The Evolving State of Franchise Marketing: Three Pillars to Live By

The best advice that Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer ever received came from his grandfather: “Stop complaining about problems.  ‘Problems’ is the definition of business.”  Thanks to COVID-19, the definition of “problems” for franchise brands has now been amplified to a previously unimaginable degree.

Here’s the good news — when uncertainty and confusion are the order of the day, a foundation of tried-and-true business fundamentals can serve as guiding lights that help blaze the trail towards recovery.  In this three-part series, we’ll explore the pillars that can provide context to your marketing strategy, ensuring the best interests of the brand and its stakeholders are always served in a manner true to the ethos of the brand.  If your vision is true and consistently communicated, this foundation will help keep your ship upright during the worst times, and help carve out more market share and growth when calmer waters prevail.

Pillar #1: The Power of The Brand

Franchise teams often struggle to communicate (and even more fundamentally, to understand) the core values of their brand.  When a franchise defines its brand by its products and services,  it’s likely to look and feel similar to the competition.  Inevitably, functionally better or cheaper products and services will enter the marketplace, leading to price wars and commoditization as customers navigate a crowded market of similar offerings. True brand differentiation comes from tapping into the brand’s emotive qualities — the values, purpose, and soul that the brand embodies — and ensuring that these qualities resonate in the employee, partner, and customer experience. 

To paraphrase Simon Sinek, “Profit is a result.  To know your why, you need to know your purpose.”  Sure, Shake Shack’s burgers are top-quality for a fast-casual concept.  But there are plenty of places to get a great burger, especially in NYC.  So what explains Shake Shack’s meteoric rise as one of the fastest-growing QSR chains ever?

The unique appeal of Shake Shack lies in their founding mission: to revitalize Madison Square Park by leveraging that first kiosk to create a community gathering place, something resembling the parking lots of the fast food joints of Meyer’s youth.  Shake Shack lived these values by doing things like handing out free hot chocolate when a spontaneous snowball fight broke out in the park, winning legions of brand fans and loyalists. This simple act of fostering community (among many others) elevated the brand from just another burger joint to an embodied purpose — to  “stand for something good”. As Shake Shack has grown to 300+ locations, Meyer and his team prioritize maintaining these same core values as the beating heart of the brand, always thinking about creating brand experiences that are special and unique to Shake Shake, and how those experiences make their customer feel.  

Crafting an authentic brand identity is just the first phase of getting your brand house in order.  Like every other interconnected part of the business, a brand is only as good as the quality and consistency of execution.  Bringing your brand to life entails communicating and marketing effectively while getting all your stakeholders - corporate teams, franchisees, and customers alike - to buy into the value of the brand (and branding in general).

Franchise owners are typically focused on and busy with day-to-day operations.  Without the benefit of firsthand brand marketing experience, many don’t fully recognize the marketing value of a brand, and how that ultimately affects their own success.  Franchisors need to be proactive in educating franchisees on the impact of branding on unit-level economics, while also helping to make brand marketing at the local level as frictionless and measurable as possible. This entails developing a system to ensure brand consistency across all locations so the ethos and soul of the franchise remains intact, consistent, and visible to customers across all brand engagements.

The Second and Third Pillars

In part two, we’ll inspect Pillar #2: Marketing & Technology.  We’ll explore the opportunity for brands to leverage artificial intelligence technologies that can drive more local revenue while also ensuring brand consistency in every local market.

Finally, in part three, we’ll look at Pillar #3: Integrations & Reporting — how the integration of marketing and operational platforms drives better marketing performance along with clearer, more accurate, automated reports that provide real value to all stakeholders.  


Justin Mink, CFE, is the SVP of Franchise Growth at Scorpion. His passions for branding and digital marketing has guided a career that includes owning an events company in Washington, D.C., brand marketing for, leading the franchise team at digital marketing firm ReachLocal, cofounding the marketing technology start-up Music Audience Exchange, and serving as Chief Marketing Office as New Frontier Data. Mink has been with Scorpion for over four years. Most importantly, he is Kate’s husband, Jude’s dad, and best friends with Titan the mystery mutt. For more information about International Franchise Association (IFA) supplier member Scorpion, click here.