Fast food won’t fill you up forever

I’ll admit it, I love fast food. Succulent, mouth-watering bites of god-knows-what. I can’t help myself.

Blame the pangs of hunger, the occasional hours of boredom and the slightly-more occasional nights of sleep deprivation. Blame the beaming, glossy fantasy of late-night fulfilment. Blame the damn nuggets.

Where fast food is hollow, cooking – let’s call it slow food – is sincere.

Cooking is intimate; it’s substantial. Every recipe I know is the sum of countless experiences, memories and half-baked ideas (blended with a fair helping of ‘what’s in the fridge’ of course).

Cooking forms a common bond between people. It’s a reflection of our generous soul and personal stories, more than it is about the ingredients we employ.

Promotions, offers, happy hours.

These are fast food. They satisfy an immediate need with little thought, creativity or research required. No bad thing, in some instances.

But relying on ‘transactional’ methods is bad for your business health.

Whatever the offer, there will always be a cheaper alternative. The more attractive the promotion, the less sustainable the deal will be. And what happens when the happy hour ends? People leave. They were loyal to the offer, after all.

Branding takes time, threatens egos and challenges palates. But branding connects with people; it relates. Branding is slow food.

Rates. Rent. Payroll. Food prices.

They’re all going up. An industry that operates on tight margins is under siege from rising costs. Brexit – a pernicious outbreak in its own right – has accelerated the war for talent and contributed to the levels of uncertainty, both for the operator and the consumer.

And when times are tough, it’s branding that will reinforce your message, remind your core customers why they love you, and help them spread the word for you.

Let’s be clear. Branding is not the marketing department’s responsibility. It’s not the logo. It’s not the strapline. It’s not the website.

It’s HR, it’s finance, it’s the sous chef in your Exeter branch – it’s you. It’s everything and everyone. It’s what you do and why you do it. It represents the stories, ideals and values of the people that work in, buy from and talk about your business.

That last part is key. Nobody – nobody – ever talks fondly about a corporate identity. They celebrate the talent and ingenuity of the people that work there, and the community they attract.

This group changes. Decision makers, guests, followers, sponsors; they necessarily evolve. And great brands evolve with them.

No agency can define your brand for you.

If they say they can, snigger, then leave.

But an agency can help extract all those stories and ideals and values from your team and your guests. Trying to do this internally tends to suffer from political tangling and departmental bias.

An agency should help you navigate towards a sweet spot where your product, team and audience match, that your competitors can’t touch.

James Sandrini is a director at 48.1 – a creative agency for food and drinks brands. For more, read the blog at