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During the dog days of summer, market your brand from the inside out


Mark Siebert

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the dog days of summer,” but ask anyone what it means and you’ll likely hear a montage of answers about panting pups or long and lazy days that stifle ambition.

In actuality, the phrase has origins in Greek and Roman mythology and is a reference to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Proclaimed the hunting dog of Orion by the Greeks and placed by the Romans within the constellation Canis Major (Greater Dog), it rose and set with the sun during the warmest part of their calendar year, which became known as the days of the Dog Star.  

Why don’t we all know about Sirius and Orion and their triumphs through August? How did these ancient stories get lost in translation? According to Anne Curzan, English professor at the University of Michigan, “when we don’t know the origin of a phrase or a message, we make up our own plausible explanation.” The meaning is lost, but the phrase still exists, and our ancestors for whom the phrase had real meaning haven’t a clue that we are clueless.

Not so ancient history

Think about how detrimental it would be to your business if your brand messaging changed over time without your knowledge. You provide messaging for your franchisees, but how can you be sure it maintains integrity as it travels?

Recall the team building exercise where everyone stands in a line and whispers a simple message from one person to the next. By the time the message reaches the end it’s laughably unrecognizable.

Now think of yourself, the franchisor, providing that message to your franchisee. And, of course, because you want to steer clear of any joint employment issues, you leave it to your franchisee to communicate that message to their employees. The employees, in turn, are responsible for communicating that message to your brand’s customer, who may pass it along to their friends and colleagues. And, of course, any one of these folks may choose to provide their own interpretation of your message on social media for the world to see.

Oftentimes this messaging is compounded by the fact that, at the unit level, most franchisors are dealing with a transient workforce. Especially in today’s full-employment economy, consumer-facing employees may be replaced many times over the years, with messaging passed down like ancient mythology from one generation to the next—perhaps losing a fraction of its meaning with each subsequent summer. Now further dilute that messaging with the knowledge that this same process may be going on at dozens or hundreds (or more) locations simultaneously, and one can readily see how easily a brand’s identity can be corrupted.

Start with the top dog

How sure are you the message you began with is the same one being distributed to the world? The trick is to market from the inside out.

For a system to prosper, franchisees need to be your biggest cheerleaders. Be sure you treat them as an integral part of your sales and marketing process. By doing all you can to help them grow and prosper, you’re reinforcing your messaging as a top franchisor. Create a culture franchisees want to be a part of by promoting core values, camaraderie, community and consistency—and reinforce it with an internal marketing campaign.

Based on a 2006 study conducted at Northwestern University on the benefits of internal marketing, we know engagement is a crucial link to customer satisfaction and increased profitability. So one can readily understand how engaging franchisees results in a more educated network that can then provide a higher quality of service to customers. Franchise owners who feel empowered through communication and encouragement can also take proactive steps to ensure the intention of brand messaging remains on point.

Whether it’s a weekly internal newsletter or implementing an internal chat room within your CRM, keeping franchisees informed, and giving them a platform to contribute, comment, and even contradict programs and messaging from corporate—and from each other—is a key component to their engagement. More importantly, pay attention. Listen to franchisee input and provide feedback, even if you disagree.

Find ways to encourage franchisee participation. In addition to franchise advisory councils, engaged franchisors will often constitute other committees to provide input on issues impacting the greater good of the brand. Remember, when someone is involved in the creation of an idea, they are more likely to promote it as their own.  

Downward facing …

When we think of great retail brands, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? The store managers? Likely not. It’s the front-line employees. Franchisors would be well-advised to provide their franchisees with the tools and support that can allow them to help you push brand messaging to every level.

Since franchisors are rightfully reluctant to get involved directly with activities that might create liability, there is certainly a need for caution here. But there are tools that can, if properly constructed, provide franchisees with the ability to push brand messaging down in a consistent manner to their employees.  

Perhaps the most basic tool for the franchisor involves train-the-trainer tools. These allow the franchisee to use manuals, formal training programs, videos, and even online learning systems to be sure brand messaging elements are consistently delivered to customers. And in the process, those elements of brand consistency will, if executed correctly, accomplish two things: they will provide consumers (and potential franchisees) with the validation they need that the operation is well run and it will (hopefully) improve unit level financial performance.

Engage with your franchisees—and help them engage with their employees—and you will be well on your way to communicating a message that will stand out like the brightest star in the summer sky.

Mark Siebert is CEO of franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com. His new book is “Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever.”

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