How can businesses protect their brand?

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Protect your franchise brand

If you are a franchisor that is considering franchising your business, or one that wants to expand their current franchise network, you need to know how to protect your brand. Whether youre planning to grow across a particular region or the rest of the world, here is some advice on how you can stop your franchise brand from being damaged by your franchisees.

Seven ways to protect your business brand

1. Franchisee representation

One of the most important strategies for protecting your brand identity is ensuring all your franchisees send the right messages. Your brand needs to be represented consistently if it is going to maintain the right standards.

For example, the most popular franchises with highly successful concepts will provide detailed guidance on the brands tone of voice and how franchisees should communicate with their target audience. This means maintaining consistency in the following areas:

  • Store dcor
  • Signage
  • Logo
  • Slogans
  • All other brand literature and aesthetics

Certain words or phrases also need to be avoided if theres a chance they could lead to negative or inaccurate perceptions of your brand. Youll also need to make sure your franchisees have the confidence to carry the concept forward and act as great ambassadors for your franchise.

2. Trademark your business

Many franchisors will trademark their brands to prevent third parties from using the same or similar name. Lets have a look at an example:

McDonalds

For obvious reasons, McDonald's probably wouldn't be happy if a doughnut brand decided to call itself 'McDoughnuts'.

Indeed, in 2016, the restaurant brand won a lawsuit against a Singapore restaurant that attempted to register 'Maccoffee as an EU trademark for its food and beverage products. The high court ruled in favour of McDonald's, concluding that it had exclusive rights to use the terms 'Mc' or 'Mac' as trademark names in the catering industry.

Therefore, make sure you trademark your brand name and the names of individual products. Without legal protection, another brand could take advantage of your branding and steal your momentum.

3. Provide the right business training

To ensure your franchisees can provide the highest standards of training for their staff, you need to have the right training and support infrastructure. For example, a food franchise will need detailed guidance on health and safety to minimise the risk of food poisoning or any other incidents that could violate health and safety codes.

Meanwhile, a gym franchise will need to ensure members of staff can provide clear demonstrations of how to use the gym equipment, and ensure the layout of the gym does not breach any workplace fire regulations.

The importance of ongoing franchisee support

Typically, franchises will provide initial training to make sure franchisees can operate their business confidently and with minimal intervention from the head office. Many will also provide ongoing training and support so franchisees can stay up to date with the latest industry standards.

Make sure you give clear guidance in the franchise agreement on what sort of training your franchisees can expect so they can determine if this is the right opportunity for them. This should include training in the following:

  • Workplace regulations, including health and safety
  • Business management
  • Customer service
  • How to operate any technology and machinery
  • Support for professional development

4. Prevent any PR disasters

The widespread popularity of social media and sharing brand experiences via outlets like Instagram and Snapchat has enabled brands to reach out to bigger audiences than ever before. However, there is always a risk that some of your social media content could get a bad reception and cause offence to people within or outside of your target market.

This can expose your brand to reputational risk, which can impact not only the success of your franchise, but every other franchise operating under the same brand.

What the professionals say

In 2016, Norton Rose published a report entitled 'No Time to Think: Reputational Risks and Social Media', which highlighted the fact that nearly 60 percent of companies have no social media risk assessment, and more than half of brands have no strategy to manage their social media complaints.

To deal with these risks, the report advised companies to prepare, monitor, assess and respond to all potential reputational risks. This includes everything from employee behaviour on social media to engaging with unsatisfied customers effectively.

Therefore, make sure you train your franchisees how to engage with customers and the public. Its also a good idea to regularly monitor your hashtags to ensure no one else is posing as your franchise brand or using the same hashtags for another concept, as this could also expose your brand to reputational risk.

5. Choose the right business location

A franchise can never succeed if its in a poor location, even if the brand has many popular franchises that are performing very well in other sites.

Therefore, if youre selecting the location for your franchises, make sure the prospective site will have sufficient footfall. A franchise will fail if its in too remote a location or if there's too much surrounding competition in the area. Moreover, if a franchisor chooses an exclusive territory that is too small, it might not generate enough business to sustain the business venture.

Many franchisors have special criteria for selecting sites, while others may allow the prospective franchisee to choose the location. Factors to consider include:

  • The accessibility of the location (think nearby transport facilities)
  • The visibility of the site from areas with high footfall
  • Parking facilities
  • If there are any disruptive big construction projects or repairs planned for the near future

6. Find the right franchisees for your business

If your franchise business is going to stay successful in the long run, you need to invest in the best talent available. That means that, during the recruitment process, you need to outline exactly what you want from your franchisees.

Depending on what industry you are working in, you are going to know the specific skills to look out for. But there are also a number of traits that are common to all good franchisees. Lets explore some of them in detail:

  • Entrepreneurial drive. Whatever sector youre in, you need a business mind to make a profit. As franchising is a semi-independent venture, every franchisee needs to have a hunger for expansion and a commitment to making the most of their business. When things get tough, they need to keep their eye on the prize without getting distracted.
  • Social skills. Its no secret that the business world is driven by networking. If you want to make good industry contacts, you need to have the conversation cards to get people talking. Making meaningful connections with people can help you to spread the word about your business and find new opportunities to collaborate.

  • Management expertise. Most franchise opportunities involve looking after a team of employees. That means that all good franchisees need to have the ability to direct, motivate and engage their staff. Without it, things can easily fall apart when youre not on the premises to keep an eye on customer service standards.

All of these things are important skills to look out for when youre searching for the new generation of talent to take your brand forward. But thats not to say that this list is exhaustive. The ideal franchisee is made from a mix of initiative, discipline and ambition. Without any of those ingredients, things can easily go sour.

7. Do your market research

If you want to protect the market position of your franchise or shake-up the competition by stealing their customers, you need to be an expert on what other businesses in your industry are up to.

Keep an eye on the competition

That means that you need to be conducting regular market research that keeps account of the new strategies, tactics and approaches that your competitors are using. Failing to do that makes you vulnerable to being caught short by new and innovative ideas in the industry.

Businesses in all sectors are always investigating opportunities to make use of new technology. In the age of app-based services like Uber and Deliveroo, you need to make sure that theres not a gap in your market for a digitally savvy market entrant.

Stay on top of consumer trends

But its not only the competition that you need to be keeping an eye on. You also need to keep up to date with changing customer tastes. Here are two ways that you can keep your finger on the pulse of customer demand:

  1. Focus groups. By interviewing select groups of your target market, you can gain a firm understanding of the shifting demands of your audience as a whole.
  2. Surveys. Conducting an online, telephone or paper survey is a quick and easy way to collate plenty of information from your customer base. This data can inform any decisions that you make about your product range, branding or pricing.

Dont forget to consult a franchise solicitor

One last piece of advice: before you sign a franchise agreement with a new franchisee, make sure that you get independent advice from a solicitor with expertise in franchise law. They can help you understand the terms of the contract and make sure you understand your rights and obligations as the franchisor.

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