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In this first installment of a four-part series on brand experience, Scorpion’s Justin Mink sets the stage on why identifying, defining and living the brand plays a crucial role in the success of your system, especially in these tumultuous times.
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Since mid-March of this year, franchisors and franchisees have found themselves on a business roller coaster as COVID-19 rips its way across the U.S.; a high-speed ride of sudden closures, hairpin pivots to “grand reopenings,” then a second round of shutdowns. What chills and spills await around the next bend is anyone’s guess.
In this topsy-turvy environment, planning and deploying new best practices, protocols, and even business models can seem futile. With no clear end to the crisis in sight, how can franchises serve the changing needs and expectations of all stakeholders — brand teams, franchisees, and customers — without having to start from scratch with every new twist and turn?
The answer is simple: focus on the one thing that should always serve as a North Star even through the darkest of nights, pointing your teams, franchisees, and customers in the same direction — the brand experience.
Why brand experience matters
‘Brand experience’ isn’t just fuzzy, intangible marketing speak; your brand experience (or lack thereof) has real-world implications. In fact, according to a study of 350,000 consumers conducted by global agency Havas Group, people would not care if 77 per cent of all brands disappeared.
The study also found that less than 27 per cent of all brands improve our quality of life and wellbeing. Havas Group argues that this is because the vast majority of brands are not “meaningful”.
A meaningful brand is made up of three distinct elements:
ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia says: “Be mission obsessed, not product obsessed”. An April study by Gartner found that 66 per cent of people believe companies should take the initiative to solve key cultural issues in our society. Another recent study by Accenture found that 65 per cent of consumers are looking to identify themselves in their brands, and 43 per cent are switching brands because they don’t align with their beliefs.
In terms of marketing and financial performance, “meaningful brands” are proven to significantly outperform competitors in areas like purchase intent, advocacy, and premium pricing.
Contrast this with the fact that 60 per cent of franchisors feel like their brand too closely resembles the competition. Why do six out of 10 franchisors feel like they aren’t differentiated? Because the brand itself is, ironically, often the very last thing an emerging franchise puts time and energy into developing.
Franchise leaders often expand with a focus on functional benefits and internal operations, scaling upon a foundation of bootstrapped, organic growth. Amidst the rush to finalize an FDD, register state-by-state, expand into new markets, and stand up the infrastructure required to support a system at scale, rarely does an early-stage franchise consider personal and collective benefits — which serve as the foundation for the purpose, ethos, and soul of the brand.
Rarer still are franchise leaders who devote intentional energy to translating those qualities into material action. As a result of this near-exclusive focus on functional benefits, the system remains stuck in second gear when it comes to branding and market differentiation.
But even for the most mature brands, there is now a pressing need to stay relevant amidst the breakneck pace of change. Franchises can keep up with this business and consumer evolution by crafting a clear and meaningful brand experience that resonates with all stakeholders — and win market share as a result. Even with Americans limiting their activities, we’ve seen people turning to brands as a source of comfort and consistency, engaging with businesses (especially known and trusted brands) as a way of buying some normalcy in an otherwise surreal moment.
Massage Heights is a prime example of a franchise that has leveraged the crisis (and temporary closure of locations) to engage in a disciplined examination of the brand, with a special focus on differentiating the brand to facilitate customer and team alignment.
“We invested a lot, including a week-long workshop, in going back to the core of who we are and redefining our brand fundamentals,” said Ashley Schuetz, VP of marketing at Massage Heights. “Now our teams are working together with a clear vision and goal. We are all so aligned and focused right now.”
Adapting the brand experience to customer needs and expectations
Defining the brand and ensuring that internal teams rally around that singular vision is just the first step; the next phase is the long game — consistently providing a brand experience for all stakeholders (brand teams, franchisees, and customers) that clearly and authentically aligns with the brand vision.
What’s changed recently is the way consumers discover and interact with brands, with pandemic fears leading people to stay in and get online. In a Scorpion study surveying consumer trends and behavior two months into the pandemic, 59 per cent of respondents indicated that they were online for five or more hours a day, with a whopping 36 per cent saying they were online for seven or more hours (up dramatically from 29 per cent just two months prior).
Brands that have doubled-down on investments in digital experiences have benefited by aligning with current consumer behavior. In doing so, these brands not only stay in front of their current and potential customers, but they also have an opportunity to capture market share by crafting brand experiences tailored for an era of social distancing and online experiences.
Ensuring that consumers’ online and physical experiences are seamless, intentionally thought-out, and well-executed requires time and effort. Brands willing to do the work will stay top-of-mind with a digital consumer base, and earn unique opportunities to delight and captivate audiences now expecting businesses to meet them where they are — emotionally, socially, and physically.
What you’ll learn in this series
This series will provide a road map to guide your team in creating a meaningful brand experience that will help you expand, build rockstar teams, and win the hearts and fierce loyalty of customers.
Part two will explore the initial steps you must take to identify your authentic brand experience — which include introspection about your brand purpose, followed by market research to validate and align that purpose with consumer preferences and your brand’s competitive advantage.
Part three will explore how to leverage your newfound brand experience to build stronger teams, identify and attract the right franchisees, resonate with customers, and continually serve as a “source of truth” that guides internal priorities and behaviors.
In the fourth and final part, we’ll provide actionable insights on how to communicate and market the brand internally and externally (at the national and local levels) so that the brand experience resonates, differentiates, and ultimately drives growth.
• Meaningful brands embody three elements (functional benefits, personal benefits, collective benefits) that differentiate the brand in the marketplace.
• Because of the way most franchises grow, very few have spent the time that is needed to identify and define the brand in a way that resonates with all stakeholders.
• In a time of uncertainty and changing consumer behaviors, franchises have an opportunity to define their brand and execute on that vision in a way that helps them stand out from the competition. And when they stand out, they’re ultimately able to capture more market share and accelerate their business growth.
• Those elements should align internal teams, franchisees, and customers around the brand experience — one that has rapidly shifted towards an emphasis on the melding of physical and digital content and interactions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Mink, CFE, is senior vice president of franchise growth at Scorpion. His passions for branding and digital marketing has guided a career that includes owning an events company in Washington D.C., brand marketing for USATODAY.com, leading the franchise team as an early employee at digital marketing firm ReachLocal, cofounding the marketing technology start-up Music Audience Exchange, and serving as chief marketing officer at New Frontier Data
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