Think about the last time you went to a party where you didn’t know anyone. How did you handle it? Perhaps you wore an outfit that is certain to garner compliments. Perhaps you really engaged when you overheard someone talking about something you’re passionate about. Or maybe you changed your tone depending on who you were talking to. To Christine Myers of Verb Garden, Inc., brand development is the same thing. Simply put, it is relationship-building. If a restaurant logo is a customer’s first impression, then the voice and the things it says are the customer’s first conversation with the brand. “My job is just helping them learn how to tell their stories to people in a clean, consistent way,” she said.
After decades of experience writing for giant corporations to emerging restaurants alike, Christine has gotten pretty good at knowing if a company can succeed and what they need to do in order to be successful. When she started working with Wendy Miller Pugh on branding her gluten-free bakery, Christine knew it was the beginning of something great.
About 15 years ago, Wendy wasn’t feeling well. Celiac disease wasn’t a very common diagnosis, but she was dating a nurse-turned-entrepreneur named Letha who suggested she look into it. “I found some stuff online and eliminated gluten, and I felt 100% better,” said Wendy. Gluten-free options were few and far between, so she mostly cooked for herself to avoid getting sick. After a bit of experimentation, she realized she could make baked goods that were just as good to her friends who could consume gluten as they were to those who couldn’t. So, when Letha was in between projects, Wendy suggested they start a gluten-free bakery together.
After a few months selling treats at farmer’s markets, Wendy and Letha—who are now happily married with a young daughter—knew that they had something that people were craving and were ready to invest in the expensive process of brand development. With Christine’s help, Bake Me Happy was born. “I think it was the best investment that we could have ever made at the time,” said Wendy. “We’re in 2021, and we still use the dialogue on our website, we are constantly using clips out of our packet, and our logo has stood the test of time.”
Christine said developing Bake Me Happy’s voice was a breeze because the product was special, the story was rich, and the mission was clear: Wendy wanted to make treats that were nostalgic, fun, delicious, and just so happened to also be gluten-free. So, the names of the treats couldn’t just be basic descriptions—each had to have a personality that was just as delightful as their flavors. The spicy peanut butter cookies became Peanut Butter Burners, the oatmeal sandwich cookies became Oatmeal Creme Clouds, and the Twinkie-like product became Spongies. “It was easy because the fun factor was already there,” said Christine.
Christine’s restaurant marketing strategy doesn’t target a particular niche because doing so doesn’t enable the right customers to find you. When developing a marketing strategy, figure out who you think will like your product the most instead of how you want to relate to the people who show up. “I guarantee you that more than a quarter of Bake Me Happy customers are not gluten-free people,” said Christine. “They just love the vibe, they love the food.” If she had based the restaurant branding on market research, Christine reasoned, she would’ve focused the messaging so carefully that people who didn’t have a gluten sensitivity wouldn’t think to try it. “Gluten-free goodness for everybody,” declares the home page of their restaurant website. The language is direct about what is being offered without being restrictive.
A clear mission isn’t all that drives a brand voice. Like all great stories, a brand needs to have a clear narrative that makes it clear where the character has been and where they’re going. “To us,” reads the bakery’s website, “Food is, quite simply, love.” Wendy and Letha’s partnership emanates through the business, and their business emanates through their partnership. “A normal business partner can’t support you when times are really hard the way a [life] partner can.” They’re two sides of the same coin: While Wendy creates, Letha plans. While Letha dreams about the future, Wendy focuses on putting one step in front of the other. “It’s just two different ways of thinking and a bit of both of us bending and thinking of the other person’s perspective,” she explained.
That balance comes through when they talk about their process. The Bake Me Happy team knows transparency is more important than ever when addressing health concerns. They lift the curtain to reveal the techniques and products they use in their recipe because they want to make it clear that quality and safety are just as important to them as flavor and texture. Even when they’re talking shop, though, the tone is quippy and light:
We don’t use one, all-purpose, gluten-free flour for everything we bake. No, indeed! That, in our humble opinion, is a recipe for crumbly, cardboard-y, flavorless disaster. Instead, we do tons of research; create unique, individualized flour blends for each and every item; and then test every item over and over again to ensure that every bite delivers a mouthful of marvelous.
To start, think back to how you felt when you first decided to start a business. What was missing that you thought you could bring to the table? What did you want to achieve? How did you imagine your restaurant would look like five years down the road? “You don’t always just say, I want a gluten-free bakery,” explained Christine. “They have this picture in their head of what the business looks like.” Honoring that first optimistic, dreamy vision is the best way to establish that first emotional connection with your customer.
For those who don’t have the budget for a copywriter, ask for help from someone who gets and loves your ideas but who has enough distance that they can help you express them. “I’m not kidding, do not try to do this yourself,” said Christine. It doesn’t need to be someone who knows the business well or even someone who is a talented writer—you just need to talk about your ideas out loud to someone with whom you can be honest and open. That’s when you’ll express your ideas most authentically, so that’s the voice that will bring your ideas to life.