Franchise brands are like other brands in a number of fundamental ways. Success for all brands depends on a great brand promise that is thoughtfully positioned among the competitive options and well supported with consistent messages, creative and operational support. Easy for me to say.
But franchise brands are special in two mission critical aspects:
They must rely on franchisees to execute all of the brand touch points – from the way the franchisees answer the phones to the way they provide service and all points in between.
And the franchisor must consider franchisees a key target audience to be won over and nurtured. If successful, franchisees can become incredibly important brand advocates who can super charge new unit sales.
Unfortunately, we have seen franchisors treat franchisees as mere operating extensions of the main brand. When this happens, anything from loud disputes to embarrassing court battles have been fought over which entity is responsible for growing the brand at the local level or how the brand has been damaged by inappropriate use of trademarks. Courts are also getting involved in the growing – and incredibly expensive – trend for franchisors to require remodels every time they decide to rebrand.
Please note that a brand should be a very stable part of your business; brand refreshes should be undertaken with great consideration for the effect they will have on consumers and other targets, including operators. We’ve actually been involved with a client that changed its trademarks twice in two years, which cost franchisees tens of thousands of dollars per unit to comply with the new standards.
Franchise Times publishes a great annual list of high profile court cases each year and three of the top ten for 2015 were related to brand disputes. You can read the article here: http://www.franchisetimes.com/November-December-2015/Top-10-legal-cases-of-2015/
Somewhat disturbingly, in my mind, is the fact that when the legal system gets involved in fundamental business decisions that could have been solved with good contracts, a little forethought and the will of both parties to do the right thing, we start to develop case law that can take the entire industry down a rabbit hole. But I digress.
In addition to crafting good contracts, a lot of future disputes can be avoided with some solid marketing support prior to brand launch and during the predictable phases of a brand’s lifecycle.
When franchisors can head off potential discontent and simultaneously think of a strong brand as a unifying force, they set up an environment that encourages franchisees to become brand advocates. And brand advocates will light a fire under unit sales.
Here is my vote for the top five things your marketing folks should do for your brand before and after launch to make it appealing to all target audiences, but especially to franchisees:
1. Build a solid brand platform. It is well worth the effort to take your fledgling franchise brand through a rigorous branding process, even if you’ve been in business for years. The process will reveal a clear picture of your typical customers, help you visualize your business’ competitive alternatives in the customer’s mind, position your business among those options, create a personality for your brand, develop key messages you and your franchisees should stick to and ensure your brand marks are legally defensible.
2. Create a strong Marketing Operations Plan. You may have been marketing your business all your life (in the case of a family concern). Are you sure your practices get optimal results? Can you explain your methods in detail to others? Will your existing strategies and tactics scale? Your operations plan should include a marketing section that tells your franchisees exactly how you have been successful, what will be expected of them (including how much money they will be expected to spend on their new business launches and beyond) and how you will work with them. The bottom line is to make the process as easy on them as possible while maintaining a hand in the process to ensure consistency.
3. Continue to build your brand over time. While your new locations will be like billboards in each new market, you will still need to build your brand in support of your franchisees. Even if they do everything you ask of them, their activities will be highly operational in nature. I can’t stress enough how important it is for the franchisor to participate in the success of your franchisees at the local level by watching out for competitive activity, sampling brand awareness by market and taking actions to ensure that brand awareness is high. This does not have to be expensive; PR and social media are great tools for building brand awareness on a low budget and exposure in one market can affect all markets in your system.
4. Stay on top of your brand’s lifecycle stage. Every business goes through a roughly similar lifecycle. It is born (launched). If successful, it grows rapidly in the beginning (often called the “shooting star” phase), its growth tapers off (the “mature” stage) and finally, it declines and dies. The great thing is that you can put your brand in a whole new growth stage by launching new products and services or expanding your target audiences, among other strategies. It is easy to see the stage your brand is in by looking backward. The trick is to look forward and anticipate your brand’s next stage so you can stay ahead of the process. New offerings and target audiences will energize your markets, your business and your franchisees. Knowing when and how to expand offerings and target audiences is one of the most important long term success factors many businesses of all types have to address in their lifecycles.
5. Make sure your franchisees have the marketing tools to do what you have asked of them. Make it easy for them to order brand appropriate signage, logoed items, ads and other marketing assets. Companies like Clayton Kendall are good at fulfilling brand approved items and helping your franchisees customize them. Create checklists to ensure they don’t forget important marketing activities and guide them with personal attention, especially in the first year. They will not only appreciate the help, but it will forge bonds over time that will ensure congenial and mutual support.
There are a zillion additional items the savvy marketer should be addressing (I wrote a list of twenty in five minutes), but these are my top five. If you take care of these, the other items will fall into place, and they will take you a long way toward creating franchisees who will help you sell new units through their strong brand advocacy.
The Barber Shop Marketing, winner of the AWM Agency of the Year in 2014, is a full service marketing agency headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Visit our booth at the 2016 Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference at the Atlanta Hotel Continental, June 21st and 22nd.