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Every franchise brand reaches a point in its history when they want to “refresh” their look and/or product offering. Most franchise agreements will include clauses that require franchisees to make leasehold improvements after a predetermined amount of time. Refreshing your franchise brand is a good thing. It injects excitement, energy and a reason to talk to your customers again. But there is a difference between refreshing and changing. There is a reason why customers have brand loyalty. There is a certain expectation, and if you change your brand, you risk losing that loyalty.
Who can forget the introduction of New Coke in the spring of 1985? It was the reformulation of the Coke recipe, and when it was launched the production of the original recipe ended that week. Despite New Coke’s acceptance with a large number of Coca- Cola drinkers, a very vocal minority resented the change in the formula and were not shy about making that known. The head office in Atlanta started receiving letters and phone calls expressing anger and deep disappointment in the brand. Over 400,000 letters were received including one addressed to the “Chief Doh Doh” of the Coca-Cola Company. Coke even hired a psychiatrist to listen in on the calls, and they said that people sounded like they were discussing a death in the family. Finally the board of directors decided to bring back the old Coke, rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic. There has always been speculation that the introduction of “New Coke” was a marketing ploy to boost sales but the company insists that it was merely an attempt to replace what they thought was an old product. The CEO knew that he had made the right decision to relaunch Coca- Cola Classic when visiting a small restaurant in Monaco, the owner proudly said when they ordered a Coke, that he had the “real thing” … a real Coke.
A brand is a promise. A brand tells buyers something about your product’s qualities; service attributes and consistency. If customers are loyal to your brand they know that it will deliver the same quality each and every time. A Big Mac in Vancouver will be the same as a Big Mac in Toronto. There is an expectation that will always be met. A Big Mac will always be two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun!
The strength of a customer’s connection with your franchise is built by experiencing your brand over time. It is a culmination of many things. It’s how you greet them, talk to them, treat them and follow up with them. It’s remembering their name the next time you see them, or asking them how the product or service they purchased from you is working for them. Loyal customers are looking for more than just a transaction, they are looking for an experience and a connection. You will see the proof of loyalty in sales, line-ups, orders, “likes” on Facebook and tweets about the brand and their experience.
Be consistent. Be true to your brand. There is a reason why franchises are successful. They find a recipe that works, that can be replicated, and they stick to it.
You don’t want your brand to become stale. Customers don’t want something “old” but they do want consistency. So when it comes time to do a “refresh”, do so with enthusiasm, but don’t lose sight of what made the brand successful in the first place.
Adjust, tweak and innovate…but don’t change.