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5 Fascinating Lessons from Shake Shack's Brand Story

There's something magnetic about Shake Shack. A typical NY Shake Shack makes twice as much annual revenue as your average McDonald's, and customers are willing to stand hour-long lines to live the Shake Shack brand experience. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the way this nontraditional fast food brand has taken over. Here's what the Shake Shack brand means in their staff's own words:

1. Back to basics: quality and human experience. In our hyperconnected world where everything has to be done faster, easier and cheaper, some of us believe that fast food has lost its zing. Shake Shack looked at what your regular roadside burger stand had done right and went with a brand story about community gathering, freshness, simplicity, and the best all-natural burgers, flat-top dogs, frozen custard, beer, and wine around. Danny Meyer is the president of Union Square Hospitality Group which owns Shake Shack, and these are his words to the New York Times about how they're going back to basics:

The whole experience is to cram people into a cookie-cutter space, to feed them as many unhealthy calories as possible — then get them to leave. That stripping away of human experience? That is where fast food went astray.”

2. Employees are the best brand ambassadors. Shake Shack has made it clear from the beginning that employees play a vital role in communicating their brand story. Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti told Inc. Magazine that:

For us, it all begins with our concept of enlightened hospitality. Our team comes first. If they feel taken care of, they will do great work caring for our guests, our community, our purveyors, and our investors. Once that's established, we do a few things to add to their opportunity. We pay up to 1% of total revenue--top line, not bottom line--as a monthly bonus. We pay employees extra bonuses for things like coming to work 30 days straight without any issues and/or for recommending their friends. We also offer medical/dental/flex spending benefits and a 401(k) to any employees working over 25 hours a week. But most important, we give you the opportunity to grow. "Leaders training future leaders" is how we put it. Nothing matters more than our leaders giving our team a pat on the back. For a lot of our team, this is their first job... or at least it's the first place they've come to work where they've been respected and thanked. We generally find that when that happens they want to stay, they want to grow... many have gone from hourly employees to managers and even to general managers. This is what it's all about for us. And really, doesn't a burger just taste better when a kind and happy person served it to you?

3. Fresh brand stories stick. The Shake Shack experience makes other burger joint experiences feel old. There's a fascinating sense of rebellion behind the idea of deciding to pay a few extra dollars for "all-natural Angus beef (with) no hormones and no antibiotics ever," as their menu reads. The Shake Shack menu makes their core value proposition and brand positioning extra clear by using phrases like "Only real sugar, no corn syrup," and "milk from dairy farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones". This is not only a way to highlight their competitive strengths, but to connect with consumers who aspire to be healthier. Here's how it (sort of) reads on the back of your mind: "For fast food lovers who enjoy fresh, healthy ingredients and preparation in a majestic setting where they can come together with friends & family, Shake Shack provides a renewed consumption experience."

4. Focus: tell your best brand story. In line with the idea of championing quality over quantity, Shake Shack has also decided to create a menu with relatively few choices. In the Madison Square Park menu above, they literally just offer 5 types of burgers. Keep in mind that your regular Burger King and McDonald's menus feature 20-30 options. Here's the question: would consumers rather pick between five incredible signature dishes or 20-30 average choices? We have reasons to believe that more options actually result in fewer decisions. Shake Shack could expand its menu and offer more choices, but the company has decided to market the five recipes it truly excels at. Sometimes your brand story needs an edit where you decide to deliver the experience you are best at creating -- i.e. cutting out "filler features" that could turn into potential leaks. This is one of the core ideas behind Lean Branding. 

5. Place your brand experience wisely. Shake Shack aims to become an authentic neighborhood fixture, and they're going for settings that are nothing short of "majestic". Think Madison Square Park in NYC, South Beach in Miami, Dupont Circle in DC, just to mention a few. Here's what CEO Randy Garutti told the Washingtonian about their locations:

Shake Shack becomes this gathering place where every walk of life comes, every income level, every tourist, local, mom, grandma, kid. 

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any questions feel free to email me at laurabusche@gmail.com, comment right here, tweet @leanbranding or leave a comment on our wall at www.facebook.com/leanbranding.

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