Consumer Marketing Conference!: 2013 Conference Chair Highlights Unique Opportunities

Wendy Odell Magus is in the driver's seat, a position she relishes--and excels at. With more than two decades in marketing, she understands both the consumer and franchise sides of marketing and communication. This background has come in handy for her this year as she steers Franchise Update's 3rd annual Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference as its 2013 chair. The event takes place this June 25-26 at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta.

Magus was selected for her proven understanding of strategic marketing planning and implementation, honed on the job at brands like Sylvan and now Kiddie Academy, where she has been since 2008 and serves as vice president of marketing. Her goal as conference chair is to ensure that the CEOs, presidents, and marketing executives who attend take home "actionable initiatives," as well as create new, meaningful relationships with other marketing professionals and suppliers who will be there.

"This conference is unique, as it's the only one of its kind that offers opportunities to have informative conversations and network with franchise marketing professionals on a personal level," she says. With more than 200 top marketing and branding executives expected this June, attendance is expected to double from its record-setting levels of 2012.

We sat down with Magus to find out where things are headed, and what attendees can expect this year.

Q: This is the third Consumer Franchise Marketing Conference. What does this conference offer attendees that has made it the must-attend event for franchise marketers?
Magus: This conference is very different from any other. The quality of the attendees is unique. These are senior-level executives who are all focused on the same challenges and opportunities. As we are entering the third year, what really makes it wonderful is the relationships I've been able to develop with other franchise marketing executives from the previous two conferences. That is the real of going back year after year. When we're 10 years down the road, I'll have a network of 200 close marketing friends who I can call and ask how they solve a particular problem, or to find out who they use for a particular service.

Q: What is unique about consumer marketing in franchising?
Magus: What's unique about the franchise space is that we have two layers of customers: the franchisees and the end-consumer. Some of the conference content is about how to market to that first layer, the franchisee, and how to get buy-in and drive adoption of the really important programs that will grow their business. It's about overcoming obstacles to implementation. And some of the content is about effective, efficient, and emerging ways to reach the end-user, the consumer. With all of these constituents, as franchisors we're trying to drive adoption and brand engagement. This is what is common across all concepts, and why there is such synergy among the people who come to this conference.

Q: What would you say to a CEO considering whether they should invest the money to send their CMO or brand manager to the conference?
Magus: There is no other event like this. Over the past 2 years, I have come away with some very big ideas and very meaningful vendor relationships that have paid back exponentially compared with the small investment to attend. If I can take away one great idea that I can integrate into my existing marketing strategy, that makes the conference worthwhile. In actuality, I've come back from the previous two conferences with so many ideas that I've had to evaluate and prioritize their implementation to get the most bang for my buck.

Q: How did you get started in franchising, and what do you like most about what you do?
Magus: I've been in franchising for 12 years. I got started with Sylvan Learning, where I spent seven years, and just celebrated my fifth year with Kiddie Academy in January. When I moved into the franchising space, I really didn't understand the shift I was making in my career path, but I love it. Working with franchisees is so exciting. They are passionate and invested in their business. Over the years, I have worked with some really wonderful owners. I've been able to have an impact on their businesses and their lives, and I really love it. Small business is the backbone of the economy, and with franchising, you have the best of both worlds: a shared brand with expert support and resources, backing independent owners and operators. Franchising is really fun. My career path before franchising has been kind of all over the place, including stints with the Walt Disney Company and a nonprofit organization, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which focuses on childhood learning disorders. The common thread is mission-driven, kid-centric, mom-focused organizations, which enabled me to bring a lot from one job to the next in terms of knowing the audience. I'm on the threshold now of having spent most of my career in franchising. I like the fact that I can really see the impact of my work, the power of marketing, and the fact that we help our franchisees grow their business.

Q: At Kiddie Academy, you deal with the most astute and involved consumers out there: parents. What are some insights about consumer marketing you can share that are applicable to any brand or category?
Magus: We still see moms as the dominant decision-maker in our category. The whole makeup of who's the primary caretaker has been a bit jumbled over the past four years, as families figure out the best way to balance their particular dynamics. That said, moms are really critical to our business. The lesson we're learning from them is to be content-focused, delivering individual relevancy. Among all the different channels they can use, the common thread is engaging content. We strive to develop and leverage high-quality, consistent content across all channels--online, print, broadcast, social. It's critical to figure out what sticks with people in different channels and makes them engage rather than click or flip. That applies to every audience: being where the customer is, with high-quality content.

Q: What are the most significant challenges in consumer marketing facing franchising today, and how can franchisors and franchisees can best ensure the continued growth and success of their brands?
Magus: The most significant challenge is to operationalize our strategies--moving franchisees along to accept and appropriately use emerging strategies. We need to help franchisees understand the importance of integrating new marketing initiatives to keep pace with their customer. This is one of the best things about being a franchisee, rather than an independent business. Our job as franchisors is to see what's out there, triage, and figure out what the important marketing strategies are; how our franchisees can implement and execute them, or how we can implement on their behalf. Figuring this out on their own is overwhelming for the business owner. It's our job to lead them through all these changes by providing integrated support across marketing, operations, and technology.

Q: As a consumer, what is it that attracts you to certain brands?
Magus: What attracts me is that I'm confident about what I'm going to get with them. I know their "brand personality." Great brands consistently deliver--they drive our expectations. My favorite brands are not necessarily high-end, but they are high-quality in terms of my experience.

Q: As chair of this year's conference, what do you hope to accomplish in terms of bringing value to the attendees and providing key takeaways?
Magus: My goal for everyone who attends is the same as for myself: to come away having developed some really good new relationships and a handful of really great, actionable ideas. I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to network with colleagues and vendors, and has the time for personal exchanges. At other events, you might have surface conversations with people as you walk the Expo floor, but the format of this conference allows for a lot of real, in-depth dialogue. It's not just the size of the conference, but also the culture of networking and relationship-building. Our big challenge will be to keep the same intimacy and culture as we continue to get bigger and bigger.

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