How to Rebrand Without Alienating Your Franchisees
Rebranding is often a messy process, but when it comes to rebranding an entire franchise, it can get downright adversarial. The relationship between franchisees and franchisors can often become strained as franchisors want to update their brands quickly and broadly, while franchisees can feel frustrated and resentful when they don’t understand the reasoning behind high-level decisions. This can lead to an unwillingness to conform to new brand standards quickly and correctly, which may ultimately spoil the entire rebranding process.
What if we could promise a better way? It may require more strategic planning upfront, but after decades of working with large franchises to rebrand across their networks, we’ve found that a few key strategies can help leverage a rebranding effort to strengthen the franchisor/franchisee relationship, not weaken it.
These strategies will ensure that franchisees get on board with your proposed changes early on in the process and will help them feel engaged with and invested in the rollout of your renewed brand.
Consult with franchisees during the preliminary research process
Once you decide it’s time to rebrand your business, it’s time to determine what you want the new brand to look like. Franchisees are an invaluable resource for collecting on-the-ground customer feedback and impressions, so make sure they understand just how helpful their perspective is.
When International Dairy Queen came to us for a brand overhaul, one of the first things we did was schedule meetings and brainstorming sessions with top-performing managers and franchisees from across the company to determine which changes would make the biggest difference to their business. They were the ones who told us about customers who didn’t even realize the dessert giant sold more than just ice cream. It was through those meetings that we were able to get many franchisees on board with the renewed focus on creating a space for family dining and serving quality hot offerings.
Provide extensive timelines as early and as often as possible
Nothing frustrates franchisees more than being told there will be major, large-scale changes to their businesses without being told when those changes will take place. That puts them in the strange position of having to manage and maintain their franchises without knowing when their current branded materials will become obsolete. After all, why would a franchisee order additional menus or signage on Monday, when new branded materials might be available on Tuesday?
That’s why it’s so important, the moment a franchisor decides to rebrand, to start building a roadmap of milestones with your agencies and franchisees. As more details fall into place, proposed timelines might change dramatically depending on vendors, distribution channels, and unexpected events, but by keeping franchisees alert to major changes and the reasons behind them, you can ensure that everyone feels like they’re on the same page.
Depending on the size of your network and the scope of the changes you’re making, it may be helpful to send out regular emails solely dedicated to the latest rebranding progress and updates.
Keep franchisees in the loop without overwhelming them with choices and information
Despite that last strategy, there is such a thing as providing too much information. Franchisees want to help improve the corporate brand, but they also have to prioritize running their own businesses. A well-meaning franchisor may solicit opinions on everything from the font selection on menus to the exact shade of red to use in the new company logo, but that sort of attention to detail can quickly become overwhelming and counterproductive. It can also create division and frustration among franchisees who feel like they’re not getting the support they expect from franchisors.
Finding the balance between providing too much and not enough information can be tricky and will depend largely on your corporate culture and communication. The best way to ensure you’re doing it right is to ask. Check in with your franchisees and try to find a happy medium that satisfies everyone.
Invite your franchisees to participate in user testing
When the work of creating your new brand standards and branded materials is finally over, it’s time to test out your new look on the public. Whether it means sitting in on focus groups or soliciting opinions from their favorite regulars, your franchisees will benefit from understanding how customers respond to the new look and feel of your brand.
When rebranding M&M Food Market, we wound up with two potential concepts for the final rollout – Kitchen and Timely. To test these designs, we set up two different storefronts and invited customers and franchisees to test them out. Based on this user testing, M&M chose to go with Kitchen, with several elements of Timely incorporated into the final design. Inviting franchisees to participate in this selection had two major benefits: it gave them a chance to see their suggestions and ideas in action, and it empowered them to feel like a part of the final corporate decision.
Franchisors and franchisees should feel like teammates, not adversaries. By incorporating franchisees into the rebranding process early and often, you can create and cultivate a culture of community – a culture that benefits your business, your customers, and your bottom line.