5 digital essentials to take your franchise to the next level 

As we near the end of 2020 (wait, did you say end?), many franchise owners have turned their attention to what comes next. The pandemic has heavily impacted franchises – exposing so much in our operations as Covid shifted consumer behaviour and drove a decade’s worth of digital growth in just a few months.

We want to pivot. We want to also take this opportunity to get the house in order and seize the opportunity now as life returns to more of a ‘Covid-normal’ (apologies if that term sends a tingle up your spine). So how do we do it? 

Here are some digital essentials to future-proof, scale and take your franchise to the next level. 

1. Brand is critical (and consistency is key!)

Your brand is everything. And while it would be nice to control what people say about it, as co-founder of Intuit Scott Cook puts it: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Everytime a person interacts with your brand they need to see, feel, hear and touch the same brand and messaging. 

When a franchisee buys into a franchise, they’re buying into the structure, marketing direction and culture that make up your brand. They want to be part of your story. The biggest breakdown, however, is when they start telling that story… perhaps a little (or very) differently to how you’d tell it.

It’s important to decide on the level of autonomy you provide franchisees with their marketing. Are all marketing messages devised and disseminated through a head office, or are you leaning into the local, personal touch of each franchise? These are the questions that you need to answer before you undertake any marketing activity.

Consistency is what allows your message to be heard by your target audience. It’s critical to establish that continuity and maintain a core brand. Your franchise should have a detailed brand and content strategy, and a visual identity, which inform all marketing communications. You can complement this with a powerful CRM to house all of your brand’s assets, centralise interactions and maintain consistency with your social media accounts and email communications. 

We know brand is this and so much more though. It’s the sum of ALL parts of the business. Think about your customer experience, talent identification, franchisee recruitment and perceived value. We call this brand equity – a term that describes your brand’s value.

What determines this value? Well, we’ve come full circle: the perceptions (and conversations) consumers have about your brand. By consistently driving positive brand equity, you take customers from the point of awareness right through to brand advocates, more often. You also become an attractive investment opportunity for like-minded (and better fitting) franchisees who will align with your brand. 

2. Effective communications

Owning a small business can be challenging. Remember what it was like getting your franchise off the ground? The key to sustainable, profitable relationships is regular communication. Whether it be in-person, via email or another software, do it often – and don’t let someone double-book that time. It is essential

We’re not all superheroes though, and when your franchise spans multiple suburbs, states or countries, you need a way to keep your finger on the pulse of all your outposts. Cloud software and integrations deliver exceptional results here. A CRM such as HubSpot or Salesforce can be used to provide a consistent and holistic representation of the data held by your franchise.

In doing so, you gain an ability to manage a single and consistent brand, voice and view of the customer from a central hub – this also lets you build personalised nurturing strategies, which builds brand advocates. 

All the data you collate helps you keep franchisees in-the-loop, understanding how they’re performing relative to their peers – not to name and shame, but to identify opportunities for improvement. Microsoft Teams, Slack or another communications channel can be useful here, as can reporting tools from a financial performance benchmarking perspective.

Whichever systems you choose to implement, ensure your people are well-versed in and motivated to use them for the best outcomes. 

3. Make customer service and experience a priority

Experience counts for everything – it’s the lasting impression that we can curate and often control. To level-up your franchise, it’s imperative your franchisees have the ability to deliver the same consistent (and excellent) customer experience, time and time again. This is done most effectively through connecting the dots from our ‘front of house’ customer experience, to our ‘back of house’ franchise operations. 

Is the experience your franchise delivers personal? We’re in the age of some seriously advanced tech and automation capability. Sending an email with, “Hi *first name*” is a starting point, but that’s all it is. We have the potential to personalise an experience based on the customer’s implied and explicit needs, behaviours and tendencies. Doing this truly allows us to deliver an exceptional customer experience which feeds into your brand equity. 

To create exceptional experiences, you need to first invest time understanding and defining your customer personas. That way you can easily personalise your messaging and services to their needs. You should also be collecting feedback at each stage of the customer lifecycle, acting on it and improving the experience the franchisee delivers. 

You can use message media and customer feedback tools to engage throughout the lifecycle and gain such valuable insights, track your NPS (Net Promoter Score) and analyse customer feedback. It’s also great to drive timeliness in your interactions ensuring you don’t miss opportunities to strike while the iron is hot. Such insights can help pave the way towards continuously delivering better customer service and experiences. 

4. Systems and operations that work hand-in-hand

Your systems and ops need to work together seamlessly. If they don’t, you’re likely wasting money and time to tasks your competitors are automating. By employing customer experience design and service design techniques (defining franchise objectives and outcomes by working through steps to understand vision, build personas, develop a journey map and articulate your service blueprint), we’re able to map-out the end-to-end customer lifecycle through the lenses of people, process and systems.

This provides the opportunity to improve the flow of information, and thereby the experience we deliver. 

We believe in the power of cloud-based solutions that allow us to integrate systems that support scalability. By eradicating manual processes and improving data quality and performance insights, we help build robust systems that keep operations on-point for franchise operations.

Whether its a powerful CRM, accounting software, eCommerce solution, or cloud-based point of sale system, with some thoughtful consideration your systems can work together seamlessly to assist in driving exceptional growth.

Great systems offer us great data, which allows us to make great decisions. We’ve all learnt this year just how quickly things can change – and having real-time data to guide decision-making is invaluable. With the right systems, we can leverage our data and business intelligence to establish benchmarks, trending analysis and scenario planning. 

We can then support franchisees who didn’t pull their weight and direct towards understanding and resolution. By providing transparent and accessible data to franchisees, we can empower them with the insights they need to continuously grow and improve. 

5. Continuous training and improvement

When Toyota was able to produce so many vehicles, so quickly, American auto executives visited their manufacturing plants to see how it was possible. They discovered the Japanese philosophy: Kaizen. Kaizen involves attaining ideas for improvement from all functions and employees of a business – think an opportunity to break-down communication barriers between franchisee, franchisor and every employee. This is hugely beneficial to driving innovation, improving processes and procedures. 

Franchisees crave your support and direction – remember, they chose to become part of YOUR franchise, not someone else’s or to start their own business. Franchisees prefer to feel like they’re part of a team, and that they can share in learnings.

After all, the power of the brand comes from each store/operation working to their optimal – not when there is a huge disparity in profitability or success. 

Reporting tools such as Spotlight Multi or Fathom can support with benchmarking data and analysis. Establishing a communications channel like Microsoft Teams or Slack can keep the group speaking the same language and up-to-speed with the latest and greatest. It can also act as a repository for knowledge articles. 

When it comes to onboarding, training, policies and more, consider investing in an internal Learning Management System (LMS) for efficient and consistent upskilling. By embedding continuous learning in your culture, you will cultivate an environment where your people perform at their optimum – and that’s good business. 

The bottom line…

So, there are five key focus points to ensure your franchise is prepared to take on whatever 2021 holds in store (surely some less turbulent air ahead!). Ultimately, by boosting our brand equity with these elements, we propel the franchise operation. Our brand becomes more prominent and more attractive to new franchisees – all while increasing our franchise value. We grow, and we grow sustainably, efficiently and profitably. 

Take the time to discuss your franchise ideas and needs with professionals in the field; business systems experts, consultants, owned and paid media managers and advisors will be able to guide you through what it takes to establish the systems and processes you need to scale, automate, gain insight and nurture your brand. 

Ryan Kagan is a director of BlueRock Digital, a Melbourne-based digital agency and consultancy that specialises in intelligent digital strategy, development, systems consulting, design and marketing.