Chicago Icon Takes National Stage – Lou Malnati’s Brand Refresh & Brand Guidelines 

Deep. Dish. Two little words that mean a lot to Chicagoans. Lou Malnati’s, the oldest name in the game. This 53 year old restaurant chain specializing in authentic Chicago deep dish pizza grew from hole-in-the-wall hero, to local legend, to Midwest icon, to a celebrated national brand with over 80 locations and growing.

And they did it all… without formal brand guidelines. *record scratch sound heard by marketing departments everywhere*

At Seedhouse, we see this pretty often: a brand is well known regionally, but hasn’t taken the time to define and refine the brand. Which is how we found ourselves in a meeting with leadership to discuss refreshing the Lou Malnati’s brand and developing formalized brand guidelines for this iconic company. 

How did we get here?

Maybe you’re thinking: “80+ locations and no style guide?” Well, in Chicago, Lou Malnati’s needs no introduction! People know it, love it, and proudly share the experience with their newcomer friends as a Chi-town rite of passage. (Our order? Malnati Salad, a Medium Lou and a Medium Chicago Classic to share, tiramisu for dessert, obvi.)

Or maybe you’re thinking: “This brand is clearly killing it. What do they need brand guidelines for?” While it’s true that Lou Malnati’s has dominated the Chicagoland market, developing a relationship with customers outside of the 312 area code is a different story. Lou who? Sure, you may find Chicago transplants that have been dying for a taste of Malnati’s in Arizona, but to really thrive in new markets, you’ll have to develop new customer bases.

And yet, while the audiences may be different, the brand should be the same at each location, from flagship to Flagstaff—and formal brand guidelines are the best way to force definition and therefore, ensure consistency.

What are brand guidelines?

“Or is it called a style guide? Is a brand standards guide the same thing or a different thing?”

Brand guidelines (yes, also called style guide or brand standards)is a set of rules that define how a brand should be represented across all platforms, materials, and touchpoints. Having a well-defined and accessible brand standards guide creates brand consistency across marketing channels. 

Lou Malnati's - Brand Guidelines Alternate BrandmarksSo what is it actually? Often, it’s a .pdf document that’s anywhere between 25-100 pages long. It includes rules for logo usage, color palettes, fonts, clear space, packaging, social media, photography styling, and also includes the brand definition, tone of voice, and messaging priorities. Ideally, it’s one document that houses all the information any designer or copywriter would need to create a branded piece. Lou Malnati's Brand Guidelines - The Slice

How do you codify a heritage brand without messing up what’s working?
(And other existential marketing questions.)

Lou Malnati's Brand Guidelines & Refresh - HistoryDeveloping a brand guideline to introduce a new brand to market can be tricky enough, but reverse-engineering guidelines for a celebrated heritage brand begs a lot of questions:

  • How best to distill a hometown hero heritage brand, with a rich, decades-long history, down to its essence? 
  • Can you retain that in-the-know authenticity that makes this company so special for lifelong fans, while keeping the experience accessible enough to welcome new customers with little to no brand awareness? 

Lucky for us, these are the questions we at Seedhouse live for. We got to work on the Lou Malnati’s Brand Guidelines & Refresh.

A sexy training montage of our process:

Define the Brand: In order to understand the brand and set rules for its roll out across the country, Seedhouse conducted one-on-one in-depth interviews with key people in the business. Then we overlayed those insights on company ethos and core beliefs with the company’s history in order to define the brand and craft Brand Tenets, as well as Tone of Voice and Messaging Priorities. (And yes, talking pizza all day was as awesome as it sounds.)

Audit the Brand and Identify Touch Points: Next, we worked with the brand’s internal design team and Creative Director to identify the gold standard pieces, i.e. the key design pieces that both feel essential and perform well for the brand. Again, we don’t want to fix what isn’t broke, so this step is critical.Designing and Refining the Brand Look & Feel: The audit inherently identifies where the brand has opportunities to move the design forward. For Lou’s, we honed down the number of logos the brand should use for consistency and put in place rules for when and how to use each one. Additionally, we created new photo styling rules, refined their typography, and picked new fonts for the brand moving forward.

Key takeaway? It’s never too late to define your brand. 

At Seedhouse, there’s nothing we love more than working with a brand to help them capitalize on what makes their story unique. We’re especially honored when heritage brands approach us, and we’re so proud to have helped set the stage for the iconic Lou Malnati’s future growth—maybe coming to a city near you?

Want to hear more about developing Brand Guidelines with Seedhouse? Want to talk over a different brand or packaging project we can help you with? Let’s (deep) dish. —-

Want to see more of our heritage brand brand work? Check out these other respectful redesigns. Want to ‘dish’ about your brand or packaging design situation and how Seedhouse might help? Shoot us a note and we’ll get in touch.

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