This blog was originally published on November 30, 2016, but has since been updated for freshness and relevance.
How do you keep your franchise brand intact within the franchisee’s 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 inherent conflicts.
Successful franchise brands are built over time by consistently setting and meeting customer expectations of the brand experience. This can’t be done unless the entire franchising network is on the same page.
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 home office’s guidelines.
These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you properly manage expectations from the beginning stages of the franchise acquisition process, you’ll be just fine. But even the most thorough disclosure process cannot control what people believe or remember during the sales process. This can create an unwanted conflict that pits the enterprising franchisee against the corporate brand manager.
Avoiding that conflict by establishing continuous alignment is simple (although not necessarily easy) to do. Aside from big moments, like your annual franchise convention, you need to continuously reach out to them in a meaningful way. Here are four strategies that 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 they don’t follow guidelines. If the brand is weaker, their own individual investment may suffer.
As reinforcement of the franchisee education, it’s important that all franchisee-facing personnel understand the practical reasons behind the brand guidelines. 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. When they’re looking for a marketing tool they can’t find or they don’t believe exists, then they’ll 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 digital platform with a library of marketing tools. This should include everything from point-of-purchase materials, free-standing inserts and print ads to outdoor banners, radio spots and social media. This nurtures the do-it-yourself mentality and even promotes it 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 management.
It 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 won’t 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 destroy your cause and erode trust among the network. You must certainly maintain standards and manage the brand effectively. However, it is easy to get caught up in protecting the brand that we lose sight of the bigger picture. When that happens, flexibility and common sense get lost. Ultimately, 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’re 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 felt 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. You should complement all of this with an ongoing communication strategy that reinforces the value of the brand and franchise model.
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 shows your commitment to franchisee success and strengthens the partnership. And when your network is focused on building and protecting your brand, they become the brand itself. They talk it, they live it, they promote it and they defend it.