What Heavy Metal and Burgers Can Teach You About Branding

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to partake in the wonderful burgers of Kuma’s Too, a sequel to the famous Kuma’s Corner. Don’t worry, this isn’t really a restaurant review but a point about brand identity and targeting.

When you enter Kuma’s (either one), your ears are blasted by the sounds of heavy metal music at an insanely loud volume. And yet, there’s a line spilling out the door. In frigid Chicago temperatures.

Why? That’s easy. The product isn’t just good. It’s incredible. The burgers aren’t just burgers. They’re creations that nobody else can match. They don’t just throw ingredients on a piece of meat like ketchup and mustard. That’s for amateurs. They arm themselves with a toolbox full of ingredients like Cholula Lemon Vinaigrette, tortilla strips, fried eggs, Siracha, red wine BBQ sauce and more. I had a hard time deciding between the burgers of Plague Bringer, Metallica or GoatSnake.

They put a ridiculous combination of goodness together that just works miraculously. Which is ironic, since for a heavenly taste, the place has the address of 666 w. Diversey and you can’t help but think this is a perfect sign for what Kuma’s represents: Raising hell and serving beef that’s incredible but going to blow your arteries up.

Is it for everyone? You tell me if you want to bring your 2-year-old in a restaurant that blares Judas Priest.

But this is the great thing. They have a niche that is so powerful, it’s cult-like in its following.

You don’t like loud music? Get out.

You’re a vegan? There’s no one item on the menu for you and never will be.

You don’t like lines? You want to make a reservation? Too bad.

This excerpt from the restaurant’s Facebook Page says a lot about Kuma’s.

“Our second location Kuma’s Too opens this coming wednesday at 666 W. Diversey Parkway here in Chicago. A few things you can plan on. The food will be the same as it ever was with some choice improvements here and there. We will still be blasting Judas Priest at 1000000 decibels from open to close and we still won’t quote the wait time over the phone. But, that said, we are proud of the work we’ve been doing in the space and we hope you feel the same way. We open there at the same time we open at our location on belmont so please come and bang your head with us. Various media outlets have already written about the change of guard at the Belmont location chefwise so I’m not going to bore you with more of those details. I still oversee everything and the team there is more than capable of holding my standard. You can still email me directly or come visit at either location should you desire to talk shit to my face directly instead of hiding behind a keyboard.”

Brands can learn a lot from this unapologetic approach, particularly small businesses.

Oh, let me guess what the next comment is going to be: “Well, we’re a (insert complex set of professional services here) business. We’re not exactly just serving burgers to customers.”

If you want to hide behind that excuse for not identifying your target audience and who is outside of it, you can keep saying that to make yourself feel better.

But there’s no truth to it.

Complexity of products and services does not change the fact that you need to find your soul. You need to find the people who would wait in that line out the door for you when it’s ten degrees outside. And if you don’t have them or enough of them? That’s a good place to start. Why is that? Are we not clear enough in our message? Are we trying to kiss the butt of everyone who needs our services instead of qualifying them and turning certain unqualified segments away (or referring them out to others)? What will we absolutely not compromise on – and does everyone understand that or is the CEO keeping this set of principles buried in his or her brain?

It’s too bad that wackjobs ruin a perfectly good word like “Cult.” Because forming a cult following behind your brand is worth striving for – not merely to get more people through the door but to transform them into rabid advocates who will promote you, stand up for you, sing your praises in an unsolicited way. It’s not easy to get to this point. It will take serious time and focus. But you will absolutely, positively never get here by having an open door that welcomes anyone and everyone. Nor will you get here by lacking clarity for who you cater to and who you don’t.

Just like Kuma’s would probably not work well for your classical music-loving Grandmother or your vegan girlfriend, you have to ask yourself who you are NOT for. Do you know this? Does everyone in the company believe it? And once they do, do people in the outside world believe it too? Because here’s the thing – you can write it down and pay lip service to this concept internally until the cows come home. But living and breathing it in external settings is the true test. Kuma’s lives it by what’s on the menu and what’s a part of the fabric of the people that they are. You can’t fake it.

What is it that you can’t fake? And when you put that out there, are you willing to stand up for it again and again? Are you willing to turn off people who have dollars who don’t believe in it or you going to bend and bend and bend until you lose your way and your people don’t recognize your brand anymore?

Stand up for your brand is easier said than done. But it’s worth it every time. If you can do it well enough and consistently enough, your most loyal fans will eagerly await to spread the word on how much you rock.

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