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How to manage the reputation online for franchise-driven businesses

How to manage the reputation online for franchise-driven businesses

By Tristan Rogers, Managing Director, Concrete Group.

The ability to manage a company's public image is vitally important for any business. However, for franchised businesses operating in the Internet age, there are some specific points that marketing teams need to consider.

In recent years, many UK companies have enjoyed significant success with the adoption of various franchise strategies. This (relatively) low-risk route to market has huge appeal, especially to anyone who has previously experienced a major financial loss with a more traditional "wholly owned" business model.

A key benefit of franchising is that it allows individual business owners to combine their own experience, enthusiasm and skills with the franchisor's business expertise and well-established brand identity. In addition, individual franchise owners benefit from having access to a variety of tried-and-tested sales techniques, operating procedures, marketing programmes, and training provided by the franchisor, as well as ongoing support and guidance.

However, there are still some potential drawbacks to consider.  For example, many in the business world still believe that franchising suffers from a lack of control and poor performance visibility. Likewise, local marketing initiatives are sometimes handled in a rather ad hoc fashion, which means that franchisees will often bypass recommended suppliers to use cheaper local alternatives that fail to reflect the quality standards that the brand hopes to represent.

Now more than ever, this is where problems can arise, since a single franchise owner can now cause serious damage the brand in the blink of any eye.  In today's online world of social networking and 24/7 blogging, one bad customer experience can now be shared with millions of other consumers in an instant.

However, fear not:  although managing a company's reputation in his environment can certainly be challenging, marketing managers can take some practical steps to avoid these pitfalls.

To begin with, all of the marketing tools, procurement processes, best practices and efficiencies that the marketing team has enjoyed in its own home market need to be seamlessly made available to the whole franchise network. Technology can provide an extraordinary amount of help here.

Web-based portals can now provide a single branded "shell" that can be accessed by each franchise, thereby creating a community of users that can be contacted simultaneously, guided toward costs savings, trained to promote on-brand messaging, and administered with reduced overheads from the head office.

By using collaborative working and web-based computing in this way, franchise operators can completely transform the way in which marketing collateral and information is accessed and deployed throughout the franchise network, and can therefore maintain brand consistency much more effectively as a result.

Although systems like these are typically deployed internally, they can rapidly feed into any number of external and online channels, which is why the marketing team plays such a key role in their management.

With this kind of technology, any franchise can access all of the company's marketing materials, brand guides and guidance literature, whilst also having the means to procure supplies and any other customer-facing collateral from approved suppliers.  In addition to ensuring quality and consistency, this approach will also allow franchises to gain access to the same volume discounts already negotiated by the franchise operator.

Solutions like these can also help franchise operators to communicate and collaborate more effectively across the workforce, wherever that workforce happens to be, and at whatever time is convenient.

However, in order to connect with an extended workforce in this way – whether that means internal staff, suppliers, agencies or customers – it's important to ensure that communication strategies like these are easy to coordinate, and that they can be achieved very quickly, using simple tools that require little or no training or specialist equipment.

After all, with a franchise model, the company's core marketing team must ultimately rely on the skills and abilities of the franchise owners to roll-out their key marketing initiatives on a national (or international) scale.

To be successful in this area, these regional teams will therefore need strong products to sell, of course, but also a solid marketing support mechanism which will not only help them to sell more efficiently, but also to maintain the public image that the company hopes to achieve.

This approach will be even more important as the organisation grows, since it will help to ensure that the business is able retain total control of its brand (and, by extension, its reputation) as new franchises join the network.

If used correctly, this kind of technology will completely revolutionise the way in which merchandise and marketing collateral and information is distributed across the entire group, leading to greater brand consistency, improved customer satisfaction and better financial performance overall.

With this approach, franchise operators will be able to design and deliver high-impact marketing campaigns that resonate with today's demanding customers.

In fact, by encouraging the use of online collaboration and by providing their franchise partners with web-based tools that will help them to engage with consumers more effectively, the company's core marketing team can go beyond traditional performance metrics, and can instead focus on transforming today's web-savvy customers into evangelists for the brand and advocates for the entire company.

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