Building Towards a Lifestyle Brand

Imagine your neighborhood co-working space, coffee bar, gym, and restaurant were all under the same roof. How often would you visit? Depending on how old you are, some restaurateurs are betting that number will move restaurants away from the dinner-and-drinks model toward lifestyle brands.

It’s a move that Punch Bowl Social’s former CEO Robert Thompson thinks is vital to the future of the industry, and the pandemic provided a perfect opportunity to make the change.

“This is absolutely the ideal time to be developing new product to come out of the ground as opposed to trying to manage a back forty of assets that are being pummeled,” Thompson told Restaurant Dive.

Even though Thompson no longer occupies an office in the C-Suite, Punch Bowl is capitalizing, moving forward with plans to develop its own hotel brand. According to the company’s website, the hotel would be built on top of a Punch Bowl restaurant and include smaller rooms to incentivize guests to hang out in common areas.

Thompson pointed out these designs and the company’s overall strategy is largely driven by recent consumer research into millennial buying patterns. However, he also acknowledges that the switch is not a decision every restaurant can make.

While Punch Bowl and other similar concepts have a unique opportunity to repurpose their spaces, square-footage shouldn’t hinder a business owner’s ability to move into the post-pandemic market, whatever that may look like.

Small businesses can begin building their brands toward becoming lifestyle brands by considering what products or services their community desires, paying particular attention to their customer’s hobbies. If customers usually carry yoga mats when they pick up their food, consider offering related products like fresh juices, vegan-friendly foods, or books on mindfulness and spirituality. The combinations are endless.

Name brands have used this strategy successfully as well. Vans, the California-made shoe brand, originally offered a very thin shoe for skateboarders. Now, the company offers outdoor boots, surf shoes, and gym shoes to cater to its wide base of customers while also continuing to sell their staple products.

Dimes Market, a local grocery store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is a great example of how the strategy works in the restaurant industry. Dimes offers its customers everything from food to books and candles.

However, simply pandering to customers does not necessarily make a lifestyle brand. Lifestyle brands also consider the cultural trends of their customers

One such trend evidently emerged with the birth of social media: the celebrity chef. We watch them on television and consider them as masters of food, music, wine, and fashion. The celebrity chef ultimately shifted the conversation away from “the customer is always right” to “I’ll have whatever Chef recommends.”

Maman in New York developed its lifestyle brand by partnering with celebrity chefs to host events and workshops for cake decorating, flower arranging, and other culinary arts.

But, don’t get hung up on the word “celebrity.” This trend really offers small business owners an opportunity to rebrand by hiring a local chef with strong community ties. The benefits come two-fold. First, the business may attract a new group of customers that helps keep the doors open while also adding the chef’s personal brand into the business portfolio.

While lifestyle branding offers many businesses an opportunity to connect with new customers, it equally hinders others. For example, lifestyle brands often do not satiate their customer’s need for self-expression. Similarly, if your restaurant concepts offer customers the ability to create their own experience, it may not be beneficial to attempt to rebrand as a lifestyle brand.

Lifestyle brands also compete with other brands in seemingly separate categories. Dime Market is technically a competitor for Kroger and Publix because it is a grocery store while simultaneously competing in the retail and hospitality industries. Businesses who struggle to find their niche in one market should avoid attempting to brand themselves across several markets.

Maybe the most difficult part of lifestyle branding for small businesses to overcome is the expense. Typically, lifestyle brands conduct several trial runs before identifying their key customers. Afterward, there is the graphic design and creative element that separates their marketing materials from other businesses. Then there’s the legal side: copyrights, trademarks, and business formation. Unfortunately, each step requires a heave expense.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic has created an uncertain future for restaurants, now is the perfect time to renovate or rejuvenate brands, according to Thompson.

“I think that we could enter a new heyday. Maybe not until late 2021, but this category — which we like to think at Punch Bowl that we defined the modern version of this category — we think it’s gonna continue expanding,” he said. “My point is that great things can come out of the eye of the storm.”

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