once that customer connection is made, make sure to keep your eye on the pie, and be committed to standing behind your image by maintaining high standards of quality and service. Once consumers gain confidence in your brand, it becomes your persuader and a device to reassure customers that you are reliable. Your brand becomes who you are. If your products and services don't live up to your brand promise, new customers will become lost customers, and loyal customers might leave. Simply put - product quality and service expectations must follow through on the promise.
So before you pick up the phone to call Val-pak, put your next post on Facebook or tape a new TV commercial, make sure your message is a true reflection of who you are and what you stand for, and let your identity be the star.
Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza, has helped grow the Chicago franchise from 60 stores in 1999 to the 170 national brand that it is today. She supervises all aspects of marketing, customer service, store communications and vendor relationships.