What is Franchise Marketing?
Franchise Marketing is the set of disciplines and tactics that franchise brand managers and their in-house creative teams provide to franchisees to help them achieve success in their local marketing efforts.
Franchise marketing combines multichannel techniques, including:
Local email marketing
Local social-media marketing
Local public relations.
Increasingly, franchisors use franchise marketing portals, as part of franchise management platforms, to provide local franchisees with easy access to smart local franchise marketing ideas, strategies, and techniques, including seasonal marketing tips as part of a coordinated franchise marketing strategy.
Challenges in Franchise Marketing
The distributed nature of a franchise network introduces a series of unique challenges to franchise brand consistency. Research shows that franchisee communities that demonstrate higher compliance with brand standards and brand guidelines benefit from higher brand awareness and brand equity. However, the immediate pressures of local competition often prompt local franchisees to execute non-compliant marketing tactics, with off-brand language, typography, colors and layouts. In extreme cases, misuse of the brand logo can further erode brand consistency, causing confusion and depressing marketing results. Moreover, rogue franchisees can disrupt orchestrated execution of brand-driven promotions and campaigns, weakening these critically important efforts and further diluting the value and impact of the brand.
Causes of Off-Brand Franchise Marketing Efforts
Problems in franchise brand management derive from a number of underlying causes.
Local Franchisees Don’t Buy Into The Importance of Brand Compliance.
Reinforcing and updating franchisees on the value of the brand is an ongoing need, one that can sometimes fall behind apparently more pressing priorities for brand managers and in-house creative teams. These marketing professionals spend 100% of their time evolving and crafting the brand; to them, the vital importance of brand discipline is self-evident. Local franchisees, by contrast, typically spend 20% or less of their time on marketing tasks, which is consumed instead largely by operational issues.
In virtually every industry—from financial services, to hospitality, to retail, to automotive and beyond—franchisees feel that they are in a daily competition to compete and succeed, and in the heat of that struggle can come to view brand compliance as a “nice to have”—a detail that takes back seat to issues of cost and immediate response. Their reasoning often is that the “niceties” of brand discipline don’t matter nearly as much as getting immediate and visible increases in demand for their products and services.
In franchise networks that are dominated by a small number of highly influential, multi-location franchisees, this emphasis on tangible results (leads, store traffic, sales) can often push brand managers and in-house creative teams into a defensive position, challenged to defend the value of the brand, and driven instead to respond to demands for immediate increases in specific metrics.
Although decades of research have proven that brand awareness and preference creates meaningful and sustainable competitive advantage, the brand management team finds itself viewed instead as little more than an extension of, and servant to, the sales effort. When this dynamic persists for an extended period, long-term decline of the brand looms.
Local Franchisees Need Rapid Response That In-House Agencies Cannot Easily Provide.
Most local franchisee marketing is reactive in nature, driven by local competitive activities and market conditions, and without long-term marketing budget planning. This short-term focus often leads franchisees to make requests for marketing support with turnaround times that are difficult or impossible for brand-level creative teams to meet.
This can lead, in turn, to a perception that the brand is not responsive to local franchisee needs, resulting in an urge to circumvent brand support and rely instead on local media suppliers and other creative resources. Lacking guidance from the brand or access to brand-compliant marketing assets, these vendors often accelerate the erosion of brand discipline.
On the brand side, a constant stream of one-off requests from franchisees, can leave in-house creative teams feeling overwhelmed and de-motivated. Instead of thinking strategically and building a brand, they find themselves executing disjointed tactics that do little or nothing to enhance brand values. If this problem is left untended, it can result in the departure of talented creative resources, further eroding the in-house team’s ability to respond effectively, and creating a vicious cycle in which dis-satisfaction builds at both the local level and at headquarters.
Brand Guidelines and Approvals Drive Franchisee Frustration
Many brands embed brand-compliance procedures in their franchisee agreements, to help protect the brand from the problems described above. But while approval processes do indeed protect brand discipline, the rise of “brand cops” can leave franchisees feeling captive to an unresponsive bureaucracy that does not fully appreciate the pressures they face at the local level.
This problem can grow particularly severe when approvals are driven by subjective and opaque standards, or when approval seems to be withheld unreasonably. In those cases where reimbursements form co-op marketing or market development funds (MDF) are withheld as a result of non-approval, the friction between franchisees and the brand often leads to elevated levels of franchisee churn.
Solving the Franchise Marketing Problem
Leading franchise brands have long recognized that technology can help to resolve the problem of brand-compliant franchise marketing. Over time, a clear, three-step path to a disciplined franchise marketing culture has evolved:
Step 1: Document Your Brand Standards and Guidelines.
For franchise brands especially, a current set of brand standards and guidelines is critical to ensure that franchisees and their local marketing partners know the rules. Make sure that your “brand bible” includes clear direction on typography, logo usage, and colors. Also, if your franchisees work with local partners, make sure to provide clear guidance about how your logo should be displayed relative to partner brands. Experience shows that these are some of the most common areas of confusion and off-brand execution.
Beyond these brand essentials, you should also make sure that your brand standards and guidelines provide clear examples regarding the voice of the brand. This can include terminology about the product and brand that should be emphasized, and terms that should be avoided, either to prevent confusion or to avoid running afoul of local regulations. Sample copy for frequent use cases is particularly helpful to franchisees and their marketing partners.
