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Why your chain needs a brand bible

Restaurant marketing experts detail why it's necessary to create a brand toolkit and how to craft one.
Illustration: Shutterstock

Whether a restaurant operation calls it a “brand bible,” “brand standards,” “brand DNA” or a “brand toolkit,” there’s no denying the importance of this all-in-one document. A restaurant’s brand bible, which typically runs from a dozen pages to 30 or more, lays out everything from graphics standards and logo usage to the very reason for the concept’s existence.

Often divided into sections for various parts of the operation, these exist as a single document that can be delivered in segments or one-pagers to stakeholders or as a full package for onboarding and more. They can be added to with the evolution of the industry. As social media has become more important, for example, brand toolkits are getting revamped to focus on channel-specific brand behavior, marketers say.

“You can avoid a lot of heartache by establishing and creating this document early on in the life of the brand,” says Rachel Phillips-Luther, former CMO of Jamba Juice and Zoes Kitchen, who now works as a brand strategist while operating breakfast and lunch spot Up Inspired Kitchen in Frisco, Texas.

Whether it’s time to revamp an existing brand toolkit or create an entirely new one, there are a few factors to keep in mind.

1. Assess brand DNA.

Taco John’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But the chain’s leaders became concerned last summer that the legacy brand was losing relevancy with consumers. It hired a “brand remodeler” to evaluate Taco John’s brand from all angles, including facilities, packaging, uniforms and brand voice, says Alan Wright, the chain’s vice president for marketing. The full revamp, including a heavily reworked brand bible, is slated to roll out this spring and summer. “We hadn’t really earned the ritual of repeat business,” Wright says. The new brand bible “reflects more of a dynamic way of connecting our guests with a Mexican destination,” he says. “It’s more playful and more vibrant.” The chain’s revamped brand bible is focused on better telling the story of Taco John’s and the way it differentiates itself in a crowded market with its bold flavors and ample portions.

2. Clarify the why.

Although the brand bible is an ever-evolving document (see tip No. 5), there’s one aspect that should never change: a restaurant’s core values and mission. Operators spend time discussing internally and externally, via consumer interviews and surveys, why a brand exists and what it stands for, says Jodie Conrad, CMO of Fazoli’s. The results should be communicated in rock-solid fashion in the document. “One of the big things we’re working on is our brand story,” says Conrad. “We really want to make people understand our why.” This can be expressed through a simple mission statement that can be expanded upon in the document.

3. Don’t forget voice.

With multiple platforms across social media, it’s important to decide how a brand will act across those channels, Phillips-Luther says. How a chain acts on Twitter, for example, might be different than the voice it presents on Facebook or Instagram. “If you choose to take that path, your brand bible has to be really direct,” she says. “Be really specific about brand voice, personality and key messaging by channel.” She cited Wendy’s as an example of a chain with a distinct voice across its social media channels, from sassy on Twitter to more straightforward on Facebook. In its brand bible revamp, Fazoli’s is taking care to create distinct guidelines specifically for social media platforms. “The tone and who you’re talking to on Facebook and Twitter is different, who’s using it is different,” Conrad says. “That’s what we’re working on right now.”

4. Communicate it out.

A brand bible’s not worth much if it sits in a vault at HQ. Built into the process of crafting the document should be a method for sharing it with all employees. A top-down approach for communicating information works well, Phillips-Luther says. The document is first delivered to top-level management, perhaps in a full-day meeting, before it’s then shared down the ranks. The brand bible should also be incorporated into training materials, she says, making sure new hires understand the brand mission and philosophies immediately. Many chains opt to post the brand bible, or at least relevant portions of it, on the company intranet. A well-done brand toolkit should become the go-to source of answers to questions large and small for employees of all levels, experts say. “Even the hardest decisions are easy to make when you know your core values,” Phillips-Luther says.

5. Keep evolving.

“Like people, brands change a little bit over time and the context changes,” Conrad says. Marketing teams should take a look at the brand bible every few years to ensure it’s still relevant to the organization. “Why you exist and the role you play in consumers’ lives is unlikely to change,” Phillips-Luther says. “There is likely room to improve or refine brand messaging.”

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