When the keynotes, panelists, and attendees at a conference can't stop talking about emerging technology and social media tools, it says a lot about the current state of franchise marketing. So it was at the 2nd annual Franchise Update Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference, held at the elegant, historical Fairmont Hotel atop San Francisco's Nob Hill this past June.
Since its launch in June 2011, the conference has become a darling of chief marketing officers, brand managers, and marketing managers. Increased attendance by franchise marketing executives and sponsors were a testament to the event's rapid growth. With 95 franchisors representing 140 brands, the conference doubled in size from its inaugural year--and so did the number of exhibitors.
"Never before have so many franchise consumer marketing executives met together in one place," says Therese Thilgen, CEO of Franchise Update Media Group, which hosted the conference.
As for all that tech talk, the conference's theme this year--"It's Time"--was dead-on. In the words of boot camp leader Scott Klososky, "The world around us is becoming automated, and there's a massive increase in the volume of information we digest, and this is radically altering the way work gets done."
The overall buzz at the conference was upbeat as marketing executives and vendors spoke positively about consumers' buying and purchasing trends and the general state of business. But the focus of the event remained on marketing, marketing, and more marketing. Tools, strategies, techniques, and technology were shared freely and often at sessions and throughout the hallways during the two-day event, with participants candidly discussing their marketing successes and failures--and what they've learned from both.
One recurring theme involved "convergence" and "integration": how sales automation, CRM, mobile, and related technologies are merging into more comprehensive solutions--and are driving sales, marketing, and IT departments to work more closely together to develop system-wide consumer marketing strategies and tactics.
The conference featured four separate tracks that ran concurrently throughout the event: Customer Relationship Management; Franchisee Buy-in, Delivery, and Results; Marketing Execution Strategy; and Brand Development and Rejuvenation. One interesting note: sessions were repeated, but featured different facilitators and panelists each time. Evolving technology and social media were a significant part of most of the sessions.
The conference kicked off with two all-morning boot camp sessions. Klososky, a futurist and former CEO of three startups who keeps his eye on technology and its impact on business and culture led one of them. Klososky has a talent for identifying technology trends and understanding how they can be applied to business practice. His half-day session was called, How To Embrace Social Technology To Strengthen Your Brand.
Some of his first words were, "We are in a technology explosion. It is pervading nearly every facet of our lives... and speeding up." Fittingly, throughout his presentation, he read and answered questions that had been submitted electronically by the audience. One of his central themes was how we are living in a time when "anyone can have a voice--worldwide, instantly, for free--and it is virtually unstoppable."
He was intent on showing attendees that if their companies don't adapt to changes in technology they will be left behind (think Kodak, Blockbuster, and Borders). Technology changes the battlefield and determines winners and losers, he said, and companies can win market share by consistently applying new technologies sooner.
Companies using technology today to gather more information (especially about customers), analyze it, and act on it will be the successful companies of tomorrow, he said. And, he warned, executives who say they are already successful and don't need to learn about new technologies are destined to fail.
The other boot camp essentially was four sessions in one, each focused on creating a "customer mania" culture within franchise organizations. Led by Ed Waller, vice president of CRM at CertaPro Painters and this year's conference chair, the sessions were: 1) Consumer Insight Drives Brand Experience; 2) Training for Brand Delivery; 3) Measuring the Brand Experience; and 4) Every Consumer Has Become Their Own Brand.
Each segment featured a different set of panelists, and each built in time for questions, followed by a 15-minute "table exercise" in which attendees answered a challenge question and then shared their answers with the group. For example, in the first one-hour segment the question was, What "new media" tactics should be put in place to help drive traffic and build sales?
The morning boot camps were followed by lunch in the sponsor networking gallery, where franchise marketers held animated discussions with dozens of vendors and suppliers--who were, not surprisingly, heavy on technology solutions, especially those involving mobile payments and integrated marketing solutions.
Following the networking lunch, attendees gathered for the day's keynote address by customer service guru John DiJulius, founder of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting company, and president of John Robert's Hair Studio & Spa. He served up numerous examples of organizations that provide "world-class customer service," as well as several that don't. He discussed terms such as "service aptitude," which he describes as the ability to recognize opportunities to exceed customers' expectations--regardless of the circumstances.
Drawing on examples from his research and personal experience, DiJulius encouraged attendees to create a "customer service vision, a customers' bill of rights, and provide the opportunity to be a hero." These strategies, he said, empower and inspire both managers and employees--and propel brands into greatness.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in breakout sessions that dug into topics such as franchisee buy-in for deploying marketing tools and strategies, using the power of PR, and predicting and measuring customer acquisition.
The second day kicked off with breakfast in the networking gallery. Following that, attendees gathered in a general session for an eye-opening presentation called "The Next Generation Workforce" by Jennifer Kushell, who has done extensive research on 20- to 30-somethings (also known as Gen Ys and Millennials). Whether you understand them or not, these children of the Baby Boomers are here in large numbers and are today's--and tomorrow's--employees, customers, and franchise buyers.
Kushell, a Gen Xer, says this group of young people--1 billion of them entering the workforce worldwide--think and act differently than previous generations, and that for franchises to continue to succeed they must address this demographic group accordingly. This "constantly connected" generation gets easily bored, she says, and suggests presenting them with "big meaty goals, stretch goals." As for achieving them, "If they don't it's humbling, if they do it's rock stars."
Her research identified five motivating factors for the Next Gen demographic: 1) they want to be valued, 2) they want to make an impact, 3) they want big goals, 4) they want to be trusted, and 5) they want to like you and feel a part of your team.
Kushell suggests offering coaching and mentoring opportunities for this group, giving them some freedom and flexibility, providing them with clear career paths, and offering them opportunities for growth. "They don't really know what they want to do with their lives, thus your job as employer becomes mentor and career coach, growing them within your company," she said. Treated right, she added, they will make your company more successful.
Concurrent breakout sessions filled the rest of the morning before lunch and a second opportunity in the networking gallery for attendees to learn more about what the sponsors and vendors had to offer.
Technology and its power to change marketing--in both strategy and practice--pervaded the two-day event. It's here to stay, constantly evolving, and can be frightening and confusing. However, according to speakers, panelists, and franchise marketing executives alike, the key is to stay on top of it, embrace it before your competition does, roll with the changes, keep experimenting, and measure the results where you can. This approach will lead some brands to the top of the market and deliver increased market share.P
lans are already under way for next year's Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference, scheduled for June 2013. Watch for more information and details for registering at www.franchiseconsumermarketing.com, where you can also view and download 11 of the conference presentations.
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