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Running a business, in any capacity, takes hard work and perseverance. Specifically, though, for a franchise, there's a whole different set of unique challenges for both franchisors and franchisees.

The primary challenge comes down to providing a consistent experience. It's simple: A franchise must provide a consistent brand experience across each of its locations.

Related: Franchise development—what you need to know

What's not so simple is ensuring that every part of operations is being done the same way. How can you ensure that brand messaging and logos are easily accessible and up-to-date, or that the service is as good as it should be at every single one of your locations?

This article should provide you with a start on how to achieve brand consistency in your franchise.

Make sure franchisees know the importance of reputation management

Let's first discuss your online brand image. This directly affects how customers feel about your brand.

A positive reputation is something that's hard to get back once it's ruined. There are a variety of different platforms in which customers can communicate with other customers about your brand including Yelp, Google, and other forms of social media.

Chris Conner, president of Franchise Marketing Systems, advises, "Right from the initial training with the franchisee, the franchisor should be educating and informing franchisees how brand management and reputation management are important and part of their operational responsibilities in running the franchised business."

Conner adds: "Once a franchisee is operating and running day-to-day, the franchisor should have regularly scheduled calls with franchisees where reputation management is part of that discussion and addressed in each interaction."

"Franchisors who are able to grow their networks effectively typically have incredibly strong and consistent mechanisms in place to monitor, respond and execute brand management responsibilities," he concludes.

Maintain digital consistency

In order to maintain consistency where franchisees communicate with customers online, you need a clear-cut digital marketing plan. The plan should include guidelines for how franchisees communicate via social media, blogs, emails and webpages. Make sure you provide franchisees with easy access to logos, font style, imagery & photos, brand tone and language.

Social media is an integral part of our daily lives. Each location should have a separate Facebook and Yelp page so customers can visit locations and leave reviews. Whether each location needs a separate Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Google+ or Instagram account is truly dependent on the brand.

Create a detailed social media policy answering questions like: What type of content should be posted—and what should not be posted? How should complaints and negative reviews be dealt with? You can streamline social media with a process to approve anything that goes out, create templates, or offer pre-approved content. That way, you don't have to micromanage content for too many locations.

Let your franchisees know what your brand is

Franchisors need to feel confident about the brand before communicating what that brand is to franchisees. This encompasses everything from company-wide goals to how everyday operations are run.

Ask yourself the following questions, and once you're confident in your responses, make sure your franchisees know it, too.

What is the brand?

Your brand includes the characteristics of your company that make it relatable to people. For example, popular sandwich franchise Subway is a casual, no-frills restaurant where customers can expect consistent, fast service with fresh ingredients.

What is the company's mission? What are its values and goals?

Subway strives to serve fresh, delicious sandwiches that are made-to-order right in front of the customer. The team at Subway lists out three core values and principles on their website.

  1. "Always provide exceptional service to your valued guests."
  2. "Provide the highest quality menu items at a price everyone can afford and enjoy."
  3. "Keep operating costs low and ensure you have great systems in place and never stop improving."

What story do you want to tell?

Subway offers healthy sandwiches at convenient locations around the world. Subway shows their customers that they have nutritional & community responsibility by "building stronger societies," according to the company.

Who is buying your product or service? How do you market to them?

Today, it's easier to understand who your customers are and what they're looking for. According to customer identity company Signal, personalization is an important part of marketing for brands. When it comes to franchises, that means being able to speak to people in different markets on a personal level. For example, franchises can offer personalized online communication experiences (e.g. paid advertising, personalized emails, etc.).

Don't forget the details

It might be obvious, but staying consistent in a franchise is about every little detail.

Gary Findley, CEO at Restoration1 and established franchise sales expert, writes that consistency is the most important factor when it comes to business success.

He writes, "Balancing brand uniformity while respecting franchisee independence and regulating brand messages while effectively targeting local communities are two of the struggles that often arise."

To help achieve this balance, there needs to be a consistent aesthetic, product & experience at each location.

  • Aesthetics. From the color of paint on the wall to the uniform staff is wearing, there should be consistency to how a business looks and feels. If you walk into a Subway in the state of New York, chances are it's going to look the same as in Colorado, Washington and anywhere else.
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  • Product. If people are seeking one of your locations, it's because they crave that same product they know and love. People don't go to Subway because they want a local sandwich. They go to Subway because they crave the taste they're familiar with.
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  • Experience. Just as customers want the same product or service they can find at all of your locations, the same is true for the experience. Experience encompasses everything—the music playing in the background, the seating, how to place an order or make a purchase, and the behavior of the employees. Employees have to be trained consistently on daily operations, including how to interact with customers, how involved they are, and how to handle complaints. For example, if a few locations are taking too long to prepare food—and your brand is known for speed—that will be a problem for your customers.
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  • Marketing. Each franchise needs to be consistent with how they market and who they market to. Determining which types of marketing campaigns & advertising techniques work best for your brand is the first step in implementing consistent franchise marketing. This includes having specific brand guidelines for your franchise and what you want your franchise to look like.

Strengthen franchisor / franchisee communication

Determining how each franchisee should operate and what brand consistency looks like is only half the battle. The real challenge comes in longevity: making it last. To build long-lasting marketing and operations, use the following process.

  • Set clear expectations. Whenever a new franchisee opens a location, hold a thorough training where franchisees gain an understanding of your expectations. Outline everything in a manual to reinforce the goals. This includes everything from hiring procedures to aesthetics.
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  • Illustrate why this is important. Don't just leave instructions on how to do things, but be sure franchisees understand the reasoning behind it. Staying consistent is going to create customer loyalty, brand recognition, and ultimately, a more successful business. Explaining the benefits will encourage everyone to stay on target.
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  • Communicate regularly. Plan to talk as much as necessary to succeed. Offer positive feedback when you see a franchisee doing things right, and of course, provide constructive criticism and encouragement when things need to get back on track.

Key takeaway

It can be difficult for a franchisor to maintain consistency across marketing and operations within a franchise... while also targeting local customers in different communities. Don't give up on making your franchise marketing consistent.

For the best results, make sure franchisees know the importance of reputation management. Stay consistent with messaging across digital platforms, educate franchisees about your brand, pay attention to the details, and keep the lines of communication open.

Give your new franchisees a head start with our free ebook: The franchise owner's field guide to success

Franchise owner's field guide to success

Author Bio

Megan Wenzl is a writer based in Chicago. She enjoys putting together useful information in a story format to help businesses succeed.