Step 2: Stand Up An Easy-to-Use Franchise Marketing Portal.
This is really just a simple, purpose-built digital asset management system deployed for the specific needs of the franchisee community and the in-house creative team. It allows brand managers and designers to distribute carefully curated collections of brand-compliant assets (logos, images, layouts, documents, etc.) , so that franchisees have fast, reliable access to the tools they need to get marketing tasks executed quickly and efficiently. A quality brand portal will enable the creative team to organize these assets in ways that are easy for franchisees to understand and navigate, using terms that are natural to them. At the same time, the portal should provide expert tools dedicated to the needs of the in-house creative team, so they can ensure that this ease of use for franchisees does not come at the expense of brand discipline.
To that end, the franchise marketing system should allow creative teams to segment and target assets for delivery to specific groups and subgroups of franchisees. In some cases, the organizing principle may be geographic, with assets deployed by region, or state, or market. In other cases, the franchise marketing portal may be organized by product line, so that franchisees can only access the brand assets that they are authorized to use and deploy.
It’s important that the franchise marketing system also provide for the definition of different roles and permissions within a franchise community. This allows the brand management team to define workflows that help to decrease turnaround times, while distributing review and approval workloads effectively. Ideally, the portal should allow these flows to change dynamically, in response to changing promotional seasons, the rapid growth of the franchise network, or the introduction of new geographic regions or new product lines to the marketing mix.
According to Nick Barber of Forrester Research, an expert in digital asset management, organizational structure can often be a barrier to the success of a delivery system like a brand portal. To overcome this kind of resistance, experts say that one of the keys to launching a successful brand portal is to involve influential field-level users in the early days of beta testing and rollout. These “opinion leaders” can be naturally drawn from the franchisee community, and they can provide invaluable word of mouth backing for the portal, encouraging other franchisees to follow their example.
Another recommendation to keep in mind when rolling out the brand portal, is to focus on a very specific, high-frequency use case. For example, your franchise community may often request access to properly sized and formatted brand logos for use at the local level. Concentrate on making the fulfillment of this request as fast, intuitive and convenient as you possibly can. Take care to look at every click in the user experience and take all the steps you can to streamline and simplify the process. Then, look for feedback from your “opinion leaders” to see if you’ve served the need effectively. From that foundation, you can begin to build similar experiences that will satisfy your franchisee community and reinforce their use of the franchise brand management platform for their most frequently felt needs.
Step 3: Release Dynamic, Brand-Compliant Templates.
Once they’ve built up a track record of success with static assets, many brands turn to the number one request from most franchisee communities: the ability to customize brand templates for their local marketing needs. The great advantage of dynamic templating tools is that they guarantee compliance with brand standards and guidelines, while simplifying the process of executing local marketing campaigns and dramatically reducing the costs of these efforts to local franchisees.
Successful brand templates combine a number of important attributes:
- First, they are easy to locate, both through an intuitive information architecture, and via text-based search using terms that are common and familiar to franchisees.
- Second, successful templates clearly denote what content elements can be customized and which are locked down to ensure compliance with brand standards.
- Third, successful templates make the editing process easy for franchisees, both with regard to text (content and, where appropriate, styling) and images (choice of image and, where appropriate, image cropping).
- Fourth, successful templates allow for fast and efficient review and approval of localized content. The system should allow for approval processes to be segmented by geographic location, so that regional brand authorities can respond efficiently to franchisee submissions.
- Finally, templates should make it easy for franchisees to select a format and size that is compatible with the needs of their local media partner, whether that’s a local website, publication or printing vendor.
When deploying customizable brand templates, it’s important for in-house creative teams to develop a unique set of creative and asset-management skills. This includes experience with the template composition process and the platform’s templating toolset. Look for systems that make it easy to import designs from the most common design toolset (Adobe InDesign, for example).
Step 4: Implement Advanced Content Management.
In prior years, franchisees often expected to hire local marketing partners to execute their marketing programs and campaigns. But a new generation of franchisees expects to be able to handle these tasks on a self-service basis. Moreover, they expect the local marketing experience to be as user-friendly and flexible as what they find on consumer-focused websites and applications, like DropBox or Slack.
To meet this demand for ease of use, leading franchise brands will implement content management to ensure that franchisees are executing the right campaign, with the right content, targeted to the right customer segments, at the right time. When evaluating brand management or distributed DAM systems, look for on-board content management tools that allow you to execute this kind of segmentation on your own; but keep an open mind to integrating your platform with your web CMS or enterprise content management system (ECM) should the need arise.
Conclusion: Disciplined Franchise Marketing is Within Reach
The good news for fast-growing franchise communities is that a disciplined approach to franchise marketing is well within reach. By combining well-established practices and market-proven technologies, you can put brand assets at your franchisees’ fingertips, while still maintaining the consistent voice and on-brand execution that success demands. Best of all, the leading local marketing automation tools have evolved to the point that implementations can be staged in a crawl-walk-run model, so that you can deliver value to your franchisees quickly and cost effectively, and then enhance capabilities as their experience with the system, and their facility with marketing evolves.
CampaignDrive by Pica9 is a distributed brand management platform that helps world-class franchises scale and deliver superb local marketing, no matter the location. Want to learn more? Speak with an expert in franchise marketing today.