Fast Casual Summit: Building Brands by Connecting with Customers

Fast Casual Summit: Building Brands by Connecting with Customers

Food & Drink

Fast Casual Summit: Building Brands by Connecting with Customers


_Read the introductory article from the conference by clicking here

Understanding your brand image and essence is a key first step to building customer connections. At the Monday afternoon session of the Fast Casual Executive Summit, four industry leaders spoke to how their brands are making that happen.

Ed Frechette, senior vice president of marketing for Au Bon Pain says first and foremost is delivering a great product. Once you have that in place, it’s about creating emotional connections with customers through unique food offerings prepared and served by exceptional people. You also need to listen to your patrons. They will tell you what they really like about your place and what makes them come back for more.

Hire the Smile, Train for the Skills

Au Bon Pain’s hiring philosophy is to hire the smile and then train on necessary skills. The company hosts hiring fairs and brings in people who are interested in working for them. They hire the smile and then train the employee for their best place within the organization. If someone is late to their first interview or career fair, they’re immediately pulled from consideration. Prospective candidates learn about the brand and then describe what they can bring to the table. Community involvement is also key to building the brand – again, being clear about who you are and what you stand for.

Alan Hixon (pictured, below right), President & CEO, Mooyah Burgers & Fries believes his brand’s key to success is that, early on, they realized they were delivering an experience. ‘We’re in the food business first and foremost,’ he said, ‘But we’re also in the entertainment business. We use the experiences we create to build that emotional bond to customers.’

Have a Plan for Your Brand

To fully understand the experience they’re selling, Hixon follows a comprehensive model of brand planning. ‘You have to establish a foundation for your brand. Craft a succinct mission statement that’s one to two sentences long. Wordy, flowing statements are the norm, but try asking a cashier on the line to tell you what the brand stands for. If they can’t, your mission is too complicated.’ He says the mission must be clearly articulated across the company and measurements put in place to monitor how well it’s understood.

Hixon emphasized the need to create a WOW factor—delivering an experience that motivates and is unique. ‘Create a process for identifying what works,’ he says. ‘Brainstorm ideas, get to the point of exhaustion – then have a period of recuperation – and that will be followed by illumination.’

Dan Kim, President & CEO, Red Mango, is a big believer in using social media to build a brand, creating emotional connections with patrons or fans. ‘Know who you are,’ he relates, ‘and leverage that in every medium. Red Mango is committed to offering the healthiest snacks and best tasting culinary experience in the most stylish way.’

‘Customer service is the most obvious and important way your brand connects,’ Kim says. ‘Make sure your philosophy is reflected in your menu, store design and communications. How does your brand dress? Social media can help you emotionally connect to customers, but more important, it opens a two-way dialogue. It’s a very powerful tool – but you have to be open to receiving as well.’

Facebook and Twitter Matter

Kim says Facebook fan pages are a great way to open communications and drive awareness. Technology such as Twitter can be used to push out coupons, capture photos of events and promotions, and it’s a powerful customer service tool.

Patrick Benasillo, vice president, Visual Graphic Systems told attendees that social media helps you think global but act local. The only caveat is one must have a commitment in place for ongoing content refreshment and responses. ‘Leverage all of your efforts as a whole,’ he says. ‘Integrate in and out of store communications. Then utilize push/pull strategies in support.’ He says social media can also be a great way to share your community involvement, even developing promotions that are geared toward charitable giving. Finally, it’s imperative to communicate your efforts at the store level. Without your employee shareholders on board, your efforts will falter.

Next up at the Fast Casual Executive Summit – the annual networking dinner.

On the docket for today (Tuesday, September 15):

Keynote Address from Au Bon Pain CEO: Using Consumer Insights

Brain Exchange: Sharing Great Ideas

Internet Marketing/Social Media

Culinary Innovators


Excellence in Leadership


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