Franchises are different. They are not like the monolithic enterprise businesses with centralized decision-making and abundant resources, nor are they a series of related small businesses. In a franchise business, the decisions, financing, and implementation of business decisions are shared or distributed between the members of the network. To function effectively, franchisors and franchisees must collaborate, but facilitating this communication between franchisors and franchisees presents a major challenge. It's the space between the franchisor and franchisees - the communication, data, and decision-making gap - that must be overcome for a franchise to succeed.
When it comes to marketing, this is further complicated by the addition of dozens of new channels, technologies, and tactics. Marketing today is a challenge for any business, large or small, but with a franchise business you also have to consider the difficulties of managing marketing through the distributed model. In the hopes of taming this digital jungle, many businesses seek marketing automation tools that can expedite or simplify their activities. Some tools excel in helping a large business deal with massive amounts of data and large prospect pools, while other tools help small and local businesses simplify their outreach so they can stay focused on their core business functions. For franchises, which simultaneously function like large enterprises and a series of local businesses, marketing tools are a little like the story of Goldilocks: too big or too small, with neither option being "just right."
By following these five simple tips for traversing the "space between" in marketing, franchisors can help the network flourish by promoting the brand and creating consistency in operations, all while allowing the locations to maintain their independence.
1. Balance local customization with network consistency.
Your operational playbook dictates the use of your brand and trademarks, the execution of your business, and outlines the essential practices to which every franchisee must conform to be part of the network. However, in many areas you have to leave room for the franchisee to be independent so they can adapt to local needs, local preferences, and determine their own success. Your marketing solutions should function the same way: allowing you to have oversight, control, and influence wherever needed, yet flexible enough to allow each location to adjust to the conditions in their market. Never accept a model that doesn't provide that balance.
2. Create a common language.
One saying I find useful to remember comes from W. Edwards Deming, an expert on business management, who said, "In God we trust; all others must bring data." To overcome the space between the nodes of the franchise network, you need a common language that everyone agrees can be used to communicate. That language should be data. Systems that allow the franchisor to gain detailed insight into marketing performance at each location not only inform the franchisor's strategy, but also can be used to coach the franchisees. When the franchisor and franchisee are looking at the same data about lead trends, paid search performance, customer reviews, and other marketing information, they can hold mutually informed conversations and rely on the empirical information to help guide their activities. A franchisor armed with a summary of the conversion performance at all locations can use that benchmark to coach a lagging franchisee on how to improve, knowing that the conversation will be based in fact, not hearsay or opinion, thanks to a common data set.
3. Seek out a solution that was built for you.
Many franchises feel forced to accept software and data solutions that were engineered either for enterprise businesses or small businesses, and haven't insisted on solutions engineered specifically to address the unique challenges of a franchise network. You wouldn't buy clothes that aren't your style and don't fit your build, so don't buy marketing tools that don't fit, either. Insist that your vendors demonstrate that their solutions can be governed, controlled, or overseen by the franchisor, yet still be managed, customized, and implemented by each franchise location. Because neither corporate nor franchisee makes completely independent decisions about all of their marketing, neither pays entirely for all marketing efforts, and neither installs, manages, nor maintains all marketing tools, the shared responsibility of the distributed model needs to be reflected in your solutions. Anything less is to surrender to failure because it either places too much burden on the franchisor or further deepens the divide between franchisees and franchisor.
4. Don't overlook adoption.
Anything worth doing at one franchise location is usually worth doing everywhere. Many software solutions, marketing tools, and reporting platforms boast great features, ease of use, and attractive ROI potential, but most don't include a systematic and automated way to get each and every franchise location on board. Without that, a great idea is nothing more than a costly experiment at a few franchise locations. Insist that your vendors and partners demonstrate a clear methodology to attract the locations to leverage the tools you provide.
5. Round up the rebels.
There will always be franchisees who embrace the space between themselves and their franchisor as an opportunity to be independent, unique, and proudly stride against the herd. Embrace their individualism and use them as the early adopters of the most comprehensive programs in your strategy. If you can win them over early, the rest of the network will fall in line. If you isolate the rebels, you'll never achieve synergy in the network.
The space between the franchisor and the franchisee is the gap where decisions, financing, and implementation of marketing programs fail. By demanding solutions that bridge that gap and implementing your own procedures to facilitate collaboration and communication you can help ensure that the entire network thrives.
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