4 Steps of Brand Equity

Brand equity was formed of four pieces— brand awareness, brand image, perceived quality, and brand loyalty. Learn how these four pieces operate and how they can improve your restaurant's performance.
Trace Mannewitz

What Is Brand Equity and Why Does It Matter

A 2011 research study by Sunghyup Sean Hyun and Wansoo Kim for the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly proposed that restaurant brand equity was formed of four pieces— brand awareness, brand image, perceived quality, and brand loyalty. Their theory was that the higher a restaurant’s brand equity, the more it enjoys business benefits like lower price elasticity, lower advertising costs, and greater trade leverage. 

Their theory proved correct and savvy restaurant marketers began to emphasize brand equity, specifically how they could capitalize on brand awareness and leverage their current equity. This is even more important in today’s media landscape, where the fight for consumer’s attention span is at an all-time high. Sound daunting? It doesn’t need to be! We have strategies founded in research and new tools to help you enhance your brand equity practices. 

Keller’s Brand Equity Model

Before Hyun and Kim, there was Keller. In 1993 (then expanded in 1998), Kevin Keller wrote Strategic Brand Management— a book for building, measuring, and managing brand equity. His writings contributed to what was eventually formalized as the four pieces of brand equity, but he was more focused on the four parts of the brand equity journey. 

He posited that brand equity was a pyramid and that each part of the journey was built on (and required) the foundation below it. His model looked a little something like this:

His path, or steps, included:  

  1. Identity
  2. Meaning
  3. Response
  4. Relationships

Brand Identity 

Brand Identity, or brand awareness, is the part of brand equity most restaurant marketers are familiar with. Defining brand awareness as “the strength of a brand’s presence in the customer’s mind,” brand awareness asks two critical questions. 

Are You Distinctive? 

Are You Memorable? 

Keller postulated that brand awareness plays three roles in marketing: 

  • As brand awareness increases, consumers tend to feel familiarity with the brand
  • Brand awareness is the first step when consumers consider buying a product. 
  • Brands with high awareness have a higher base level of consumer trust than those with low awareness. 

This is marketing’s bread and butter. As you consider where your restaurant is on a local or even national brand awareness level, begin by looking at what marketing tactics you’re employing. Consider then what tactics you might use to reach where you want to be. Most people within marketing are familiar with SWOT Analysis; use this to build a strategic plan to increase brand awareness. 

Some examples include: 

  • Building out every location’s Google Business Profile and Apple Maps Profile. These significantly affect your visibility in local search and can help when people are looking for food near them. 
  • Meet your customers where they are— social media marketing is difficult, but it can also be fun and create trust between you and your consumers. For those looking to get ahead, paid social media ads can help you increase your reach. They even include specific targeting options to ensure you hit your local or relevant audience. 
  • Optimizing for 3rd party delivery apps. Where third-party delivery is more expensive for the restaurant than first-party delivery, it’s also one of the most efficient ways to market to people when they’re hungriest. 

Look for opportunities to do things in a new way, or with a unique twist! There are many restaurants out there, and if there’s something fresh you can bring, it may be the key to success. 

Brand Meaning

Keller introduces the idea that brands should be able to answer “What are you?” To which you could say “Well Trace, we’re a restaurant.” While technically accurate, the question asks us to go deeper. Two separate subcategories are generally involved in answering this question. 


One of the easiest ways to measure performance in any brand is to ask two simple questions. 

  • What problems do you solve? 
  • What unique services do you offer? 

The first is relatively easy to answer. As a restaurant, you typically focus on providing your guests with food and beverage services. The problem you’re solving is feeding their hunger, slaking their thirst, and providing a meeting ground for friends, family, and people of all nature. 

The next portion dives a little deeper— in a town with five smoothie shops, why should they choose you? What meaning do you provide to their lives? Are your smoothies better? Do they use specific ingredients? Are they cheaper or easier to access? 

Performance in brand meaning is really about driving home your brand’s selling points. 


Where performance is all about physically providing a good or service for your consumers, imagery is more about defining your personality and the emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. Imagery can come across on the visual as well as the emotional level. 

For example, if we were talking logo design and I were to describe an ‘M’ made of two golden arches, you would immediately know which brand I’m depicting. You want your brand to reach that same level of notoriety. When people see your logo or identity, do they know who your brand is and what you represent? 

Building imagery can happen in many areas— from the cleanliness of your restaurants to the logo and physical branding.

Brand Response

Imagery and your brand meaning feed directly into Brand Response. People are aware of your brand, and you know what meaning you’re trying to showcase to the world— the question is, how do people feel when they see you? 


Winning judgments is all about trust. Trust is paramount to the success of restaurants but also the trickiest to maintain. There are easy ways, such as ensuring orders are correct and not giving your consumers food poisoning. However, trust runs deep, and some more esoteric aspects can be harder to capture. 

Trust can come from many sources. Trust can come from walking in and seeing a clean and inviting lobby; trust can come from a friend who recommends a particular dish and the dish living up to expectations; trust can come from your marketing doing an excellent job of establishing what their expectations should be when they visit the restaurant. 

The simplest way is to be consistent in your greatness. Day in, day out, providing the same superb service that got your brand noticed in the first place. 


If judgments are about trust, feelings are about happy memories. The long and short is that you want your consumers to have happy memories of your restaurant. You want them eager to return, and excited to tell their friends and family about the fantastic dish they had for lunch. 

A happy customer is a customer who will come back. 


Consumer relationships (or brand loyalty, as Hyun and Kim noted) represent the action that customers will take, ideally repeatedly. At this point, your brand equity is a known quantity, and you’ve shaped it in such a way as to encourage specific action on the consumer’s part. 

Maintaining this relationship and keeping it in perpetuity is where the customer's lifetime value increases. Loyalists to a brand need very little engagement, and spend far more than their stranger or first-time counterparts. For example, a simple loyalty program combined with your brand equity is enough to keep fans of the brand returning.

Increasing Brand Equity 

Establishing and increasing brand equity is a powerful plan, regardless of where your brand is in their restaurant marketing journey. Old and new brands alike should consistently check to see if they’re happy with how their business is perceived. The success of your business is predicated on forging a deep bond with your customers.