Consumer, Creative

Beyond Taste: Incorporating the Emotional Ingredient In Restaurant Branding

Marketers should never neglect the emotional component of connecting with their audience, as it serves as a driving force in establishing deep-seated bonds with consumers which ultimately impacts brand success

BY: Nicole Turner | Executive Vice President, Client Service

PUBLISHED: 9/18/2023

For brands, connecting with modern consumers is more important than ever. Competition, rising expectations, a higher frequency of people electing to stay home, and an erratic market has made customers more discerning. Yet, despite these elevated stakes, restaurant brands, in particular, have the opportunity to create a marketing ecosystem that drives traffic and fuels transactions. By tapping into both value and insight driven emotional cues, brands can create appetite appeal and drive traffic.

The fusion of strategy and creative is necessary and purposeful in that it connects the rational with the emotional. It’s where the left brain and right brain meet - where data and humanity intermingle. Today’s modern restaurant guests consume brand content through micro-moments, or many, smaller moments of engagement. Therefore, every snack-sized interaction has to plant a seed that sprouts craveability and appeals to the senses.

In this article, we delve into the key role that strategic insight-driven creative plays in forging profound emotional connections, revealing how these connections ultimately serve as drivers for traffic and transaction.

So how exactly can restaurant brands infuse emotion and appetite appeal through every creative touch point to drive traffic and transactions?

To use a sailing analogy, if we consider strategy to be a brand’s compass or North Star, then we should consider creative to be the wind that fills its sails. The marriage of these two elements gives way to campaigns that not only delight the senses in the moment, but stick with us even after we are finished immediately engaging with the product or offering.

It Begins With Addressing the Functional Benefit

What are the key features or characteristics of the product or service, and furthermore, what is the utility that the brand or product offers? Establishing the functional benefit and having a profound understanding of your target audience and how the product or offering can effectively serve them is the bedrock of any compelling marketing strategy. 

Data from a 2023 MarketForce Restaurant Customer Panel shows the top reasons to visit chain restaurants are food quality, value, and convenience. Restaurants need to showcase they can deliver on this criteria - it's table stakes. Step one is to identify what is most valuable to your customer.

Subway’s $5 footlong, 50% off Domino's Pizza specials, or Taco Bell’s Stacker Box serve as examples of value offerings that aim to get people in the doors of these QSRs. However, these brands are looking for more than temporary traffic. They want to parlay the functional benefit into an emotional connection that can help forge a stronger bond with the customer, build loyalty, and facilitate repeat business.

It’s no secret that consumers gravitate towards brands that evoke emotions. Keeping in mind to never ignore value, restaurant brands must determine the emotional insight they can tap into to create differentiation amongst their competitors. Insight-driven creative is the pathway to this psychological undercurrent, transforming a seemingly mundane product into a vessel of meaning. By showing that your brand listens, understands, and empathizes with consumers on a level beyond the surface, you’re not simply selling a product or service – you're offering a solution to a deeply rooted need(s).

Finding the Emotional Benefit

The most successful restaurant brands are the ones that excel in pinpointing where the functional and emotional benefits coincide. With a complete understanding of their customer data, it's critical to determine what is the hook that will matter most. Below are examples a few emotional hooks that have proven effective in earning loyal customers:

- Aspiration: The portrayal of celebrities in advertising (e.g. Subway, McDonalds), using healthier ingredients (e.g. Chipotle), or ways in which the restaurant brand is contributing to the betterment of the environment
- Celebration: Driving home the importance of coming together and sharing moments with the people that matter (e.g. Chick-fil-A), or elevating a seemingly average or everyday meal (e.g. Marco’s Pizza’s “Pizza Lovers Get It” campaign)
- Nostalgia: Showcasing comfort food that evokes flashbacks to grandma’s cooking or memories of childhood (e.g. Dairy Queen’s “Blizzard of the Month” campaign based on childhood snacks or desserts)
- Entertainment: Finding opportunities to add humor or bring joy to someone’s life on top of the meal (e.g. Taco Bell or BurgerFi's cleverly dubbed “B.F.D.” value offering, developed by MERGE)

MERGE’s first-hand experience with its client, the stylish and eco-minded hamburger chain BurgerFi, serves as an example of how a functional benefit gave way to an emotional benefit for BurgerFi patrons.

Seeking to build awareness of the BurgerFi brand for true burger fanatics, BurgerFi announced a value offering to its customers for the first time ever. With help from MERGE, BurgerFi developed a campaign that introduced burger, fry, and drink value combos starting at $9.99. The campaign, cleverly dubbed “B.F.D.,” leveraged the functional benefits of the BurgerFi brand - focused on premium ingredients, freshness, and sustainability - and packaged it in an offering that appealed to the sensibilities and desires of burger-hungry customers who desired BurgerFi quality but were generally wary of the costs typically associated with the brand.

The Wrap

When brands can provide this blend of functional and emotional value for their customers and maximize the transaction beyond price, they can ensure a loyal customer and create a true value exchange that enables the brand to stand for something more, or be more memorable. As brands navigate the high-stakes marketing landscape in the now and moving forward, it’s important to remember that the successful blending of strategy and creative is ultimately the result of thoughtful, data-driven planning meeting emotional storytelling, resulting in campaigns that motivate, engage, and drive results.

Looking to add your own emotional ingredient to your restaurant brand? Connect with our team of experts at MERGE to take your seat at the table!