No substance, no brand

This post is the first part in a series of what goes into a brand strategy and how it can help you beat the overwhelm and hit your dream goals.

I’ve been doing brand workshops with a few awesome brands and one of the questions I like to ask is ‘Where do you want your business to be in 10 years?’ It’s a big question but its there for a reason I’ll come onto.

It saddened me that quite often the response has been something on the lines of ‘We just want to be able to pay our team a good wage and keep growing’.

These are amazing people who have created amazing businesses and are capable of doing amazing things but the pressures of survival of the last 18 months have made them focus on the day to day and sometimes forget why they did this in the first place and how much change they’re capable of in the world.

But it’s completely understandable….

Right now things are hard for restaurant brands. Staffing shortages, rising prices and the instability from covid meaning even more time fighting fires and no time to spend working on the business and planning for growth

But it’s never been more important to give your customers a reason to choose you over others and give a purpose and vision to unite and motivate you and your team through the tough times

And if you’ve taken your business this far and survived covid, not to sound too guru like but with the right plan you can accomplish anything, including your dreams.


WTF is brand substance?

Im going to talk about the importance of Brand Substance aka your purpose, vision, mission and values.

This isn’t the sexiest part of branding and it often gets a bad rap on the lines of ‘These brand agencies charging us fortunes for a PDF full of jargon that has no practical value’

But having a brand substance is the different between having an authentic brand that makes your customers stay for life and not having a brand.

It’s the foundation before even considering any other part of your brand and marketing.

Even if you’ve done this exercise before, the world has changed dramatically in the last 18 months and your business and customers are not the same as they were then.

Why it’s so important:

  • It’s the difference between having an authentic brand your customers connect with and a generic one no-one does.
  • Creates a guide to give you and your team clarity on all your decisions
  • Unites and inspires you and your team behind a purpose and vision
  • Attracts new team members who connect with your purpose and vision
  • Gives your ideal customers a way to emotionally connect with you over others
  • Makes your communications rise above the noise whilst getting your key messages across


Right now would be a very good time to rethink about your place in the new world and document that in a brand guide.

Let’s get into it:

The 4 parts of brand substance

Purpose – Why does your business exist and what impact does it make to your customers and the wider world?

Vision – what does the future look like and where does your business fit in that world?

Mission – what are the things you commit to doing every day to reach your vision?

Values – how do you want to be perceived by your customers, suppliers and the wider world?



The best brands in the world have a why that’s bigger than money. That’s what having an authentic brand means. So what’s your food business here to do?

Think about the following things:

  • Why did you start this?
  • Who are you helping
  • What are you helping them with
  • What impact can you have on their lives
  • How will this improve their lives
  • Is there a higher cause you support (eg charity)


Turn this into a statement that neatly summarises your purpose as a business and add to your brand guide . People want to know why you do what you do. It’s how they choose their brands. The reason you set up your food business and the impact you want to make are unique to you.

Celebrate that and share it. It’s the first step for your customers to emotionally connect with you and seeing you as humans not a business. It’s probably the biggest advantage you have over huge corporate brands.

Here are some examples of the purpose of some much loved brands:

Crayola: Encouraging children to be creative, and enabling parents to inspire them

Crayola created a series of successful programs which teased out the innate creativity of every child. The brand helps parents and teachers uplift their child’s creativity, positioning them as partners in the learning process, instead of simply being customers buying pencils for kids.


Muji: Promoting simplicity and moderation, humility and self-restraint, as well as supporting the serenity and natural state of the environment

Muji upholds their brand purpose by delivering functional, streamlined products that are simple and practical. Pairing this with their retail store design too, their brand purpose is experienced by consumers in the products they buy, as they buy them.




Ask yourself ‘Where do I want my business to be in 10 years’. This is so important as you and your team need a vision to get (re)inspired by.

I know it’s a tough one. But think big. If someone put a gun to your head and said you couldn’t fail – what would that future look like?

