Franchise insight: Communication, brand integrity and supporting long-tenured franchisees

Tim Morris is the MD of specialist franchise communications business, Cymphony. After a lifetime dedicated to franchising, Tim says there is little else he can say that he’s so passionate about

Franchise insight: Communication

From international brand development to implementing global support systems and structure through to domestic local marketing, Tim brings extensive practical advice and real-world experience. In his current role as a trusted partner with franchisors UK-wide, he adopts a solutions-based approach to problems being faced by the industry. Uniquely, Tim boasts valuable insight from franchisor, franchisee and now, supplier perspectives. 

Here, Tim shares his insights into three common challenges he’s heard repeatedly, from multiple brands, over the course of the last month. 

The importance of effective communication

Effective communication – it sounds so simple! Unfortunately, effective communication between stakeholders, which in this case is franchisors and franchisees, is probably one of the most challenging disciplines for any business to master. But master it we must because it’s the key, if ever there was one, to unlocking a truly valuable two-way relationship. 

Staying connected to your network is as vital as selling new franchises if your brand is to secure longevity and success. Effective communication doesn’t just bring people together, foster trust and build community. It mitigates risk, eliminates confusion and can 100% drive business strategy and growth. 

By way of illustration, imagine a franchisor rolls out a new marketing campaign but fails to effectively communicate the details to its franchisees. The result will be confusion, missed opportunities and inconsistent use of messaging. If communication had been well planned, franchisees would be prepared, bought in and able to maximise the opportunities to generate enquiries, leads and, ultimately, sales. So, how can you establish effective communication with your network? It is simple really. But it requires commitment and often, a little investment of both time and resource. 

Firstly, frequent, regular check-ins are a must whether that’s face-to-face, virtually or with a good old-fashioned phone call. Maintaining such an open line of communication fosters trust and makes sure everyone is up to speed. There’s also the added bonus of providing regular opportunities for all parties to bring challenges, innovations and wins to the table. 

Additional communication tools are also vital. Regular newsletters, intranets, network-wide team calls and emails as well as video should all be used. And here’s the important part. All these channels should be used to get the same message across. I’ll say that again: you should be communicating the exact same message across a multitude of channels. Why? Because different people have their preferred method of communication – psychologically and according to learning style. We mustn’t try to force individuals – people who all consume, retain and recall information best in different ways – to use only one method of communication. This tactic should be used for communication of guidelines and resources too. 

Finally, and equally as important for effective communication, is active listening. I hear the groan of every franchisor reading this from here! We all need to actively listen to feedback – be it positive or negative – as well as suggestions. Engendering this two-way dialogue strengthens the relationship between franchisor and franchisee and encourages a healthy exchange of ideas. The backbone of successful franchising! 

Maintaining brand integrity

Maintaining the integrity of your brand across the entire network is vitally important. Your brand identity, and the integrity of it, is arguably your biggest asset, especially as a franchisor. Anyone of a similar age to me will remember back in the 80s when Bass paid £2 billion for Holiday Inn. Essentially, the British brewer paid the eye-watering sum for the Holiday Inn brand name. Yes, they had worldwide royalty revenue coming in, but the brand was the only real asset purchased. You’ve worked, and are working, hard to build a successful franchise and now it’s crucial to ensure that every franchisee aligns with your brand values and its standards.

To set a solid foundation for consistency, you must establish clear brand guidelines. Document your brand’s visual identity, its messaging and its core values. Provide detailed instructions on how the brand should be represented, including visuals and marketing materials. Don’t be afraid to stop any transgressions in their tracks even if the franchisee has committed financial resources!

In addition, you need to offer comprehensive training to educate franchisees about the brand’s history, its mission and its unique selling points. Secure the buy-in of your network by explaining the reasons why brand consistency is so important – including the key ingredient, ‘What’s in it for them?’ Once they understand the ‘why’ and the benefits, it’s far easier to maintain standards, and the better equipped individuals will be to uphold brand integrity within their respective territories. 

Over the many years I’ve been involved in franchising, I’ve seen it all! Taglines changed, unauthorised fonts used, logos turned on their heads, brand colours changed and, one of my real pet hates, logos stretched! Be vigilant but avoid militant leadership. Instead, keep an open dialogue with franchisees through regular check-ins, meetings and newsletters. Share updates, best practices and success stories. Encourage conversation, address concerns promptly and provide guidance when needed. Lastly, conduct regular audits. Visit franchise locations, assess adherence to brand standards and provide constructive feedback. If you do identify areas for improvement, offer support to help franchisees stay on track. Maintaining brand integrity across the franchise network takes effort and consistency, but the value you’re protecting is well worth it!

Supporting long-tenured franchisees

I realised many years ago that if you’re lucky enough to have franchisees that have been with you for the long haul, and who have achieved great success in their own right, the worst thing you can do is ‘leave them to it’. It is, in fact, crucial to nurture their growth and help them take their business to the next level. 

Firstly, acknowledge their achievements and show your appreciation. Recognise their hard work publicly to boost their morale and encourage continued excellence. Provide high-level development opportunities, keep up with industry trends and offer specialised training to help franchisees stay ahead. By investing in their knowledge and skills, you empower them to adapt and to innovate. Facilitate networking and collaboration, ideally through platforms where successful franchisees can share experiences, insights and best practice. 

Appealing to their sense of leadership and competition is also a great way to engage long-time franchisees. Peer groups in which the top-performing and most experienced franchisees can learn from each other are a great example. I’d encourage you to establish one or two! In my experience, the most successful peer groups are those in which the franchisor is merely a facilitator, while the franchisees debate and plan their future business growth and their success. Very often, they become accountability partners for each other. 

Finally, provide resources to franchisees with growth potential whether it’s access to capital at good rates, favourable lease negotiations or personal development plans. Enabling their growth demonstrates your commitment to their success. Actively supporting long-tenured franchisees in their business development and growth is a win-win situation; they thrive and your franchise brand flourishes.

Tim Morris
Tim Morris