A brand is much more than just a logo. It trickles down from the interior scheme to the plates, menu, tone of voice, illustrations, music genre, social media presence, merchandise and every micro experience in between.

Basically, it’s a jigsaw puzzle filled with pieces a customer can interact with beyond eating and drinking at a venue.

Hospitality speaks to After Hours Studio Co-Founders Jasmine Gallagher and Shy Trutwein about the elements that make up a brand’s DNA, the importance of establishing guidelines and sticking to them and how to create rapport with customers in an ever-shifting environment.

After Hours is a brand and design studio based in Queensland, but their work extends beyond the Sunshine State. Jasmine Gallagher and Shy Trutwein have worked on venues including Small Talk Coffee & Snacks and Shwarmama in Sydney and Way Good in Melbourne, to name a few.

Gallagher and Trutwein want businesses to know one thing when it comes to branding: there’s a whole world that exists beyond a logo. “Your brand is building your story; your values, what you stand for, your personality and tone of voice — it tells the story online and offline,” says Gallagher. “It’s where a venue takes on a life form and has an own-able identity nobody else has.”

“It’s a way for customers to experience what you’re doing outside of just being at the venue,” adds Trutwein. “Branding helps encapsulate and inform every touchpoint.”

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Whether a venue is in the development phase or has been around for decades, identifying brand values is a must and is the starting point for articulating a clear, concise message. “We get to know the person or the group of people behind the concept and we work out what the story is,” says Trutwein.

“It’s about building out the story and then working with them on how they can communicate it visually on everything from social media to newsletters, website and merchandise.”

And that means ironing out each and every consumer experience that relates to your venue. “A big part of branding is identifying your values,” says Gallagher. “It’s identifying the target market, the competitors and the offering. Whether they champion high-quality produce or provide a localised offering to the neighbourhood; it’s visual, verbal and internal identity.”

Ideally, working out a brand’s ethos should be done in the embryonic phases, which maximises the cohesive potential and ensures a smooth ride for all parties. “People are becoming more interested in developing a brand from the ground up,” says Trutwein.

“It’s great to work with other creative minds to form a holistic narrative; if interiors and branding aren’t speaking to each other, the customer is confused and doesn’t truly know who you are,” adds Gallagher. “You might have a subtle interior but punchy, fun branding and they don’t speak to each other.”

Confusion can even flow on to the people working within the business. “Everyone has to be on board from the chefs to the floor staff,” says Trutwein. “It’s easier to understand what you’re doing when all the touchpoints are connecting to each other.”

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One of the easiest ways to stand out from the crowd is to do things a little differently, and that comes down to strategy. In Survivor, players outwit, outplay, outlast — and the same notion can be applied to the hospitality industry.

In the branding world, the smallest details can set a venue apart via graphics, illustrations, fonts and a core colour scheme. Take a pasta bar for example; is it traditional or a more modern interpretation?

“We look at all the other venues in the area, and if they’re using dark green, maybe you need to come in with something like bright yellow, which will translate to the interiors as well,” says Gallagher. “It’s your colours, fonts, graphic assets, art direction and the photography style that all tell that story further.”

Capturing a sense of play is key in After Hours’ approach to branding, and is present throughout all the creative assets a business can use in-venue and on digital platforms.

In what’s been a difficult year-plus for businesses and customers, everyone is keen to participate in lighter, fun experiences. “We create illustrations which are like a stamp of identification when venues don’t want to use a logo,” says Trutwein. “We take photos with high flash and there are a lot of hands and energy, which communicates the mood and the vibe of a venue.”

A peek at Way Good’s Instagram feed sees illustrations of characters holding forks, spoons or bottles of wine on social tiles, which are also printed on the venue’s packaging. “If you have a cute illustration or a sticker on your takeaway boxes, people will post about it and that’s user-generated content; it’s the marketing done for you,” says Trutwein.

Kristoffer Paulsen

Real-time content is another way to communicate with customers and establish tone of voice. Whether it’s capturing a chef making a dish in the kitchen or interacting with followers; both offer a prime opportunity to connect. “It’s having that one-to- one experience with the customer,” says Trutwein. “If your tone of voice is light-hearted, you might be more vocal on socials and write back to every comment.”

“It’s also being able to see who’s running the venue,” adds Gallagher. “The consumer has so much spending power and they’re conscious about who they’re supporting.”

Social media platforms are just one communication tool used by venues and customers, but websites and newsletters shouldn’t be overlooked. “Websites are an integral part of your brand story and allow you to control how your audience interacts with and perceives your brand,” says Gallagher.

The studio has noticed an uptake in venues opting to use Squarespace as a hosting platform, which is known for its user-friendly nature; a must when it comes to keeping your offering up to date.

“Operators don’t want to come back to a studio to make changes like updating their menu,” says Gallagher. “COVID-19 has taught us that a website needs to be updated internally. A year ago, we didn’t know QR codes would be a thing, and now they link to menus, which need to be changed frequently.”

Buffet Digital

An increasing number of venues are also experiencing the benefits of sending newsletters and establishing rapport with their customers; especially during periods when they’re not able to visit a venue in person.

“We have also found more venues are requesting newsletter templates,” says Gallagher. “It’s that one-to-one contact you’re not going to get elsewhere. You’re
giving them direct news and it’s a way to be fully engaged with your customers.”

It’s also a space where operators can go a little deeper and share more than just an on-paper offering. “You could include recipes for particular dishes or a playlist to the music chefs are listening to in the kitchen,” says Trutwein.

“There’s only so much you can communicate on Instagram. If a customer is engaged, they want to know more about the people behind your venue and to be a part of it.”

Being a part of something extends offline, too. Venue merchandise has become not just another revenue stream for business owners, but a way for customers to show their support when they’re walking down the street or on holiday. “Small Talk’s merchandise went wild,” says Trutwein.

“Someone sent a photo of four people in a café in Byron Bay who didn’t know each other all wearing Small Talk T-shirts. Merchandise has become a thing where people feel like they belong to a club; it’s like wearing your favourite sports jersey, which is really cool.”

The COVID-19 period has shown us customers are receptive to supporting businesses
with a story, and branding is integral in communicating what a venue is made of.

Whether it’s streamlining social media by posting consistent content to debuting
a newsletter or hosting a live or two on Instagram, branding guidelines are the bread and butter for making your message stick.