Think about the future of our market as well. The world of food and how and when we consume it is changing at a lightning pace. Where do you want your business to fit into that future? Do you want to be left behind?

Also think about yourself – where do you want to be within that. How much time do you want to be working? How do you want to spend your time? Do you want to be recognised as a thought leader, write a book, do more charitable work? What would your business need to do to support that?

Some things to consider:

  • The culture you’d love to build for your team
  • A charitable venture
  • Events to share your values
  • Creating at home products (also sold at the deli you’ve always dreamed of?)
  • Coaching/teaching others


Times are tough at the moment but people will always want to pay for food. If you have customers that love and trust you, they’ll follow you wherever you want to go. Be it a food truck touring the festivals or the deli selling your incredible condiments.

If you’re like one founder who recently had to scrub the toilets because no-one else was available to, this is what you close your eyes and think about when you’re literally in the merde💩.

It will also help guide all your decisions as keeping you closer or further away from your vision.

  1. Sweetgreen: To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.
  2. Patagonia: We’re in business to save our home planet.
  3. Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.



Your mission is how you get to your dream future. What are the things that you and your team need to commit to every day in order to make your vision a reality?

Im not talking about your everyday business tasks. These are the daily commitments that guide all your tasks

Some examples:

  1. Bring moments of unexpected joy wherever possible
  2. Anticipate our customers needs before they do
  3. Give 10% of our revenue to charity
  4. Make everyone in our world feel heard
  5. Make customers feel they’re part of our family
  6. Dedicate 2 hours every week to personal growth
  7. Find the creative solution, not the obvious one



This is another brand essential that has a bad rep ‘But what the fck do I do with them?’. You could probably do a xxxx with the amount of money spent on brand agencies defining values that do NOTHING for you

But here’s the thing – there is talking about your values and there is living them. One is plain boring and the other creates an authentic and human brand that immediately stands out from the competitors and customers love.

Forget the word values for a moment. Think about how you want your brand to be perceived in the market. Not just by your customers but your suppliers and the wider public. What’s the experience you want them to feel when they interact with you?

Like the other sections above this guides all your decisions and communications – does this fit in with our values and how we want to be perceived?

The more you can demonstrate how you live your values beyond just the food you sell and encourage others to do the same the more you’ll be seen as the leader of your tribe.

Whether it’s dealing with a supplier who messed up, an angry customer or a post you’re sharing, think it if ticks off one of the ways you want to be perceived. 

In the interest of sharing here are my values:

  • Inspire – use your life to inspire others
  • Freedom – the freedom to work on what I want, where I want, when I want
  • Mastery – if you do something be the damn best at it
  • Growth – never stop learning and improving
  • Creativity – always look for the non obvious/interesting solution
  • Authenticity – be your true self in everything you do
  • Curiosity – the deeper reasons why things are the way they are


Here’s a great free tool for uncovering your values


Go forth and find your substance

Take the time to go through the exercises above. Without a substance you can’t position yourselves. Without positioning yourself you can’t make a communication plan. And without a communication plan you’re doomed to send generic messages to a generic audience who don’t care.

Document this and turn it into a living, breathing document that you can share with your team. Rather than reluctantly revisiting it every 18 months, build this into your quarterly planning and update it as you and your customers’ world changes.

You can weave your substance across all your communications, showing the people the reason why you do what you do and why you talk about the things you do. Suddenly your brand becomes  human with real passions, dreams and challenges.


The one thing

As you know I always try and leave you with one thing to do to move it forward. Get your team together and blast through one section of it – write quickly, dirty and ugly. You can always come back to it.

Then share it on social media and see how people respond. The only way you’ll know if your substance connects with your tribe is by asking them.


Try the cult brand scorecard

From my obsession of what it takes to be a brand with a cult following I’ve created this cult brand scorecard so any food brand can now see how close they are to building their own cult following. It only takes a few minutes to do and you’ll get a report with loads of actionable advice at the end, customised for you. Take the scorecard here and let me know what you think.