A branding and brand positioning 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 of Ellish 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 weeks IFA convention.

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.

Here are highlights from the complete interview.

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 and 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: 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.