For the past several years, Franchise Update Media’s annual franchise marketing conference has been a must-attend event for the Vya marketing team. This year was no different. What was different was the name of the event, which rebranded as the “Franchise Marketing Leadership Conference.” With the new name came a revamped focus on leadership and recognizing marketing excellence. The result was a new and meaningful experience.
For those of you who didn’t make it to Atlanta last month, here are my top takeaways, which fall under two key themes: 1) a focus on franchisee success and 2) leadership.
FOCUS ON FRANCHISEE SUCCESS
A number of conference speakers shared thoughts and best practices for focusing on franchisee success and seeing things from the perspective of the franchisee. Dave McDougall, COO of Your Pie, explained why this is so important saying, “Success of the franchisee is the key to the success of the franchisor.”
So how can a franchisor support and foster franchisee success? Clarissa Bradstock, CEO of Any Test Franchising suggested, “Look for suppliers who will really care for your franchisees.” She added, “Get mature franchisees more involved with setting the direction.”1. Create an Effective Franchise Advisory Council.
One of the ways franchisors get franchisees involved with setting the direction is by having a Franchise Advisory Council. Among the tips offered at the conference for building an effective Franchise Advisory Council were:
- Be sure you have a good mix of representation, including multi-unit and single-unit franchisees, in urban and suburban locations.
- Choose members by vote to provide transparency. The franchisor may require that candidates be in compliance to be eligible.
- Have a set agenda. Heather Briggs, Senior Director of Marketing Planning for Great Clips, recommended labeling each topic as either “Inform,” “Discuss” or “Decision.”
- Be sure to listen. While you may have an agenda, you don’t want this to be a one-way channel. Capitalize on the real-world experience and perspectives of your Advisory Council franchisees in order to better engage all franchisees across your organization.
- Keep terms to two years. Those who serve longer terms tend to become too comfortable and/or too cliquish.
- Provide information to Advisory Board members in advance. But be careful – franchisors tend to overwhelm franchisees with information – provide quick, bulleted reads.
Greg Thomas of LSGF Management shared some great insights from his perspective as a franchisee. He advised attendees to keep in mind that what franchisees care about most is increasing sales and bottom-line profit. Among the marketing tactics he recommended for supporting this focus are:
- Guerilla Marketing
- Event Marketing/Sponsorship (e.g., free ticket with purchase)
- Cause Marketing (e.g., donate $1 and get a coupon for $2 off your next purchase)
- Cross Promotions/Partner Marketing (e.g., gift with purchase, such as a coupon for a free smoothie when you buy a haircut)
Darrell Johnson of FRANdata emphasized that franchise marketers need to consider the franchisee impact when developing marketing programs. Franchisees care about new customers, add-on sales, controlling adjusted same store sales and gross margin – so always consider these franchisee priorities.
Nicole Salla, VP of Marketing for Kiddie Academy, suggested that when you create a campaign, you are really creating two campaigns – one that speaks to consumer and one to franchisees. She also offered advice for getting franchisee buy-in for your marketing programs, including:
- Always focus on the franchisee perspective: “What’s In It For Me?”
- Craft a story to answer the “why”
- Communicate to franchisees using every tool you have
- Leverage advocates and partners
- Create incentives
- Be available and listen
The Franchise Marketing Leadership Conference did indeed offer valuable leadership insights and best practices. A number of franchise leaders who have risen to become executive leadership roles by way of marketing shared their views on leadership.
“The ability to influence without strict authority is an important skill,” said Heather Neary, President of Auntie Anne’s.
“It’s important to build relationships and speak the language of the business,” explained Susan Lintonsmith, CEO of Elements Massage. “You need to understand the business really well. Be an operational marketer. Build credibility. Get to know the P&L.”
Jennifer LoBianco, CMO of Huntington Learning Centers recommended staffing today for tomorrow’s challenges. She described what she looks for when hiring for her marketing department, saying, “You need to hire collaborators, those who can work across silos. They need to be able to keep agencies accountable. They need to be able to understand the fundamentals of marketing. They need to be comfortable with numbers.”
And Susan Boresow, President of TITLE Boxing advised, “Don’t underestimate yourself, you know more than you realize.”
CLOSING THOUGHTS: FRANCHISEE FOCUS & OVERALL GROWTH
Back at the office, I’ve been considering much of what I heard from the stage and in conversations with other attendees of the Franchise Marketing Leadership Conference. I fully agree there’s a meaningful connection between a franchise’s focus on franchisee success and its ability to grow its business. This connection elevates the importance of effective local marketing. Effective local marketing simultaneously helps build the franchise brand while also delivering the kind of value that is compelling for franchisees.
I hope these great ideas and insights from the conference inspire you to think about how you can grow your franchise with a franchisee-first approach.