It recently emerged that the popular burger chain, Byron Burger, is likely to be sold for at least £100 million. This hefty price tag is perhaps unsurprising given that the chain is anticipating profits of over £10 million this year. Byron’s success is particularly impressive given the high-quality competition it faces on the high-street.
So, what does Byron Burger have that sets it apart? Perhaps the secret is that, despite its commercial success, Byron has managed to preserve that ‘one-off’ feel it had when its first restaurant opened in 2007. Its strategy for doing this is simple but bold: from the outset, Byron has kept each of its outlets totally unique. The look and feel of a Byron Burger varies drastically from branch to branch, from the edgy, building-site look of Byron Islington to the monochrome modernity of Byron Fulham, to the retro, 70s style of the Camden branch.
And it’s not just the interiors that vary. Most surprisingly of all, Byron also alters the look of its logo, from colourful neon in Charing Cross to glamorous gold in Haymarket to faded red paint in Islington.
Byron Burger is not, of course, the first brand to vary its logo: Google customises its logo so regularly that it even employs an in-house designer for the purpose; Aol. alters the backdrop of its logo continually and the Tate boasts an array of logos in varying degrees of focus.
What makes Byron’s participation in this trend so interesting, is that the fluidity of its identity stands in stark contrast to the conventions of its category and to its brand offer. Adaptive logos are the logical choice for Google and Aol.: the digital space they inhabit is defined by fluidity, and what they offer shifts rapidly as a result. Similarly, the Tate’s multi-focal logo fits with art’s function of challenging perspectives and with the Tate’s brand offer of multiple, contrasting galleries.
By contrast, what chain restaurants (Byron included) offer, is consistency. The very reason we sometimes choose a Pizza Express over that little pizzeria on the corner, is that Pizza Express promises a reassuringly predictable experience wherever you are: if you enjoyed a Pizza Express meal in Swindon in 2004, then you can be fairly certain you’ll have an equally satisfactory experience in a Pizza Express on Hong Kong Island today.
Traditionally, chain restaurants have used their branding to reinforce this crucial aspect of their appeal. Byron, on the other hand, sets its identity free, in rebellious contrast to its ‘indentikit’ rivals. This is, of course, precisely the point. As Byron’s founder, Tom Byng, has revealed, the Byron concept was a direct response to the ‘things I hated about chain restaurants […] the cookie cutter approach.’
Byng's statement should not be misconstrued as anti-corporate posturing. (After all, Byron shares a holding company with a number of 'cookie-cutter' chains, including Pizza Express.) In fact, it demonstrates Byng’s keen understanding of the zeitgeist: his recognition that heavily branded consistency is swiftly losing its relevance in the restaurant category. As the trend for pop-up restaurants and street food demonstrates, ‘underground’ and ‘grass-roots’ are the foodie buzz-words of the moment, and ‘consistency’ has become an anachronism.
Byron Burger astutely borrows from this new food trend, not only with its quirky identity, but across all touch points: the Byron Burger Van pops up at food festivals; the brand vocally participates in grass-roots-style charity movements such as Movember; even its consistent menu is rendered credible and interesting by the inclusion of experimental ‘guest burgers’ and a selection of craft beers. In this way, Byron manages to combine key aspects of the ‘grass-roots’ food trend with the cornerstones of the traditional chain restaurant’s appeal – a dependable menu, consistent food-quality and reliable service.
The significance of Byron’s ‘unbranded’ brand goes beyond the restaurant category, however. In many ways, it represents part of a wider change taking place in branding as a whole. As Jose Martinez Salmeron observed in a recent article for Smashing Magazine: ‘In prior decades, brand managers aimed to establish their products and services primarily by way of consistency and repetition. […] Our postmodern society is more fluid and diverse — a world bursting with myriad electronic media and display capabilities’ making ‘total consistency an unachievable ideal.’ Instead of fighting against this, by keeping those elements of its identity that are controllable as rigidly standardised as possible, Byron has embraced this fluidity. Let’s hope its success is the harbinger of a more interesting looking high-street.