No matter what industry you’re in, brand image is the reason behind most of your website hits, phone calls, facility visits, new customers, repeat customers and anything else that leads to a sale.
It’s all about the brand image.
Because of this, let’s spend some time learning how your catering company can capitalize on a positive brand image. First thing’s first, though, there’s one hugely important thing you’ll need to know.
It doesn’t matter if you are a caterer, an event planner, a rental company, a drugstore or a clothing line:
Your company’s brand image is always the consumers’ view of the brand.
This is so important that we’re going to mention it again: the brand image is formed within the consumers’ mind–not yours!
Specifically, your brand image is formed through a unique bundle of associations that he or she (let’s just call the consumer a she) has.
As a caterer, this might extend to the consumer’s experience on your website by her interactions with your delivery and sales people, the time and place she first heard your radio advertisement, the weather (good or bad) and her mood (also good or bad!).
This also includes the last event she attended that you catered and everything else she might bundle in her mind and associate with y-o-u.
Do you see how you cannot create the brand image? (Last time we checked, caterers could not control the weather—or this industry would be rich!) You can certainly try to control your marketing messages, employee behaviors and event execution, but no matter what, the consumer’s opinion automatically forms in her mind based on ALL of those things that she willingly or unwillingly takes into consideration when she thinks about her experiences with you.
This leads us nicely to the next point:
Brand image forms through brand experience—or the sum of all points of contact the consumer has had with your brand.
Like it or not, this includes everything from what she needs as a consumer to what she has experienced firsthand with you to what she hears from other people about you.
In other words, a company can do everything “right” in regards to its brand and STILL have a poor brand image in a consumer’s mind, which is generally a bad thing.
A poor brand image won’t make you any money!
How Does this Information Apply to Your Company?
To best explain, here’s an example:
I’m Consumer Claire, and I just saw an intriguing advertisement in a business journal for ABC Catering. I like what I see, so I visit the company’s website thinking I can use ABC Catering for our next annual company picnic.
The website is full of perfect photos and messages that make me think, “This is it! The company I’ve been looking for! I’ve got to call them about our company picnic.” But then my sister-in-law tells me that her company used ABC Catering for its annual picnic and all she remembers is that her cheeseburger was soggy.
Suddenly, Consumer Claire’s perception of ABC Catering went from perfect to soggy.
Now, on the day of her company picnic, my sister-in-law was having a stressful day. Her 5-year-old was sick, her husband was out-of-town and she had to prepare for a speech at work the following Monday. Would you be a bit pessimistic about a busy and stressful day like that?
On top of it all, she said the cheeseburgers were soggy and cold because that’s all she remembers that is specific to what the caterer brought to the table. What really happened, though, was her 3-year-old spilled some water onto her plate while they were eating, which is why her burger was soggy, but she never mentions that to me.
Everyone else at her company’s picnic said the burgers were delicious. But does that matter?
Here is the bad news…it doesn’t matter, because in my mind, I now associate ABC Catering with my sister-in-law’s tale of soggy burgers.
In the mind of Consumer Claire, ABC Catering’s brand image is now tainted even though ABC Catering did nothing wrong!
You just lost Consumer Claire.
Controlling the Controllables
These uncontrollable elements—in addition to the controllable elements like the beautiful website and advertisement that got Consumer Claire to consider ABC Catering in the first place—impact the brand image, good or bad. This is why the brand image is different for every single consumer and no brand can create or maintain one.
Sounds exhausting, right? Your next question might be why are we talking about brand image so much if you can’t control it?
People make judgments about other people based on what brand they associate themselves with. When a consumer purchases a product, she is consciously choosing one brand over another. When that consumer chooses one brand over another, she is automatically associating herself with that brand.
Therefore, choosing a brand—like a catering company—is an important task for consumers.
Every purchase we make as consumers says something about who we are, and each purchase decision will be judged by other people to some degree.
What do you think of a person who wears clothes from Gucci? Do you have a perception about them? How about Ralph Lauren? Do you have a perception about people who wear clothes from Wal-Mart?
We can run the same experiment with cars (think of your perception of Audi owners versus Volkswagen owners; Honda versus Lexus; Ferrari verses Toyota), shoes, bags, furniture, coffee, beer and everything else you can purchase as a consumer.
People know this. So, when a consumer purchases a product, she is saying, “I believe in this brand and what it represents; I want to buy this,” just as much as she is saying, “Boy, these boots are adorable on me; I have to get them!”
Of course, the smaller your purchase, the less likely you will feel judged by others. Gum, for example, carries less risk of judgment than gym shoes, and gym shoes carries less risk of judgment than smartphones. Where do you think catering falls on this spectrum?
Here is where brand image applies to caterers:
Once again, I am Consumer Claire.
Let’s say that I didn’t have this negative conversation about ABC Catering planted in my head by my stressed-out sister-in-law. Instead, I contacted ABC Catering, had wonderful conversations on the phone with the sales staff, visited the sparkling clean facility, had a delicious tasting and eventually enjoyed the company’s most successful annual picnic in recent years.
How about that for a positive brand image in my mind?
Consumer Claire is now a loyal client.
How many of those interactions were controllable by ABC Catering? A lot of them were, actually. This is why it is so important for catering companies to control all the elements of their brand that they can control—such as design, navigation and messaging on websites; advertising messages, design and placement; sales scripts; sales people; delivery drivers, serving staff and other operations employees; menu items; equipment, décor and everything else with which you have a choice.
This is also why it’s so important to be consistent with your brand. Don’t give consumers any reason to have a murky idea about what your brand image is or is not. The best way to fight those soggy sister-in-law stories is with a unified front.
Every aspect of your brand that you can control, you need to pay attention to and control. This is your brand identity.
Consumers control brand images; you control brand identity.
If every aspect of your brand has the same messaging and the same unified look, then you have a much better chance of keeping negative elements outside of your control from impacting your brand.
[graphic to break up text] Hello, My Name Is: Consumer Claire [end graphic]
If I, Consumer Claire, had the same wonderful experience outlined above before my sister-in-law told me about her soggy burger, would I be more or less likely to associate something negative with ABC Catering?
Less! I would be much less likely to associate soggy burgers with ABC Catering because my firsthand experiences are more important to my own perception of the brand than anyone else’s experiences.
Consumer Claire will still call you.
That being said, the best way to fight those negative brand images is with positive experiences.
In addition, there are more perks to focus on with having a positive brand image than there are to focus solely on generating new clients (and repeat clients, too).
There’s more to this whole brand thing, and we’re going to share it with you. Continue onto the rest of our branding series lessons below!
Continue on to the next article ->
Branding Series, Part II: People Pay More for a Strong Brand Image