10 ways to maximise franchisee engagement

Discussion at the 2012 Franchise Marketing Forum, a recent event for marketing managers of franchise brands, explored the issue of how to get franchisees on board with marketing initiatives, and came up with the following 10 useful insights.

Provide the right tools from the outset

“We’ve undermined ourselves by not giving franchisees enough to start with,” lamented one marketing manager.

The comment struck a chord with the group as it was explained that franchisees are provided with the essential equipment with which to run their business, but often little or nothing in the form of marketing tools they can deploy when needed. As a result, they must either make up their own (unapproved) tools or constantly have to ask the franchisor for assistance.

Train franchisees in marketing

Franchisors provide very detailed technical training on how to do the daily operational things involved in running a business, but can overlook training in how to use the marketing tools provided (if any) or provide sufficient marketing training for a new franchisee to confidently develop and implement their own marketing tools.

Engage franchisees in the decision-making process

Before launching into a new marketing campaign, give franchisees the opportunity to provide their own input into the strategy and tactics to be used. Franchisees have a wealth of operational experience and frontline customer knowledge, which can be an invaluable market research resource if used properly.

Marketing managers who engage with franchisees via their system’s franchise advisory council, marketing committees or other similar groups indicated that they had fewer difficulties in receiving acceptance for new campaigns.

Systems which also use high-performing and well-respected franchisees to test new marketing campaigns before widespread release also found that centres of influence and peer pressure within a franchise network is conducive to implementing new marketing activities and other improvements.

Explain the benefits, not the features

It might sound like sales training 101, but marketing managers don’t always speak the same language as their franchisees, so a discussion of the features of a new campaign or activity is unlikely to create much excitement. However, if the marketing manager can indicate that the campaign will result in a 10% lift in sales volumes and a 5% lift in average transaction values, resulting in a profit increase of X, then (unsurprisingly) franchisees will pay attention because they can see the benefits.

In order to make such claims about a campaign, it needs to be thoroughly tested first so that the claims are based in fact, not wishful thinking. Franchisees will hold marketing managers accountable if the results of a campaign fall short of expectations.

Pick the low hanging fruit

Marketing managers will cause themselves unnecessary heartache and stress if they expect 100% of their franchisees to follow 100% of the required marketing activities 100% of the time. In every system there will be the early adopters, who will embrace all new things (including marketing campaigns) and give them their best shot.

Then there are the followers who need to be convinced based on the evidence of others, but who will eventually follow, and then finally there are the resistors, who despite all logical argument will hold out (for whatever reason).

By picking the low-hanging fruit, marketing managers concentrate on the early adopters to create internal momentum for a campaign, and who in turn are then joined by the followers. The resistors either see that they will be left further behind by holding out and join in (peer pressure again), or require more specific one-on-one support from the franchisor to overcome the issues that prevent them supporting a specific campaign.

By prioritising or triaging franchisees in this way, an organisation can strive for a high level of engagement for most, if not all the time.

Provide incentives for franchisee participation

Incentives for franchisees to engage in marketing activities might include limited access to subsidies from the marketing fund to help offset their own costs in running a particular campaign. Such incentives should not be applied in an ad hoc manner but be part of the structure of the franchise, and known to all franchisees who can equally qualify for the incentive if they choose to participate.

Other incentives might include co-contributions from the franchisor, reduced royalties once turnover thresholds are passed, bonus stock or other appropriate offers.

Regular and relevant communication

More than anything, franchisee engagement is based on the frequency and quality of communication provided by the franchisor, and the ability for the franchisee to interact with and compare notes with their fellow franchisees. Systems which have comprehensive internal communication processes are more likely to enjoy a far higher level of franchisee engagement than systems without such processes.

Nothing galvanises action more effectively than a crisis

A natural disaster, such as the floods in eastern Australia in 2011, break down the barriers between people and create a renewed sense of community that makes it easier to work together for a period of concentrated activity before old prejudices begin to re-emerge.

Likewise a crisis brought about by competitive activity or other economic or social forces can help galvanise franchisees into action, particularly if the franchisor is demonstrating solution-based leadership to overcome the issue which caused the crisis.

Timely recognition

Praise and reward are common human motivators, so why not praise and reward franchisees? The key is to do it in a timely enough manner so that the praise and reward can be directly linked to the behaviour it endorses, rather than leaving the recipient to guess in hindsight why they are being lauded.

Franchisor management and leaders should be prepared to make meaningful and relevant gestures of gratitude and reward to franchisees for successful participation in marketing activities to maximise the chances of the behaviour recurring.

Leading by example

In anything a franchisor does or expects franchisees to follow, leading by example is critical. If franchisors expect franchisees to flawlessly execute local components of marketing campaigns, than the franchisor-executed elements of the campaign must also be performed flawlessly. Franchisor credibility (or lack thereof) can be a substantial influence in the uptake among franchisees of marketing or other organisational initiatives.

These 10 elements are a summary of the key discussion points raised by marketing managers at the 2012 Franchise Marketing Forum.

They are not an exhaustive list of solutions to increase franchisee engagement in marketing initiatives, but should serve as a reminder of the symbiotic relationship that exists between franchisee and franchisor which requires mutual respect to deliver best outcomes for both groups.

Jason Gehrke is the director of the Franchise Advisory Centre and has been involved in franchising for 20 years at franchisee, franchisor and advisor level. He advises both potential and existing franchisors and franchisees, and conducts franchise education programs throughout Australia, and publishes Franchise News & Events, a fortnightly email news bulletin on franchising issues and trends.

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