You Can be Brand Compliant Without Sacrificing Your Own Identity

Jay Feitlinger.jpgMany people become franchisors because they see an abundant business opportunity and the ability to grow a company without having to manage every component and location on their own. Others become franchisees because they love a certain brand, and begin to envision themselves enjoying a career path with that brand that has largely already been paved for them. But somewhere along the way, these dreams can get broken – on both sides. Conflicts arise, tensions get high and the entire company suffers as a result of these soured relationships.

When you start to dig down to the heart of it all, many of these issues revolve around one thing: brand compliance (or a lack thereof). The franchisor expects all of its locations to be “on brand,” while the franchisee wants some level of independence and creative expression. Is it possible to have a thriving relationship between the two? The answer is… absolutely yes. And the entire brand can flourish as a result. Here are four tips for successfully navigating this challenging, yet highly rewarding, set of circumstances.

Love the one you’re with

Perhaps the most important thing for both parties involved in a franchise to remember is that their individual perspectives may be different, but their ultimate goal is the same. They each want individual franchise locations to grow, and they also want the larger organization to succeed.

Secondly, you’ve signed the paperwork and hitched your wagon to one another – legally and financially. So instead of nitpicking and finding faults in the other person, come to the table ready to share ideas and to listen to them as well. The more you actively work on appreciating the benefits the other person brings you, the less you’re likely to finger point and increase internal friction. A harmonious relationship all starts with this open and appreciative mindset.

Listen to your Customer Insiders

Sometimes franchisors get caught up in thinking they know their brand best, since they’re at its helm. It can be easy to forget that it’s the franchisees who are actually on the front lines, interacting with customers on a daily basis. In fact, the owners of your individual franchise locations can offer some highly unique insights into the motivations, preferences and needs of your customers.

It’d be wise for all franchisors to regularly invite feedback from these folks, and to truly consider responding to the information in order to improve the business. Make a point to keep the conversations non-judgmental, so that franchisees can feel free to express concerns and doubts, as well as what’s positive.

Work in Tandem

The franchisor/franchisee relationship can be especially sticky because it’s not a traditional working union. Both parties feel like they are the rightful owner of the business (and they both are, just in different ways). But power struggles will needlessly drag your entire organization down. The solution is to work in tandem, peer to peer.

For example, franchisees have been known to seek outside help from external marketing agencies or sales consultants when they feel they’re not equipped in these areas. They see this as reasonable, but the practice often ends up raising the ire of the franchisor. After all, they see it as outsiders intruding on brand management without understanding the brand guidelines and goals.

Instead of taking this approach, a franchisee should first go to his franchisor. Explain where you feel your training or support is lacking, along with what you need to succeed. If you would like a new piece of marketing collateral that’s unique to your particular location, for instance, ask your franchisor if she can help you get that.

As long as you keep your lines of communication open and ask for what you need, you won’t have to keep any secrets or risk angering your franchisor. And if the franchisor truly wants you to succeed (as she should), she’ll get you what you need or put you in touch with someone who can.

Customize when warranted

Most franchisors have a standard set of “customizable” marketing pieces that they offer to their franchise locations to use. The problem is that these are typically extremely limited. They might leave placeholders so that the location owner’s name and the name of the town can be slotted in…but everything else is often kept completely standard. This is a disservice to everyone! Instead of making everything so “cookie cutter,” try creating pieces that are truly customizable but still brand compliant. They can still begin as templates, but should allow for differences that develop thanks to geographical locations. Your marketing and sales pieces should allow for freedom – within the greater brand’s boundaries.

When it comes to the franchisor/franchisee relationship, keep in mind that you’re both on the same team and want to win. Keep the dialogue open, and remember that brand compliance is necessary for a franchise and its parent organization to be successful, but that individuation is also key for market appeal and sales. Instead of inhibiting one another, work side by side to fill needs and grow each location so the brand is like one strong tree with different, yet complementary branches.

Franchisee turned online marketing agency owner, Jay Feitlinger is Founder & CEO of StringCan Interactive, a digital marketing agency with offices in Arizona and France. StringCan helps multi-location franchise businesses reach more customers and achieve their inbound marketing and online advertising goals. 

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