Branding is more than your logo

Each year, thousands of dollars are invested in logoed game cards, business cards, logoed knobby balls, uniforms, signage, and other marketing-related giveaways to keep your brand top-of-mind for your customers. Social Media pages promote the weekly or monthly specials, some of you are even running Google ads in highly competitive destination markets to attract new customers. In their own right, all of these are great ways of promoting your center. But beyond the logos and brand colors, what lies in creating a branded experience?

For starters, let’s talk differentiation. As corporate chains have risen to public attention in the last decade, so has the number of mid-sized businesses that adopt the larger chains’ target audience and branding elements in hopes for a piece of the pie. It’s very tempting to do so, as these corporate chains have become popular due to their appeal.

But consider this: If every new center that opened in your city tried to go after the same target audience with similar tactics and brand messaging, how do consumers make a choice between them? Price.

In the absence of a differentiation between experiences customers get at your center vs another, then price becomes the reason that consumers make their choices. It’s happened in the redemption toy business for years. The differences in how you set your brand apart have to be obvious — you only have a short amount of time (we’re talking seconds) to make your center stand out on something aside from price.

So how do you stand out in your market without participating in a “race to the bottom?” Here are 4 keys to success that will help you create a branded experience from the time your customers walk into the door to the time they tell their friends about their visit:

1 | Finesse The Messaging. It’s tempting to look at a competitor that’s doing well and try to emulate their messaging or brand voice. Resist! Spend some time in your marketing meetings to find new ways of saying old things to your audience. Try one or two of them out each time you roll out a website update or promotion. What is the added value of choosing your center over another choice? It has to be more than fun and a discount, right? Here’s an example: “Brand-X has been around for 10 years and is fun for the whole family!” compared to “Have a couple of hours for fun? Create a lifetime of memories with your family at our multi-attraction complex.” Hear the difference between those messages?

Pro tip: Brand voice is meant to evolve with messaging over time. Allowing your brand voice to change on a dime every time a new marketing person walks through the door doesn’t help you build your brand, it only confuses your customers. Establish guidelines for both voice and messaging that employees can follow to keep things evolving, but also keeping them on-brand.

2 | A Unified Staff Experience. In the Midwest, we have a gas station chain called Quik Trip. The logo is recognizable, but the reputation is unprecedented. The company is known for the speediness in which you can get in and out, which primarily falls on well-trained staff who run the counter with a high degree of efficiency. You know that even if there’s a long line, you’ll still be out the door in no time. The staff seems more than friendly; they are competent (which is far better than friendly if I’m in a hurry). When you leave, they all say “See you soon.” Dang straight, Quik Trip Guy, dang straight. Training your staff to be friendly is necessary, but truly creating a branded experience goes well into making them competent — all of them, all the time.

Start creating a unified staff experience by writing down all the things that your brand stands for. Examples: Fun, efficient, creative, and professional. Go an extra step by creating a list of things that your brand DOES NOT stand for: Boring, disorganized, mediocre, and sloppy. This list is just as important as the first and here’s why: If your employees don’t have parameters for what the brand is and isn’t, they can use relativity as their guidepost. What does that mean? One man’s “creative” is another woman’s “mediocre.” Make the difference clear in training to raise the brand experience standard for all customers.

3 | Design. How many cut-and-paste redemption counters or rooms have we seen? Quite a few. They’re less expensive, we get it! Costs are very important but don’t lose sight of long-term brand appeal. The brands that perform the best understand that every element of the center (bathrooms, bowling alley, party room, redemption counter) are all part of the overall brand experience customers remember. A game room that flows in the redemption area and vice versa create an experience for your customer that can’t be replicated somewhere else easily. It’s custom to your center and that’s worth an investment that can pay off for many years.

4 | The Follow Up. Have you ever signed up for a newsletter and then didn’t receive anything from the brand for weeks, sometimes months? On the flip side, have you signed up for an email subscription and received an email from the brand every single day? Sure, you have. Finding the right rhythm in your follow up is important, but even more important is that the content is meaningful. Even if you only send an email once a month, if it’s the same content each time your open rates will slowly start deteriorating.

Your best option is to send a follow-up email within 48 hours of the time the customer submitted it to you (preferably when they visit!). The glow of the experience hasn’t faded and they are much more likely to give you a referral or good review online if you’ve followed up in a reasonable amount of time: not too soon and not too late. Needing ideas on how to collect email addresses? Read this.

But what you say in that email is very important to extending the brand experience outside your walls. Thanking the customer, offering them a food or beverage discount for their next visit, and asking them to leave you a review on your Facebook page or Google are the basic requirements of a good first follow up. But also let them know what to expect: will they receive something daily, weekly, or monthly from you? What is the incentive for even opening the emails you send (what’s in it for me?), and lastly include addresses or a map to other locations you may have in the area. If your location is in St. Louis, but you have locations in Kansas City and Omaha, you’ll be top of mind if they plan an out of town trip or refer a friend to you from those towns- they just need to know you’re there, too!

Pro Tip: If you’ve nailed your employee experience, then including a picture of your staff makes an emotional connection with the customer that’s needed to drive home what they experienced while they were there.

By honing in on these 4 key areas of brand experience, you’ll be able to create a space that’s uniquely yours in the market and avoid having to compete solely on prices.

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