What's In A Brand?
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
 
In addition to a well-developed system for doing business, brand identity probably is a franchisor's most important stock in trade. In fact, James Gregory, CEO of Corporate Branding, LLC., calls a recognizable name-whether it's Coca-Cola, Disney or IBM-a potent business tool. "Through in-depth analysis of more than 700 Fortune 1000 companies, we've proven that corporate branding efforts have a significant, measurable impact on financial performance. A strong brand will enrich your bottom line and boost your stock value, as well as influence consumer preference." Gregory says a powerful corporate brand also can weather crises more easily, slow market share erosion, and rally employees.
 
Brand Says It All
There's more to brand than meets the eye (or ear). Michael Seid, managing director of Michael H. Seid & Associates, a franchise consulting firm, notes that brand goes beyond mere product name or trademark. "Brand is the personality of the service or offering. A brand will tell the customer what to expect, how they should feel, how they interface with it."
Gregory sees corporate branding as a comprehensive marketing communications process-one that is planned, strategically-focused, and integrated throughout the organization. "Branding establishes the direction, leadership, clarity of purpose, inspiration and energy that benefits the corporation as a whole. It's the ultimate business tool for the CEO."
 
Creating and positioning brand
To create or position brand in the marketplace, a franchisor starts with the culture of the whole company, says Seid. "He deals with how he wants the brand to interface with the public. For instance, with brand, you get the caring of Ronald McDonald as he deals with Ronald McDonald's house, and yet you also have Ronald McDonald fun. Brand is about having coffee at Starbucks, with its stay-awhile atmosphere, as opposed to Dunkin' Donuts, where you can instantly pick it up and go."
At PostNet International Franchise Corp. brand consciousness is driving a bold new initiative. After five-and-a-half years, PostNet has 550 franchised centers in 42 states and nine other countries. Now, Steve Greenbaum, CEO, has moved smartly to take the PostNet concept to a higher awareness in the mind of the consumer. To do so, he allied the franchise with National Football League professionals, who act as effective spokespeople for the community-based businesses in the PostNet system. "The idea was to ally recognition of the PostNet brand with quality spokespeople in the local and regional markets. We have been bringing in highly visible and recognizable NFL professionals who are known in their market or region and significantly tied to their communities. They are involved in charities and they have their own functions beyond PostNet, so their participation with the franchise heightens the consumer's awareness of our business centers."
Greenbaum says the point is to associate the Postnet brand with people who are winners, that small percentage of people at the top who have set high goals and achieved them. "Only a few succeed in being a Hall of Famer and a Superbowl player in the NFL. Associating the brand with a recognizable person with these achievements makes a distinctive statement about the brand."
Not only that, Greenbaum knows that a strong brand attracts strong franchisees with marketing and business savvy. Already, PostNet's brand strategy has drawn in former NFL kick-return specialist Mel Gray, whose track record for community service fits neatly into PostNet's Partnership with the Pros initiative. Gray recently opened his first PostNet in southern Virginia, with plans to develop more in the area. "You need strong franchisees and a strong franchisor to develop a brand and build a successful, profitable organization," Greenbaum says.
 
Brand Can Mean Instant Sell
Precision Tune Auto Care, a franchisor with 550 units nationwide, just parlayed its 22 years of equity invested in the "Precision" name into an even bigger concept and stronger brand identification.
"Precision Tune Auto Care merged with a number of companies in the car wash and quick lube businesses and formed a new corporate entity called 'Precision Auto Care'," says Paul Bernstein, vice president of communications for the franchise company.
By adding Precision Lube Express and Precision Auto Wash to the brand offering, the company is now in the business of franchising not one, but three business concepts. Store signs of the same size, shape, design, and color help consumers easily identify all three concepts with the one brand they have come to trust . "Of course we will continue to rely on our core brand, Precision Tune Auto Care, to help provide steady growth domestically and internationally," says Bernstein.
The new market positioning pleases current franchise owners, too. Ed Woltz, owns several Precision Tune Centers in Georgia. When he researched different franchises, he chose the company because he liked Precision Tune's market strength. "I felt that they were positioned to grow and I still feel that way, especially with the addition of car wash and quick lube services."
 
Define and Communicate
Seid says that when a host of products or services fall under one brand, successful positioning demands strong definition. "Brands can be multi-level, but it's up to the franchisor to define the brand. We spend a lot of time with clients saying to them, 'What does the brand mean?' Take Campbell's Soup and Progresso Soup, for instance. Each has a different feel."
Once defined, communication to the public becomes paramount. Gregory says that the corporate branding process affects all forms of communications, from advertising to public relations to product packaging. "It is the intentional declaration of who you are, what you believe and why your customers should put their faith in your products."
Seid agrees. "You must make sure that the public understands your brand immediately. You can't spend time explaining it. When you confuse brand positioning, you don't have brand."
Seid also says that brand takes time to build, but only an instant to kill. "Boston Market had a decent brand with Boston Chicken. People understood what they were going in the store to get-chicken and a simple menu offer. That was their brand position. When they changed the store name to Boston Market, they confused the customer and lost their brand position. In a similar case, Kentucky Fried Chicken couldn't sell its rotisserie gold chicken because people were going to KFC to buy pieces of chicken, not whole chickens. The company didn't understand how to market whole birds, because their entire marketing effort was geared to marketing pieces. So, even though they had a great product, their brand positioning was wrong for whole chickens."
 
Even Newbies Need Brand
Since brand extends beyond a name, well-recognized brand positioning needn't be the sole province of a mature franchise system. In fact, a new franchise can accomplish the same thing, says Seid. "Wendys did it coming into a mature burger market in 1965. They changed the method of delivery."
In the final analysis, new franchise systems have to do brand positioning or they have nothing to get a leg up, he says. "They need to say, 'Here's my product, here's who should be buying it.' It's a mistake to say your product is for everyone."
 
Assessing A Franchisor's Brand
Should a prospective franchise owner be concerned about brand recognition, even when considering investing in a newer franchise company? If so, what are the road signs of a solid brand?
Michael Seid, managing director of Michael H. Seid & Associates, acknowledges that new franchise companies may not have a lot of brand recognition nationwide, even if they have it locally. But prospective franchise owners should still think in terms of brand.
"First, you need to know whether you like the brand. How about your friends: do they like it? Ask yourself why this brand and not others? Then ask if there is anything unique about the franchisor's brand positioning. Take a look at the competition. For instance, if you want to go into the macaroni business today, you will go out of business. Macaroni Grill is doing too good a job and they have too much money behind them."
Most of all, a franchisor should be able to articulate his own sense of brand identity to the franchisee. "A mature franchisor should be able to define brand automatically. Sometimes the only thing a new franchisor has is hype-a little smoke, a little mirror, a little, 'Why, I'm going to be the next McDonalds!' But if the franchisor can't enunciate the brand to a prospect, then he shouldn't have franchised. That's because, for the new franchise company, brand is more important than anything else. The franchisor must be able to articulate who the customer is. That's the only thing he has going for him. He doesn't have the biggest chain or the most money. It doesn't even matter whether he has the best product or not. Remember, you can't sell a car anymore just by putting a half-naked girl on the car. Brand personality is what counts-what's the brand saying, who's coming into it? Brand: it's how you break through the clutter. "
 

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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