What is in this article?:
- Our Evolving (Love / Hate) Relationship with Brands
- Why we Hate Brands
- Where do you stand on brands?
There are pros and cons to the use of national restaurant brands on college campuses. Weighing both is key to developing a branding strategy.
Why we Hate Brands
- Brands tend to promote the image, message and values of the brand, rather than reflecting the unique culture and character of the institution. This is probably the concern I hear voiced most frequently by key administrators, students and faculty members relative to brands. It comes in two general forms:
- The use of brands makes us look more like the Mall of America and dilutes the message of what is special about our campus; or,
- When brand partners make national news over their values or practices, the entire campus community assumes we are endorsing these positions. We can’t afford to let ourselves be defined in this way.
- Limited menus and agreement terms restrict operators’ ability to respond to changing needs. Part of the success formula for a strong brand is to focus on offering a few items that it is best known for in an efficient, consistent manner. This can lead to “brand fatigue,” especially on smaller campuses where students may feel their choices are limited. Boredom with a brand through overexposure can be aggravated by extended, multi-year commitments operators must typically make to bring a brand on campus. When flexibility suffers, programs can, too.
- The financial equation required by brand franchises can be challenging in a campus setting. Already thin margins are gobbled up by payments back to the brand (license fees, royalties, etc.), and pricing must be the same as equivalent locations off campus or students will revolt. In many situations, especially where campus dining staff are paid a living wage and excellent institutional benefits, the cost of offering a brand on campus can be more than it’s worth. Unfortunately, customers don’t want or need to know about these realities. They perceive a dining program’s reluctance to offer brands as protectionism or restraint of free trade.
- Brands are perceived as promoting unhealthy eating habits. Several brands have made headway in battling this perception. At the same time, our fascination with national food brands started with fast food chains focused on offering high-fat foods—and many of these continue to be the most prominent names in the world of restaurant brands.
- Brands are perceived as not sustainable. As more and more campuses commit to sustainable practices, including targets for the percentage of foods that will be purchased from “local” sources, national brands are perceived as working against these goals as their procurement programs are often tied to national contracts.
- “It’s all hype – our own (name your food) consistently beats the ‘leading’ brands in blind taste tests.” College operators often argue that the public is being hoodwinked in to believing they are getting a superior product when they buy from a brand, but that actual testing belies this perception.