A Branding Lesson. From a Pizza Party.

Around Kolbeco, we see birthdays as an opportunity to broaden our culinary palates. I mean who doesn’t like to eat, right? So when Scott Kolbe requested “pizza” as his food of choice I took to the internet for recommendations. I perused several possibilities near our office, and read some reviews – and one stood out to me above the rest. A Sauce Magazine review for Mellow Mushroom written by Adam Rothbarth, a freelance writer and editor in St. Louis.

While Adam’s review stood out to me for its straightforward honest review of the food, he also captured my attention for his brutal honesty in regard to his brand experience.

For years I was skeptical of Mellow Mushroom, a pizza chain with semi-corny decor and an enormous menu.

“But at a friend’s insistence, I tried it in Sunset Hills and was blown away. Mellow Mushroom uses a vegan cheese called Follow Your Heart, a terrific sunflower seed-based cheese made specifically for this restaurant. It’s creamy, flavorful and melts perfectly – a rare thing for vegan cheeses, which can often be too oily or too sticky. Whether you’re getting a calzone or a pizza (I recommend both), Mellow Mushroom’s crust is solid. A Daiya-topped pizza after this experience is seriously disappointing.”

Let me start by saying Adam was so right – the food was amazing, and I plan to have a mom-daughter lunch date in the near future. But Adam’s initial visual reaction to the brand, gave him pause.

The Brand Experience

In the case of Mellow Mushroom, Adam’s brand experience didn’t start well. I feel like he might have had a hard time taking them seriously. The logo is a bit to corny for me, and the name of the restaurant can be confusing for some. In fact, a person attending our pizza party assumed all of the food included mushrooms, and was all set to order a portabella mushroom sandwich. None of this left the initial impression that this was a restaurant on the higher end of the pizza-place food chain.

BUT…my brand experience helped me look past a logo and name that didn’t agree with me. They took time to build out the brand, and were quite thoughtful in their approach to everything. Their menus, atmosphere, apparel follow suit and their website lends to their “out-of-this-world” food. There was nothing cheesy about my initial online experience with Mellow Mushroom. I immediately was able to move past the squirrely mushroom character because I was immersed in getting to know the company, the brand, and the food. And the photography is amazing, making me want to eat the food and explore all of the pizza and calzones they had to offer.

All of this elevated the brand beyond the logo itself, which is what all good brands should do. (That’s why we always tell clients: “your logo is not your brand!”) Left to its own devices, a logo in isolation leaves the audience to interpret what it means because you’ve given them no experience to attach it to. This can be a death sentence to your business.

Logos Still Matter

Your logo is the visual identity for your business. You want a logo that is recognizable and relatable. And ideally, you want a logo that will make a connection with your audience in a meaningful way.

However, the lesson in this story is that it’s the work of your marketing team to draw your audience into your story, to create the framework to provide a memorable experience at all touch points, and build a community around what you have to offer. A thoughtfully crafted logo and set of identity materials can serve as the visual thread that ties all of these pieces together.