What can a small town Balinese restaurant teach small businesses about branding?
Just 3 days ago, I arrived in a small coastal town called Sanur in Bali, Indonesia. This was my first trip to Bali, and upon my arrival I was immediately taken by the serenity and calm of the island, and the colorful cool of the people. Everyone seemed to just "be", both as individuals and community, without significant effort. Even what I experienced as a chaotic traffic situation turned out to be an exchange of acceptance, harmony, and social agreement amongst the locals. I had the pleasure of staying at a charming Airbnb just steps away from the beach and a path that led to the heart of town. Upon my first journey to town on foot, I came upon a line of small shops and vendors. Aesthetically, many of the small restaurants looked almost exactly the same. The various stalls were adorned in a similar blue tarp, all displaying a common assortment of goods, including various drinks, satay, grilled corn, and a traditionally wrapped rice dish among other things. I greeted and spoke politely to each of the shop owners as they all coaxed me to buy something from their establishment. In response to each eager advancement, I kindly declined, though I was indeed hungry. I wasn't sure what I was looking for (but I knew that I needed something to eat soon because I was starving!) After strolling through the market for about a quarter of a mile, a small open air restaurant adorned in red, green, and yellow came into view. As I approached the front, the next detail that caught my eye was a large portrait of Bob Marley set as the centerpiece of the restaurant. Almost without hesitation, I ascended the steps of the restaurant and took a seat at a table.
After visiting the same restaurant for three days in a row, I began to reflect on my pattern of visiting the space. What was it that drew me to this particular restaurant in the first place, and why did I keep coming back? In reality, the restaurant sold many of the same dishes that were available at other establishments. Perhaps it was the picture of the legendary dreadlock Rasta that drew me to the place? Or perhaps the good quality of the cooking? On the surface, these explanations seemed only partially accurate. In order to understand my own decision making process, I had to go a bit deeper. I reflected on a few of my favorite Bob Marley anthems, some of which include, "Kinky Reggae", "Redemption Song", and "Three Little Birds". Nostalgically, I began to hum a few of the tunes to myself. Immediately, a feeling of warmth and calm came over me. Just the sight of these familiar symbols had evoked these feelings of warmth, calm, community, and solidarity. A brand is built largely on things that are intangible, such as trust and value. A customer's experience with a brand is the greatest factor in determining a brand's image. As with all businesses, the colors and images that we choose to associate with a brand only serve as symbols of more deeply held values and beliefs. In my case, the colors red, yellow, and green, along with the picture of Bob Marley, sent a clear message that stood for peace, unity, and freedom. These are values that resonated with me, and inspired me to reflected on how and with whom I do business. I realized that this restaurant's ability to clearly communicate its values and beliefs through aesthetics helped me to quickly make a decision about where I spent my time and money. Unbeknownst to many of the other restaurant patrons, this very decision making process was likely at work as they combed through the many restaurants to find the perfect spot to grab a bite.
In a completely unfamiliar place, these familiar visual representations brought me into relationship with this small restaurant. Similarly, the decisions that customers make about where they attempt to do business are often made in the blink of an eye, and are often driven by deeply held values and beliefs. Think of the brand that you are building visually and conceptually as a lighthouse. Similar to the way in which a lighthouse guides ships safely to shore, a businesses' use of imagery, colors, and symbols guide those that hold similar values and beliefs into a potential customer/client relationship. As Simon Sinek quotes in his book Start with Why, "the goal is not to do business with everyone who needs what you have, but with those who believe what you believe."
A small Balinese restaurant captured the essence of the warmth and values of Bali with their simple intention around decor, paving the way for new, loyal patrons like myself. What could you learn from those that you choose to do business with about your own values? How can you use that knowledge to strengthen the ways that you communicate your values with potential customers or clientele? Simply learning from the choices that we make in doing business every day can support us in building thriving and impactful brand identities.