A Franchise is a Promise

Ali Okailey | National Marketing Manager | Reliance Franchise Partners

Why franchise marketing relies on a promise shared by the franchisor, franchisee and end user.

Franchise marketing in its basic form is all about the marketing team making the business attractive to potential franchisees. But it doesn’t stop there. At the same time, the franchise marketing team at head office is also making sure that the franchise is an attractive choice for the end user. Then there are the franchisees, who function as a frontline sales team marketing the franchise under the direction of head office.

What binds them together is that franchises are built on a promise shared by the franchisor, franchisee and end user; a promise that the service delivered will be of a consistent quality. This promise is the franchise’s unique selling proposition, and if it is not defined or marketed properly, then the franchise will fail.

Imagine a travel franchise: its agents sell the promise of an experience made up of dozens of intangible elements – meeting wonderful people, breath-taking views, candle lit dinners. Similarly, franchisors are marketing the support services, the reputation for quality and the infrastructure that go along with the franchise. It’s these elements that make up the franchise promise.

Marketing a service vs marketing a product

Franchises need to be marketed differently to products such as soft drinks or cars. They are more similar to a service in that they are:
• Variable
• Intangible
• Perishable
• Suffer from quality and quantity trade offs

Franchise variability occurs because their services are heterogenous: each interaction between the service provider and client varies in some way.  For example, a hairdressing franchise loses a hairdresser who is popular with customers. The replacement hairdresser cannot give exactly the same service. But if they are trained along franchise lines they can deliver something very similar, and that operational capability to replicate services is crucial to the franchise promise.

The intangibility of services also differentiates them from products. Before experiencing the service, it’s difficult for the end user to judge its worth. As a result, achievements and endorsements are important: a business coaching franchise whose client wins a Business Person of the Year award will market the achievement. Branding also plays an important role, since it represents what the franchise would look like if it were tangible: soft and approachable, or hard-edged and businesslike.

Like a service, franchises are perishable because what they produce can’t be stored away for future use. The franchise’s resources, processes and systems are assigned for delivery during a definite period in time.

So if the lawyer isn’t present at the franchise, the legal service can’t be offered; there is no backup supply in the warehouse.

Quality and quantity trade offs occur when hotels run out of premium rooms, or fast food outlets run out of a key ingredient at a high demand time. The franchise promise of enjoying chips is broken if the end user arrives at an outlet to find a potato shortage.

Franchises need to be secured from these potential pitfalls, and that’s a key part of the promise made between franchisors, franchisees and end users – that the franchise delivers the same quality of service every time.

Branding: the public face of the franchise promise

There must be a coherent look and feel throughout the franchise. Marketing materials for online, print and social media must have uniform branding. Marketing guidelines dispensed by head office stipulate fonts, colours, positioning and accepted syntax when promoting a product.

Branding must be differentiated from other franchises who may offer similar products or services. Differentiation is key, because without it there is no reason for the end user to choose one franchise over another.

One franchise even stipulates that online portals hosted by suppliers must be branded along franchise lines, even though these are never seen by the public. This immersion in the brand perpetuates the idea that it is the promise inherent in the brand that binds franchise stakeholders to it, including external stakeholders.

When franchisees are on social media, they are the brand ambassadors – they comment, they share – but all videos, images, graphics and articles posted should be produced by head office to control the brand image. Other than that, franchisees should be free to comment, engage and support the community.

Communication key to franchise promise

Communication is the lifeblood of franchise marketing teams. That’s because a nonfranchised company has a finite in-house sales team but in a franchise the franchisees are the sales team too — and there can be hundreds of them. As frontline brand ambassadors for head office marketing campaigns, individual franchise units need to be on message and prepared to meet customer expectations.

Communication between franchisor and individual units is essential because it’s common for head office to lose track of what’s happening at the customer interface, and vice versa. If head office is broadly advertising a new discount on services and a franchisee fails to do the same – or worse, has no knowledge of it – then the customer is put in the position of having to explain to the franchisee what’s happening within their own franchise. At that point the franchise ‘promise’ is well and truly broken.

Franchisors are the coaches of the franchise, its team leaders. The franchisor should be able to say: these are the services, these are the products, this is the branding and this is the forward plan for the next five years. Without these guides, the franchise will no longer resemble a group. It will merely be a number of completely separate business units using replicas of branding guidelines that once existed, the franchise promise long forgotten.

Technology keeps the franchise in touch

A centralised email marketing system, CRM and marketing intelligence system are central to any franchise; and there should be no competing or isolated system existing outside head office’s immediate control.

Google Analytics and other ‘paid’ tools show how well a marketing campaign is performing. That’s the beauty of digital marketing: you can put out a campaign, gauge its effectiveness, fine tune it and send it out again. You can do simple A/B testing, or create multiple versions of a page, each with a slight difference in CTA or image, then filter the results using AI to find the most engaging.

But there is another form of feedback. Once they have complied with the head office marketing strategy, franchisees must report back on its effect on the end user. This means there are two marketing feedback systems: the digital analytics performed by head office and the grassroots indications from individual units about what did and didn’t work.

The collective vision Having a collective vision is crucial to the marketing of franchises. It can be likened to a promise, a pact made between franchisor, franchisee and end user. Franchises can fail because the franchise units look different – a different colour scheme, layout or menu offering.

For fast food restaurants, the marketing is seen every time the customer sees one. But for a specialised service such as an insurance provider franchise, the client may only interact with the brand once or twice a year, and that’s why marketing standards are so important. The franchises must look the same, sound the same and reinforce the message that the company is an expert in its field.

As brand ambassadors for the franchise, franchisees need to stay in constant communication with head office marketing. Franchises are by their nature not unique businesses, they are the products of a shared promise, one that can only be kept through compliance and vigilance.

Ali Okailey is the National Marketing Manager at Reliance Franchise Partners. He is a Marketing Specialist, Graphic Designer and Video Maker. Ali has led various national strategic marketing projects in the franchising industry for over five years and had acquired substantialknowledge to provide us with his expert advice on the Marketing and Branding of franchises. AOkailey@reliancepartners.com.au