Brand differentiation in food choices [By Rhoda Siu]

Well-known as a “food paradise”, wide varieties of food choices can be found in Singapore, ranging from local to cosmopolitan cuisines. Fast food in particular, has been extremely successful in breaking into the food scene in Singapore. 20 October 1979 saw the opening of the first McDonald’s outlet in Singapore and the opening was a massive event which led to the setting of a world record of the highest volume of burgers sold in a day. At present, one can find a McDonald’s restaurant in practically every corner of the island – over 110 McDonald’s restaurants across the island serve 1.2 million customers every week, with over 40 operating as 24-hour stores. Needless to say, McDonald’s is currently the largest fast food chain in Singapore.

A brand like McDonald’s is more than just a familiar name and symbol. They are key elements in the company’s relationships with the customers. The brand represents Singaporeans’ perceptions and feelings about their products and performance – childhood memories, familiarity, comfort food, convenience and more. The real value of a strong brand is its power to capture consumer preference and loyalty.

This has a lot to do with Brand Equity.

Generally, brand equity can be defined as the positive differential effect that knowing the brand name has on customers’ response to the product of service and its marketing. A brand has a positive brand equity when consumers react more favourably to it than to generic versions of the same products. It has a negative brand equity when consumers react less favourably than to an unbranded version. Other than delivering unique benefits or reliable service, brands with high brand equity are able to forge deep connections with customers. Customers react to the brand; know about it and understand it. This familiarity leads to a strong, positive consumer-brand connection like McDonald’s. The traditional thinking around brand building was to only focus on the aesthetics of the brand identity – creative logo and brand name, impressive slogan and unique product packaging. In a world where consumers are constantly bombarded by various images and messages, it becomes a challenge to be noticed and remembered. The end goal of branding is all about creating differentiation.

One such example would be the imminent emergence of a trend towards patronising indie cafes in Singapore. It is an alternative to fast food as a means of dining out. The flocking of young people to newly discovered cafes by their peers can be described as a means to increase their “social capital” and influence, which are reflected through the choice of place to dine, who do they eat with. The indie cafe culture has been taking off and although normally regarded as a young working adults trend, youths are increasingly beginning to adopt this culture in a bid to elevate social statuses, as appreciation and patronisation of indie cafes are regarded as a marker of refined taste by their peers.

Consumers in this category use the brand as a tool or status symbol to express their social identity in a way that is desirable and accepted. It is part of the package in building their “Me’ brand and this is done through the sharing of their repertoire of diet and food choices via social networking sites. Indie cafe brands forge deep connections with their consumers as they actively participate in creating meaningful brands.

Now pick your choice: Fast Food versus Indie Cafes.

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