Entrepreneurs and franchisers are seeking to create a brand that people will buy. Very rarely is an entrepreneur or franchiser also a designer, so they have to rely on the talents of others. This is where things get tricky because there is essentially five different things going on in creating a brand virtually at the same time; Theme, PR, Marketing, advertising, Design.
In the 80’s, a car company came out with a popular commercial where the Ken doll, rocking to Van Halen, swings by to pick up Barbie in her dream house. You could have asked just about anyone from any walk of life if they were aware of the commercial and you would be hard pressed to find someone who was not. Ask those same people what company the commercial was for and almost no one could tell you. Great design and advertising; terrible marketing.
In the 70’s, Chevy rolled out the Chevy Nova. It was a great little car with a sleek design. They poured millions into promotion in South America and everyone was aware of it, so great marketing and advertising. However, it was about as successful there as a naked fat guy softball league in securing a television contract. Why? Actually, this was pretty low hanging fruit. The name NOVA translates to “No Go” in Spanish. All the marketing in the world is not going to make up for a dumb theme.
A later famous restaurant chain was started by a guy whose childhood nickname we’ll call “Fuzzy.” His first restaurant opened with the name and was wildly successful in his home town where everyone knew him. The restaurant had shag carpet and all sorts of other in jokes that his friends and family where all part of. The theme was there, PR spread the message of the great food, so they didn’t really have to do anything else; He had a hit! So naturally he decided to franchise and rolls it out across the country; and found he couldn’t sell a single one. It never dawned on them that “fuzzy” in reference to food was not only bad marketing, but creepy as hell. It’s kind of like the mystery of people who go to a strip bar to eat a buffet. Way too much sweat and floating body hair for my comfort! He learned from this terrible mistake, adjusted the theme and rolled out an uber-successful franchise.
Then there is the famous story from the Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book about the guy who invents a better mousetrap, but can’t sell it. 1000’s of people have great ideas and great products, but they never go anywhere, because they just can’t wrap their minds around how to get the word out and worse, they don’t seek people who can help.
French Fry Heaven in its first year of franchising has been on Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, on TV nationwide over 30 times, shown a 60% activity rate on social media, ended up on the cover of our association tradeshow book, have done 40 radio shows, 80 newspaper and new articles and have 1000’s of web articles written about us and yet we only have 14 stores so far. If you ask the security guards on our Jacksonville site what the two most requested stores are, they will tell you Apple, then French Fry Heaven. What the F….?! Keep in mind we are a French Fry Heaven concept, so how in hell do we get so much damn attention?
Theme: French Fry Heaven was a collaboratively developed name, but my genius wife deserves the credit. We were kind of stuck on French Fry Paradise, where we would have a beach/oceanside theme, but we quickly realized that people associate sand with beach or seashore and that is a disgusting thought to have dirty sand crunching in your mouth when you are trying to eat fries. From that point on we automatically thought of sand in our mouths every time we thought of eating fries by the seaside. She then brought up the twist of French Fry Heaven and a theme was born!
Drafting off of this, we named our fries, Angels and Saints; our sizes Cupids and Perfect; came up with job positions such as the Gates of Heaven and so on and so on. To ensure we didn’t later find out we had picked an off putting idea with Heaven, we vetted this through a myriad of different groups, including evangelical ones to get their thoughts. We have people on staff who are religious and not and we wanted a theme that allowed the maximum number of people to be comfortable coming to our stores. If you think you are going to come up with a theme that no one will have an issue with, good luck! Not going to happen.
Then we had the one of the greatest character artists in the country, Michael Carnegie of Ft. Lauderdale, who happened to be a personal friend, come up with clever character designs based on angels. We have the supremely talented Kathy Johnson, using the great graphic artists of the 70’s as her design inspiration, creating our style on an ongoing basis, based upon our theme. We put this into template form so our designs can be repeated consistently and to ensure that we held to the design concept we developed.
On the marketing side, I wrote all of the content and was seeking to create a style of expression that made us accessible to kids, appealing to teens, comfortable for parents and hopefully off-putting to boring people. Again, liberally using the “Heaven” theme through-out from job titles, slogans, descriptions to manuals. Marketing to me, is seeking to understand your audience and figuring out where and how to put it in front of them in a way that will have them embrace your concept.
With PR, we learned a very important lesson, which is the basis for our entire business, “Everybody loves fries!” I pulled media list from several sites and sent letter everywhere offering to make fries live in their office or studio; and the offers piled up. We created content and events that had FB and twitter chattering; they are really just a form of PR. You see PR is what others say about you, not what you say about you; plus its typically free! If you feel like what you are offering is great, there is no smarter move then getting others to say so. People in this day and age trust third party endorsements more than you just saying so. As we expanded nationwide, I started to use online PR services to spread articles and that worked incredibly well. The buzz was massive. I practiced my delivery to ensure that I would be an entertaining interview for TV, radio and print personalities. If you are an entrepreneur or franchise with a great product, but you have a personality like a banana slug or the speaking style of Blazing Saddles’ Gabby Johnson, find someone else to speak for you. In my case speaking with passion and conviction about French Fry Heaven is no problem. At some point, in the growth of your business you are going to realize your time is limited; hopefully you figure it out before you are underwater. I realized that I could not keep doing the entire PR as we were expanding so rapidly. I reached out to the great folks at Fishman PR in Chicago, who did a spectacular job in continuing to spread the message. Finding partners you can trust like Mike, Kathy and Fishman is the key to offloading workload and still propelling a brand.
Advertising is the final piece. Now I have to be honest with my franchise and entrepreneur friends, at this point we haven’t done much paid advertising at French Fry Heaven; it’s the advantage of a great product, theme, PR and design. However, paid advertising is everywhere for a reason, it works. However, it is everywhere, so it doesn’t work like it used to. The key is to go where no one else does and try to get there first. When everybody jumped on the google AdWords band wagon I happened to notice that YouTube was rolling out advertising opportunities. Obviously, Google was the much larger (and later owner of YouTube), but I saw and opportunity. We were having some success with adwords and if I had the time to really take advantage of all of their refinement tools, could have had even more. However, once I shifted to adverting through YouTube our numbers shot off the charts. Now, everyone know about that, so where do we go next? Keep exploring is the key. Advertising has to be quick, send the message you want clearly and call them to some kind of action. You can’t afford to do just classic branding when you are a start-up entrepreneur or franchise. You have to connect your advertising to marketing. It always needs speak to your audience and to lead to action for it to have value for you. You will be inundated with sales people offering opportunities to appear in their media. You have to thresh out three things here: Can I afford it? Is this my audience? Will it lead to action?
So in a nutshell, create an appealing theme and stick to it, design and message around the motif, ensure 3rd party endorsement, and develop marketing and advertising that brings in customer who understand quickly what you do and want to be part of it. From there, it’s is all yachts and caviar, beer and pizza or trashcan lids and fish bones, depending on how well you avoid the rest of the 1000 terrible mistakes.