How do you keep your brand intact within the franchise space?

Customers can access tons of information faster than ever before. To that end, even with pervasive social media tools, brand managers are met with an increasing number of threats to maintain their brand’s image and credibility. This is particularly challenging for franchising companies.

Franchisors must balance protecting their brands with supporting the creative, entrepreneurial spirit of their franchisees. This universal challenge exists, in large part, because of the very nature of the franchising model and its inherently competing characteristics.

Successful franchise brands are built over time by consistently setting and meeting customer expectations of the brand experience. This can’t be done without network-wide adherence to brand and operating standards.

However, many people purchase a franchise so they can own their own business and control their own destiny… not necessarily so they can follow the brand guidelines established by the corporation.

These don’t have to be mutually exclusive if expectations are properly managed from the beginning stages of the franchise acquisition process. But even the most thorough disclosure process cannot control what people believe or remember during the sales process, creating the inherent conflict that pits the enterprising franchisee against the corporate brand manager.

Here are four strategies that, when used, foster franchisee creativity and enthusiasm for the brand, while maintaining the brand promise.

4 Ways to Build a Franchise Brand

1. Rationalize the Need to be Compliant with Education

Many franchisees don’t understand the complexities of creating and growing brand awareness because they’ve never been exposed to the role of brand management. The key to this strategy is to educate franchisees about the potential harm to the brand when guidelines aren’t followed, which in turn can negatively impact their own individual investment in the business. 

As reinforcement of the franchisee education, it’s important that all franchisee-facing personnel understand the brand guidelines and the need for them. Show examples of the good, the bad and the ugly and explain how each impacts the customer and their loyalty to your brand.

2. Make it Easy to Follow the Rules

Let’s face it, not all franchisees are created equally when it comes to graphic design skills and frankly, good taste. By their very nature, franchisees are do-it-yourselfers and when they’re looking for a particular marketing tool that they can’t find or they don’t believe exists, they will surely create their own. The second strategy is to provide a robust platform of tools for franchisees to use in their advertising and marketing efforts.

The trick here is to control the overall brand identity and message, while keeping franchisees happy and giving them enough flexibility to tailor the tool to their particular need. Provide a web-based platform with a library of marketing tools, everything from point-of-purchase materials, free-standing inserts and print ads to outdoor banners, radio spots and social media. This allows the do-it-yourself mentality to be nurtured and promoted within the context of your brand strategy.

3. Avoid Brand Extremism

Every franchisor knows how critically important it is to develop and nurture positive relationships with their franchisees. Otherwise, franchisee validation can suffer, which in turn impacts network growth. The third strategy is use common sense to avoid an overly harsh approach to brand managementIt might be okay to use red and green during a holiday promotion, even if red and green aren’t part of the approved color palette. In the majority of situations, this level of flexibility will not harm the brand. And if an individual unit happens to have an odd shaped wall, thereby making it impossible for customers to see the menu if installed per build-out guidelines, by all means make an exception.

Brand extremism can be destructive to the cause and erode trust among the network. Certainly standards must be maintained and brand management is not for the weary. However, it is easy to become so mired in protecting the brand that we lose sight of the bigger picture, and flexibility and common sense get lost. When this happens, guidelines become overly rigid and they suffocate creativity and enthusiasm for the very brand they are meant to protect.

4. Emotionally Engage your Network

If you are successful with the first three strategies, the fourth can make the biggest difference. Successfully balancing franchisee spirit and brand management depends on your ability to motivate and foster emotional engagement of the brand across the network. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Unfortunately, the passion and enthusiasm created at the beginning of the franchisee training process, or at the annual convention rarely last on their own. Many franchisors agree that the most important brand marketing you do targets the franchisees directly.

Videos that celebrate the brand and position franchisees as heroes and leaders in their communities can be very inspirational and create an emotional attachment to the brand. Programs that recognize and reward franchisees for the way they represent the brand can also have a sustaining impact. All of this should be complemented with an ongoing communication strategy that reinforces the value of the brand and business model through relevant and open franchisee discussion.

Create the Perfect Balance for Your Franchise Brand

The balancing act can be tricky, but consistently executing these four strategies will make it easier. By educating the network on the risks of noncompliance to their own investment, you’ve provided them with a rational reason to follow the rules. And by giving them a flexible platform of marketing tools, you make it easy and practical for them to market their business.

Flexibility, when demonstrated, shows your commitment to franchisee success and strengthens the partnership. And when your network is emotionally engaged in building and protecting your brand, they become the brand itself. They talk it, they live it, they promote it and they defend it.

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