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Ask an Expert: How to Develop Your Hospitality Brand

Ask an Expert: How to Develop Your Hospitality Brand

We are igniting conversations between some of Melbourne’s hospitality icons, and the people who need their expert knowledge the most.

A brand is about creating a feeling. For hospo businesses, a brand should be a culmination of location, fit-out, signage, marketing and social media. From the minute your customers walk through the door, they should be part of that brand. We gathered some experts for the first of our Ask an Expert series to explain how.

Meet the experts

Jose and Miranda Maturana from BFF
With five children and a creative ad agency, this couple is busy. Their thriving business is about human-first creative developments, with clear strategies to ensure success.

Mark Simpson from DesignOffice
DesignOffice is an influential architecture and interior design firm. With a passion for hospo and a real hands-on understanding of the challenges that the industry brings, their designs are about developing feelings that bring customers back, again and again.

Todd from Weekdays Studio

Todd is an incredible graphic designer and signage master who is behind some of the best brands and graphic design in Melbourne hospitality. He believes a brand or design is more than just a picture or sign, it should tell a story.

What is a brand strategy?


“A brand is all-encompassing. It’s more than a logo, a colour palette or some flash marketing material. It’s everything you touch, everything you see. From the minute a customer walks into the restaurant, until the receipt at the end of the meal, it’s all the details and the feeling it gives you.” – Miranda, BFF

When you think about a highly successful brand, many people will agree that Apple is a great example. When you ask people about Apple, they’ll probably say the following: Steve Jobs, innovative, creative, design, minimalism, iPhone (or another bit of hardware) and expensive.

Apple had a brand right from the start, and it shows. They carefully cultivated their image, the feeling they give people, and it’s continued throughout their journey. Clearly articulated and with longevity, it’s outlived Steve Jobs.

How do you create your brand strategy?

If you want to create a brand but have no clear idea of what you want, you’re not alone. Most people start off with no brief, but usually, they have an end goal. They want a website, a logo, but no idea how to get there – that ‘how’ is the strategy.

Develop your strategy in four key steps

1. Research and discovery
Skipping this step is one of the biggest mistakes people make. And it isn’t just finding out who your competitors are, or what kind of market you’re playing in. It’s actually finding out if you’re offering something that people want. Can it be differentiated? Can you actually make a living from it?Then, you need to measure and test the market. Is what you’re trying to do actually going to result in some kind of success? If you skip this research step, typically your business will fail. It will look nice but it won’t actually provide any kind of return on investment.

2. Strategy
Now you know your idea has legs, you need to develop a strategy. After all, if your target market is retirees, the way you target a 70-year-old is quite different from how you market to a 20-year-old.
Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you talking to?
  2. How are you talking to them?
  3. Are these the right people?

Albert & Power butchery is in Forest Hills, an area of town that’s becoming gentrified, and has lots of young families. The butcher did his research and identified his target market: middle-to-high-income women who have young children and find it difficult to leave the house.
He developed his branding around that. He made online ordering easy. He got product placement in Marie Claire. And now, a few years down the track, he’s busy with consistent orders, mostly from his target market. Spending time on that strategy paid off, big time.


3. Making everything pretty
Once you’ve developed your strategy, it’s time to move on to the tangibles: everything a customer sees, touches and does. It’s all-encompassing, from the website to the menu, the logos to the chair fabric. When all of those decisions are made based on research and discovery, they work a lot better, which means better conversions and higher margins. Todd from Weekdays says that developing design is vital for success, and it’s not solely about how it looks.


“Branding is a feeling. It’s how you are perceived. If you have a great logo but a terrible sign, this influences how people see you. You need to always take it back to why you are doing something, strip it back to the feeling you want to create.”

For Todd, it’s research, and understanding how you work towards the end result. It’s a series of constant refinements, and not being scared to scrap something if it doesn’t work.

Mark from DesignOffice agrees, saying that the brand has to be part of the space you occupy. How does a fit-out reflect a brand?


“Acoustics and lighting are one thing, but it’s also working within the space and to the brand. Words, feelings, sensibilities of space and emotions are all important. It’s having a material palette to touch and get a feel, not having images of specific spaces… it should be about emotions.”

Of course, in hospo the service model has to be respected. The space must be highly functional. Good design is about making a functional space that people feel good in. But don’t hang out on Pinterest too much. You need to establish what makes you different. What’s your unique selling proposition? You can’t be someone else – and it doesn’t make good business sense to try, either.

4. Testing
Not everything is going to work and you need to accept that things may change – don’t get too attached to any idea. You need to ensure that whatever you’ve created is actually successful for the customer.

To test your fit-out, start by sitting in the space at different levels and angles. Are the seats the right height? Is the fabric comfortable? Is the lighting too bright for intimate dining, or too low for good Instagram pics?

Some extra tips

  1. Remember to allow enough time
  2. Have realistic timelines for each step of the development. Rush jobs don’t end well unless you have a lot of money.
  3. Start discussions with an architect before even renting a space. As soon as you take on lease, you’re paying rent. Contacting an architect beforehand will mean you have a physical brand strategy ready to go as soon as you get the keys.
  4. You often see great designers looking at history to design the future. That’s because design is cyclical.
  5. In the future we’ll see more blurring of spaces – is it a coffee shop, an office, a home or a retail store? This is an evolution that could give your space something different, and cater to more people and styles of hospitality at different times.
  6. Design a feeling

As you go through the four steps to develop your brand, you should keep in mind that a brand is a feeling. As you research, strategise, implement and test your brand, the most vital thing to remember is that people go to places that make them feel good – that’s ultimately your goal.

It’s not just designing a café or a brand – it’s about designing a space that feels welcoming to the humans using it.

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