Consistency: The Key to Branding
By Gary Findley
One of the most exciting milestones of business ownership is when the owner experiences positive growth. Was it timing, a great product or maybe luck? The truth is that when one inquires into the activities of a growing business, the one thing that truly sets the company apart is the marketing campaign. Good systems, strong management and a positive work culture can strengthen the company, but repetitive quality marketing is the foundational tool that will bring about the most significant growth opportunities.
Consistency is the key in RQM. When a franchisee purchases a franchise, he or she is also buying the brand. Maintaining and strengthening brand identity, though sometimes difficult, is vital to franchise success. If the brand message is not consistent between units, the message can become confusing and unclear. Continuity between units, however, allows the message to be easily understood by the target audience.
Overcoming Branding Challenges
Multi-unit franchises may face a variety of difficulties along the way toward building brand consistency. Balancing brand uniformity while respecting franchisee independence and regulating brand messages while effectively targeting local communities are two of the struggles that often arise. Even when these conflicts occur, RQM has proven to be the path of least resistance and greatest success. The real challenge in RQM is determining whether or not the systems that are in place are the most effective for the product or service.
As a company begins to add additional units to their portfolio, there are several basic questions it should try to answer. Will this product or service withstand the test of time in both a rigid and flexible economy? Will the price that was set for the product or service fit the expansion plan? Will the current marketing vehicles reach and attract the target markets?
Marching Toward Consistency
After these questions are honestly answered and appropriate changes to the system have been made, then it is time to begin focusing on bringing consistency to the marketing campaign. As the name clearly states, RQM is repetitive quality marketing. The term “repetitive” has a tendency to be misinterpreted. Some people hear that word and they think boring and complacent marketing, but no one wants an audience to become immune to the message. In RQM, repetitive is remaining persistent and consistent with the marketing message whether it’s two units or 200 units. The strategies for reaching the different markets may vary, but the goal is to create and maintain an effective marketing campaign that works for them all.
Quality is imperative for a successful campaign. One should always remember that high cost and high quality do not necessarily go hand in hand. When creating a marketing campaign, it is important to keep three things in mind: the brand image, the product or service and the target audience. There have been many successful campaigns that did not require huge chunks of the marketing budget. Quality simply means effective marketing that is easily understood and attracts the right people. Sometimes this may require spending a large sum of money, but sometimes it does not. Whatever is most appropriate to support the brand image, portray the product or service and reach the target audience is what a company ought to do. An expensive campaign does not guarantee a successful campaign.
In RQM, the overall objective is to remain consistent. Consistency in the marketing campaign will not only strengthen the brand identity, but it often leads to positive business growth. There are key areas in marketing where consistency should be expected and enforced by the franchise company. The areas include customer service, operations, logo usage, advertising campaigns and quality control systems. While some of these areas may not at first appear to be marketing, one should remember that marketing touches everything a business does, from the design on the bathroom tiles to the rips in the salesperson’s jeans and anything a customer sees, touches, hears or smells can affect the brand image.
With the world becoming smaller and competition becoming stronger, exceptional customer service can be the competitive advantage that sets a business apart. Providing the same excellent service from location to location is one of the critical roles a franchise system must face and monitor. The best way to promote this behavior comes in three steps: consistent training, grading the result and rewarding every effort.
A Separate Focus
Operations, though it closely ties into customer service, should be viewed as a separate area of focus. This includes daily operations of equipment, hiring procedures and maintaining clean and safe environments. Franchisees should always have a clear understanding of what is expected of them for all operational processes. As a franchise organization, rule books and manuals should be reviewed, updated and disbursed on a regular basis. Field visits are also a great way to ensure franchisee accountability. The frequency of the field visits will, of course, depend on the number of units and the distance between them.
Logo usage is another huge aspect of marketing consistency. A logo is a representation of brand identity. It means so much more than just a name or symbol, which is why it’s so important to remain consistent in all usage of it. The logo consists of the font style and color scheme. This graphic standard is what has been trademarked by the franchise company and should be the only logo ever used. It is sometimes tempting for the franchisee to use the logo on unapproved marketing material, but this practice should not be allowed. Any change in color, font or even inappropriate usage of the logo may weaken the brand image and cause brand confusion.
Advertising campaigns should try to keep all units in mind during the creative development process. The message should remain the same, but the means in which the message is delivered may change from unit to unit. Creating an annual plan is an effective way to implement the campaign while sticking to the annual budget. The plan can be broken down quarterly, monthly or even weekly if necessary. A great plan provides franchisees with the direction of the company, the run dates of the advertisements, the reason for the ads, copies of the ads and how to track the ad’s effectiveness.
Consistency: The Most Important Factor
Quality control systems for a company’s products or services are perhaps the most important area of consistency. The saying, “Nothing kills a product quicker than great marketing,” is absolutely true. All marketing campaigns need the product or service to back them up. A cute advertisement or catchy jingle may bring in the customers, but if they get a sub par product or service, they will most likely never come back.
So how does a multi-unit franchise system build their brand image and create business success? The answer is simple: consistency, consistency, consistency. Repetitive quality marketing gives multiple-unit franchises a strong foundation for both the brand and franchisee to build on. Though there are sometimes difficulties starting and implementing RQM, the ease and simplicity of it in the long run, not to mention the effectiveness, is a tradeoff many business owners gladly welcome.
Too often people think that opening multiple units will double both the costs and the headaches. Of course, costs and headaches may increase, but they could increase with a single unit as well. The reality is that the economy of scale that is gained may actually help fuel the positive growth that a single-unit business can only dream of.
So back to the mystery of achieving positive growth, does timing have a role? Yes. Does great product affect a company’s success? Of course, but as a franchise owner, one should not deny the affect that a consistent marketing campaign can have on a business. The brand image stays strong and the message stays clear, keeping both franchisees and customers happy.
Gary Findley is CEO of the Findley Group.