Featured interview today in Blue MauMau by Ed Teixeira the founder and owner ofFranchiseKnowHow.

A brand expert speaks with Blue MauMau at the International Franchise Association’s annual conference on how a brand can be lifted. F. Warren Ellish, president and CEO ofEllish Marketing Group and Senior Lecturer at Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management, conducted a workshop on the “Three Critical Steps to Positioning Your Franchise into a World-Class Brand” at this week’s International Franchise Association annual gathering in Orlando.

Based out of Denver, Mr. Ellish has a long history in the franchise industry, including being a member of the core start-up executive team at Boston Chicken (now Boston Market). He has held key marketing positions at Red Lobster and Burger King and has consulted for a long list of start-up, emerging and turnaround restaurant and franchise brands. He was also a key marketer with PepsiCo in their Frito-Lay Division and with Johnson & Johnson in their Baby Products Division.

BMM: How can franchisors and franchisees maximize their brand image?

Summary: Franchisors need to work hand in hand with their franchisee advisory boards in developing a clearly defined brand positioning statement for their brand.

Ellish: When I consult with franchisors, I want to engage the entire executive team and the franchisee advisory board members in everything we do from a brand strategy standpoint. And this starts with developing the brand’s positioning statement. It’s important for the group to co-write brand positioning and then endorse the strategy and programs that are the end result of that brand positioning. If only one group is involved in the process, the potential to fully maximize the franchise brand’s potential in the marketplace is minimized. Since the franchisees are closest to the customers, they need to be a part of the brand positioning process. Franchisor CEO’s that I have worked with who have utilized this approach have seen it work very successfully. For it to work, the franchisee advisory board members must pledge their support to endorse and move forward with the work that the group jointly develops and agrees to, even if as individuals they are not in total agreement. Complete franchisor and franchisee alignment is key to successfully implementing marketing strategy and programs.

BMM: Is there a particular process you follow when working to maximize a franchise brand’s potential?

Summary: When it comes to the franchise brand, every member of the organization on both the franchisor and franchisee side has to deliver the same message.

Ellish: It’s important that each company develop and then deliver a clearly defined brand positioning statement with complete management alignment behind that positioning. I like to ask three short and simple questions before starting the brand positioning process with a franchise organization to help determine if their franchise brand is strategically positioned and if its message is being clearly communicated. I ask each member of the senior management franchisor team and the participating franchise advisory board the following three questions.

  1. What business are you in?
  2. What is the target market for your brand, or said differently, what is the audience or group you are trying to persuade to use your product or service?
  3. What is the point of difference for your brand? List no more than three differences.

An important aspect of number three is to establish what sets the brand apart from others in the frame of reference or business that they are in. This involves establishing a point of difference that is:

  • Pre-emptive
  • Ownable
  • Defendable

A franchise brand wants to make sure its points of difference are not points of similarity to the competition or simply points of entry in a business, which I so often see.

BMM: What do you learn when you ask these questions?

Summary: I typically see significant inconsistencies in the answers to most if not all of the three questions as well as points of difference that are nothing more than points of similarity to everyone else that they are competing with.

Ellish: This is not an unusual result for most companies. If the core management team and the franchise advisory board members have such differences in their answers to these core brand questions, can you imagine how difficult it will be to communicate a clear and meaningful message about your brand to your employees and in turn to your customers? As the message moves through the organization, so much gets lost in the translation. It is important that everyone in a franchise organization fully understands and recites the same message.

BMM: Quite often the subject of social media comes up as a possible point of conflict between franchisors and their franchisees. Any advice on this subject?

Summary: The franchisor needs to establish their social media policy rather than wait for a problem to arise.

Ellish: First of all, franchisors have to define the social media strategy for their brand. Within this overall strategy, the role of the franchisor and the franchisee, pertaining to social media, needs to be communicated up front. Some franchisors wait too long to take control of social media, so the franchisees take the lead and you end up with a non-cohesive social media effort. Only after a problem arises do some franchisors jump in. It’s important for the franchisor to remain in control of the brand website and all other social portals such as the Facebook page. In addition, it would be wise for franchisors to provide their franchisees some training in this area. Without this direction, franchisees can’t be expected to understand what they can and can’t do and what the responsibility of the franchisor is.

BMM: What about franchisees who want to personalize the franchise website?

Summary: Franchisors need to control on-line and social media communication in order to send a consistent message for the brand.

Ellish: It is very important that a brand maintains a consistent message in all public places. This includes the brand’s website and social media pages such as Facebook. A good way to do this is to create a location-specific webpage that is built from a brand template but that has unique information for each specific location. This page can be accessed via a location subpage of the brand’s overall site and can also be used for local search with sites like Google Places and Google Maps for localized GPS enabled searches. I suggest using a controlled set of photos and descriptive copy, but each location specific page can have underlying unique local descriptors (which are picked up in search) for each photo. All of this will allow for local uniqueness without losing brand control. This process can be done in batch processing and there are some great franchise service providers who can help with this.

BMM: Once the branding strategy is implemented, what can the franchisor do to achieve success?

Summary: Franchise organizations need alignment not only between franchisor and franchisee, but also between marketing and operations.

Ellish: Successful marketing is the result of close cooperation between the marketing and the operations teams. The marketing team is responsible for the first 50% of the process with the operations team responsible for the second 50%. Let me explain. The marketing team develops and implements messaging and programs to generate awareness and trial for the brand based on leveraging the brand’s point of difference. The object, of course, is to reach a specific audience, driving potential customers to visit or use the brand’s product or service. It is then operation’s job to deliver a flawless experience, consistent with the brand promise, to the customer. When marketing and operations work together in this way, the result will be repeat customers, positive word-of-mouth recommendations and business success.

Check out the complete interview at http://www.bluemaumau.org/11282/warren_ellish_maximizing_franchise_brand