Here’s a reprint of an article by PR Works’ client Wave2 Media Solutions of Westborough, Mass. This appeared in the recent Franchise Handbook.
The text from the article is below:
Pledging allegiance to the brand – How franchisors could and should protect and promote their brand
By Brian Gorman
Wave2 Media Solutions
The creation of a franchise organization is not unlike a subdivision. The developer, AKA the franchisor, creates a model home with all the modern comforts and conveniences in hopes that it will appeal enough to prospective homebuyers that they want to buy that particular home and build it on a lot they purchase. For sake of discussion, let’s equate the model home to the franchise brand.
The model home looks good. But what’s to keep other developers from visiting the model home and recreating it somewhere else? Or worse, have people buy the model home and then paint the exterior neon yellow and plant fake palm trees in the front yard?
For many people, buying a franchise is the second biggest investment in a person’s life behind buying home. For some, it may even be the largest investment. So you want to be sure that you maintain the model home you are buying. Perhaps more importantly, you want that home to be built on a solid foundation that is protected from negative elements—e.g. copycat developers or the aforementioned home buyers with the penchant for loud colors and fake palms.
In other words, you want to buy into a franchise that diligently protects its brand.
Why and How Franchisors Protect Brand
The start of every franchise is simple. The franchisor comes up with a product or service that has a unique niche and is desirable to consumers. To bring that product or service to more people, he or she develops a system of producing/selling that product or service that can be duplicated anywhere—at a price. So, the prospective franchisee is not only buying the right to sell said product or service but the system as well. That system typically includes a marketing plan and the tools by which the franchise is presented to the buying public—AKA, the franchise’s brand, which is evident in the look of collateral materials, ads, websites, and other promotional vehicles.
Franchisees who do not follow guidelines for using the brand and external entities that try to copy the brand can negatively impact the brand. That’s why, with all the time and expense franchisors put into developing a franchise brand worth the franchise fee, it’s a franchisor’s duty to take the necessary steps to protect the brand.
First and foremost, your franchisor should register or trademark the company name. Almost all franchisors own at least one federally registered trademark (and if they don’t, they should).
Federal trademark regulations provide franchise owners exclusivity when it comes to use of the company name and brand. While that’s very important to a prospective franchise buyer, you should also inquire as to what kind of trademark monitoring systems are in place to catch potential threats.
Some of the possible threats to a franchise trademark and brand can include:
- Infringers (such as start-ups that have unwittingly adopted a similar name);
- Counterfeiters (businesses that knowingly sell knock-off goods under your trademark);
- Dissatisfied consumers (who may take to social media to complain about your brand).
While outside entities are a threat to the franchise brand, as a potential franchise owner, you also want to know that the franchisor will be monitoring how its franchisees are using the brand as well. Typically, one of the fundamental components of a franchise agreement is a license for the franchisee to use the franchisor’s trademarks.
With regard to this license, the franchise agreement will impose certain obligations and restrictions on how and where you, as the franchisee, can make use of the marks. Getting most franchisees to comply with these obligations and restrictions takes training and ongoing advisement from the franchisor.
Here are some of the things franchisors will typically look for while monitoring their franchisees:
- LLC, corporation and trademark registrations in the names of franchisees (these should be prohibited by the franchise agreement);
- Proper use of their trademarks (for example, referring to the franchised outlet as a “Garden Pro® franchise”, and not “Garden Professionals”, and not saying “we are GardenPros”);
- Unauthorized domain names and social media accounts;
- Appropriate use of advertising materials, company slogans, etc.;
- Misleading advertising by franchisees; and
- Consumer complaints from regions where franchised outlets are located.
There are a number of reasons why franchisors need to monitor franchisee use of trademarks. The most important of those is that the failure to monitor and enforce trademark rights can result in cancellation of the USPTO trademark registration rights altogether. Just as important, franchisors owe it to all of their franchisees to make sure that their brand is protected. A big part of any franchise investment is the right to associate with the franchisor’s name and become immediately recognizable in the marketplace. If a franchisor loses control of its brand, this can have drastic effects for both the franchisor and its franchisees.
By effectively monitoring and enforcing their trademarks, franchisors can help ensure that their brand retains value and leaves a lasting and positive impression in the marketplace.
Promoting the brand
Ironically, the number one reason for protecting the franchise brand is the promotion of that brand. To promote sales and increase market share, it’s essential that both franchisor and franchisees are vigilant about protecting and promoting their brand. While many franchisor agreements include a brand management, advertising or marketing fee, the franchisee still has a responsibility to help build the brand.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
Think of any major franchise, take McDonalds as an example. Walk into any restaurant. The look and the feel are pretty much going to be the same no matter which McDonalds you go to. The same is true with how you are greeted, how your order is entered and the majority of your experience. If you are treated differently (e.g. no greeting, poor/slow service) you notice it right away, right? Promoting the brand as a franchisee is pretty much the same thing.
The franchisor has gone to great lengths to create the franchise brand. That includes the look and feel of marketing materials, websites, social media pages, print ads, radio, etc. In getting back to our example of McDonalds, if you see an ad, poster, website or any other collateral piece that doesn’t have the same look, feel or sound as other McDonald’s marketing materials, it leaps out at you and not in a good way.
For the local franchisee, building the brand means sticking with the tested marketing materials you’ve been given and receiving the appropriate sign-offs before undertaking any marketing initiatives.
Just because you’re part of a franchise, however, does not mean you abandon your local roots. Far from it. If anything, it gives franchisees a major advantage. For starters, you have the advantage of using a known brand with a local address and phone number in your advertising and other promotional materials. That combination builds your presence on a local level and enhances the brand.
“Localizing” your franchise brand does require compliance with the rules set by your franchisor. As long as your ads have the look and feel of the brand, most franchisors will encourage franchisees to develop this kind of local marketing presence (e.g. a local website for your franchise, a local Facebook or Twitter page for your store, etc.)
Avoid one-and-done marketing
Brand building/promoting is a campaign that should never end. Where efforts to build brand can fall short is if the franchisee sporadically markets their business. One-and-done ads, websites without content changes, social media pages without consistent updates, sporadic email newsletters and other marketing efforts that start, stop for a long time, then start again not only hurt the effectiveness of those pieces, but hurt the brand. Franchisees who follow a consistent marketing plan not only create a strong presence in the local market, but help build the brand as well.
The franchise business model offers an opportunity for entrepreneurs like no other. Sure, you pay a fee, but for that you receive the keys to a product or service that’s already established and has documented guidelines on how to run and market your business. Going back to our model house example from earlier, you buy a house that’s already well constructed and read for you to move. All that’s left is to maintain the foundation–the brand.
About the author
Brian Gorman is the vice president of sales of Wave2 Media Solutions, www.wav2.com. Wave2 works directly with franchisors to provide a range of product to protect brand and provide ease of use to franchisees. Product range includes solutions for Self Service Advertising, Self Service Portals, Creative Automation, Sales Visuals, Online Marketing and Personalized Publishing. Brian can be reached (508) 366-6383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.