Branding vs content: the new chicken vs. egg conundrum
Last month, a founder reached out to me about launching a new version of a website for a vegan restaurant. The client wanted my feedback on branding and content. They also said they liked the website for Mr. Charlie’s, a vegan fast-food restaurant I had been hearing about, specifically as “the vegan McDonald’s.”
You’ll see right away why:
Screenshot of mrcharlies.co homepage, October 23, 2023
Advantages of prioritizing brand
You’ll see that Mr. Charlie’s has nailed the old school McDonald’s-like colour scheme with the red and yellow, thick block letters, and even packaging (they offer frowny meals, not happy meals—which confuses me because aren’t we happy not eating animals?).
I’m not near their locations so I can’t see inside, but from what I can see online, you get the same type of feel from the old school McD’s joints—and anything 90s is trending right now.
What’s super smart about this is McDonald’s has gone away from the Ronald McDonald palette and more toward a Starbucks: white, brown, and khaki like any standard cafe. Boring!
But, back to my client. They said they really liked Mr. Charlie’s website, which is essentially one long scrolling site. They showed me a brand guide which revealed that they were going with a black, white, and green colour scheme (the green nodding to sustainability). Really masculine, with nothing super unique about it. They went with a standard bright green vs. a lighter or darker shade. (The darker you go, the more masculine you’d get.)
I kind of wondered, if they liked Mr. Charlie’s, why didn’t they mimic another fast food chain? Burger King, Wendy’s, or A&W? Something to think about.
Anyway, to complete the brand/content analysis, they showed me the new site, which was a Squarespace template reworked with the brand colours. I didn’t really have any comments for them in terms of brand. They followed their own guidelines. I had one design recommendation for their About page.
The thing about any new startup is that unless you are mimicking another well-known brand (which is risky, as it edges on copyright infringement), no matter what brand colours you choose, you’re going to have to work to build and nurture your audience. That goes for EVERY brand, even mine.
But the more you nail that palette and how it aligns with your specific audience, the more they’ll like it, and they won’t even be able to tell you why. It’s amazing how colours can make us feel something.
The only other thing I would have changed about their brand if I could was choose a different font as they are using one that’s pretty standard serif. But again, they wanted to go with something simple, like what Mr. Charlie’s used. Simple is great. I hate fancy fonts you can’t read. But you also don’t want to use fonts that are too common: Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman. Blegh!
Advantages of prioritizing content
The main piece of feedback I had for the client was that there was not enough content on the site. Although they had more pages than Mr. Charlie’s, I’ve been told you need at least 250 words per webpage for Google to even recognize the text on it. My SEO guy says 1250 is even better (which I don’t think most restaurants are going to hit).
I told my client to add 250 words to the homepage, and about 150 to the About page. I offered to add content to both pages if I received information for them. And I mentioned that as nice and simple as Mr. Charlie’s website is, it probably doesn’t have enough content on it.
The client came back with more content for me to work with. I extended what was on their homepage to 250 words, which included an intro blurb, a section on the company’s mission, a section on their values (which was in the brand guide), existing testimonials, and some closing text.
I extended their About page to almost 600 words, which included how the company started (a MUST for an About page), a bit about the team, a longer section on their mission, a longer section on their values, and a closing statement. The client was adamant they did not want their name mentioned, as they weren’t the sole founder, and I get that. They preferred to just have their photo on the page with other team members there.
But when you have NO names on an About page, you wonder who’s behind the company and what they’re hiding. So I always recommend there be at least one person’s name, even if it’s just a first name.
The client said my version was a little long for them, which is fine because I added double what the minimum is. But IMO (SEO folks, help me out here), the more content you have on a page, the better. It’s not for the visitor in the end, it’s for Google.
A happy medium that prioritizes both brand & content
The client hasn’t yet updated their site with my versions, but what I hope they do at the very least is add more content to both the Home and About pages. I have no control over the brand anyway and as I’ve said several times, the content is less for the reader/visitor and more for Google. The higher you are on Google, the better.
The company didn’t care to be found as a “vegan” restaurant, so I made sure “plant-based” was there as a keyword. This is a call every company has to make, but IMO some people might use “vegan” in place of “plant-based” (which is more characters to type) even if they aren’t vegan, so it’s a good idea to use that word, anyway. I added one instance of “vegan” in my client’s About page for that reason.
The verdict? A strong brand is absolutely necessary for you to build and nurture your audience. But if you want to be found online, prioritize content too. The more, the better.