The post-modern market has created a culture of interaction, engagement, relationship building driven by communities and advocacy. Consumers today need more than an advertisement with a catchy phrase or the beckoning call of a dollar discount. They are in search of something that they can be involved with, help co-create and most importantly, communicate with others. When it comes down to it, the influx of technology in our lives has generated a web of advocacy or disdain that drives business or collapses it in one fell swoop. This mentality cannot ring truer for the small, independent food trailer business. As Austin’s entrepreneurship spirit thrives and more trailers enter the market, it’s imperative to evaluate a coherent strategy to solidify a business’s most vital asset, brand equity.
What is brand equity? Well, it’s more than the dollar value of your business (that’s just a by-product). Brand equity involves the collection of brand assets linked to your brand that add or subtract from the perceived value provided by the product. In today’s market, this perceived value is judged and decided by one group, consumers. As a result, it’s key to learn what the construct of strong brand equity is. With positive brand equity comes decreased risk to crisis, increased cooperation and the possibility for brand extensions. In the world of trailers this means catering, additional trailers, retailing apparel, pre-packaged goods sold at other retailers and even going brick-and-mortar. The power of the brand exists in the mind of consumers, and the cherry on top to strong brand equity is resonance with customers. Considering the following questions paves the path to reaching this nirvana.
Who is the brand?
First and foremost, you have to have an identity. It’s basic really. People must know what you do and the category you operate in. Think about not only being top of mind, but also the breadth of situations in which your brand comes to mind. For instance, if I’m looking for something sweet to eat it’d be great for CoolHaus if they popped into mind. It’d be even better if I considered CoolHaus not just for dessert, but as snack, treat, or guilty pleasure. Trailers can benefit from this by engaging in conversations on Facebook & Twitter not just within their pages, but also throughout relative topics. Remember, you’re an expert at what you do! Salience can also be established through repeated exposure and innovative ways to catch people’s eyes. For instance, how about hosting a YouTube mini-series that adds value and recognition to your trailer?
Bottom line, you want to be recalled and considered.
What are you?
The meaning of the brand is crucial. Consider this as everything the consumer is taking in, not only through a rational perspective, but also symbolically. The product and service being provided is extremely complex. Sure, the core product is the delicious food, but have you considered that what the meaning of the trailer is a compilation of multiple facets? Functionally speaking, consumers are engaging in a thought process that analyses the efficiency of service, the style and design of the trailer/menu/seating, the smells/sounds as well as the price. These aspects can all be leveraged to differentiate your trailer from the hundreds of others around town.
Additionally, the consumer considers abstract aspects of the meaning of the brand. Much like a person, brands take on personalities. These personalities can range from ruggedness to excitement. Have you considered what your trailer represents and the “vibe” it’s putting out? This perception of brand meaning can have a huge impact before anyone even tries the food. Additionally, the history and heritage of the trailer or recipes create reassurance and credibility. For example, take Way South Philly, the history of the Philly is carried over to the trailer through the use of nostalgia (Rocky theme) as well as authenticity (Amoroso rolls flown in).
Bottom line, the brand needs to be strong, favorable and unique.
What do they think about you?
It is at this phase that consumers make up their judgement and feelings about your trailer. They compile their absorbed knowledge of what they saw and felt and make assumptions as to the quality, credibility, superiority and possible consideration of your trailer in the future. Not only that, but believe it or not, there is actually a development of feelings towards the brand. They can be anything including fun or excitement about eating at a trailer to a feeling of self-respect of eating local. Consider this thinking with their hearts rather than their minds. For instance, what do you feel about Pizza Hut v. Spartan Pizza?
Bottom line, there HAS to be a positive response to the brand.
What about you and the customer?
The pinnacle, crème de la crème, Holy Grail, the goal of all goals: Resonance. This is the ultimate relationship to have with your customers. When it all boils down to it, how in-synch are consumers with your brand? This is the depth and intensity of the bond that consumers have with your trailer. Within this question lies an evolution that is crucial not only in loyalty, but the all-powerful word of mouth. The levels of involvement vary, and one is better than the last.
-Loyalty: This is obviously valuable. You want repeat purchases. Unfortunately, this is sometimes considered the crowning achievement when there is so much more. Loyalty cards are good, but keeping people coming back without needing them is better.
-Attachment: It’s not unknown to have a personal relationship with a brand. Think about the relationships many of us have with multiple brands. We’re fans of them on Facebook, write on their wall, retweet them on Twitter and even attend events in their honor. Creating a strong personal attachment is invaluable. You don’t want people to like your brand, you want them to love it.
-Community: Brand communities are common and powerful. They not only serve as webs for interaction, feedback and insight for the brand, but they are also a group of people who love your brand. In the world of food trailers, there may not be formal groups like “Hill Country Pierogitarians” (although someone should definitely start it), but there is an imagined community amongst trailer eaters and aficionados of specific trailers. Regardless of a lack of formality, there is a sense of “we-ness”. People out there know there are others Getting Peached or Staying Chili, and it’s important that this is acknowledged.
-Engagement: Consider the time, effort and money it costs a consumer to stay connected to your trailer. This isn’t just about linking all your accounts so you can Tweet once and have that status replicate in Facebook and G+. This is about so much more. Every platform has its advantages and shortcuts are blatantly obvious. This is your opportunity to engage more than just the 10-15minutes where people visit your trailer. It’s also an opportunity to connect to others who have yet to visit. Remember, your trailer has its own personality that you created. Boost it, build it and engage with people.
Bottom line, resonance is king. You want to foster intense and active involvement with your brand.
What I’m trying to instil is that brand equity is far more than just a simple flyer, discount and catchy name. It’s a process made up of many working parts that are interpreted and considered both rationally and emotionally by consumers. In order to have a strong brand in the highly competitive food trailer business, all your muscles must be flexed. A brand is organic. Without constant attention and nurturing it will fall by the wayside and so will it’s positioning in Austin’s mind.