Cowboy Chicken, Walk-On's, Nothing Bundt Cakes discuss franchisee marketing stressors

| by S.A. Whitehead
Cowboy Chicken, Walk-On's, Nothing Bundt Cakes discuss franchisee marketing stressors

iStock photo.

Much like the stress parents experience as kids grow up, restaurant brand leadership also often find growth both wonderful and harrowing at the same time.That is never more true than with the many facets of marketing as a QSR starts franchising and then accelerates its pace by signing on new operators, who often bring many different levels of experience and needs. 

That situation and the stress it places on the corporate marketing team was the subject of anhour-long meeting of restaurant leaders atthis spring's Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in Louisville. The session served as a great status check for brands whose leadership was seeking to ensure their actions aren't completely out of whack with the industry as a whole, and best practices related to the subject, more specifically. Included in the dialogue, moderated by Visualogistix Director of Business Development Kathi Woolsey were: 

  • Cowboy Chicken President Sean Kennedy.
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes Director of Operations Services Allen Arnn.
  • Walk-On's President Scott Taylor. 

There was a lot to learn and we've opted to share some of the high points here today in the following question-and-answer format for easy reading as it pertains to the questions that most interest you. 

Pictured left to right: Kathi Woolsey of Visualogistix, Allen Arnn of Nothing Bundt Cakes, Scott Taylor of Walk-On's and Sean Kennedy of Cowboy Chicken. 

Q: What are your biggest challenges in managing your system from a marketing standpoint as it grows?

Walk-on's: Franchising. Because if you don't give them a system, they're going to come up with it on their own, so we control and approve all the creative because we don't want (franchisees) to go outside  and do their own stuff. But we still do give them a lot of latitude. ... Like if they have a one-off opportunity we're open to that. 

Nothing Bundt Cakes: I agree, this is a huge concern, particularly when (franchiseses) want to "go to school 'next door'." ... But we keep it locked down to one supplier, so that we don't have (franchisees using) the local print shop and ending up with all sorts of off-brand colors. 

Q: So how do you handle social media with franchisees, including responding as a brand if necessary?

Walk-on's:Every location has own Facebook page, but we're still kind of like the "daddy" or "momma" watching over it. ... Now, as far as Twitter goes, we control all that — we lock that stuff down. But digital really is everything now. We do very little print. 

Cowboy Chicken: We learned our lesson very early on with this. We had a brand Facebook page, but a couple of partners then designed their own ... which is a terrible thing to let happen because it can go wrong in a lot of ways. So now (corporate Facebook postings and page) trickles down and they have access to that. 

Nothing Bundt Cakes: We take it one step further where they (franchisees) submit a form of what they want to say online and we (publish) it from that form. ... We also, early on, let them do their own, but then we pulled it back, and then pulled it back a little further still. 

"We learned our lesson very early on with this. We had a brand Facebook page, but a couple of partners then designed their own ... which is a terrible thing to let happen because it can go wrong in a lot of ways."                                                        

Sean Kennedy, Cowboy Chicken

Q: It's widely accepted today that millennials are tightly connected to social media, so how do you play into the favor of that group through these channels  and then how do you do the same in-store? 

Nothing Bundt Cakes: It's really about authenticity for us ... so we try to show humans having lots of joy around our products (on social media). 

Walk-On's:Our employee base is very young — like 19 to 22 years old — but otherwise we have a broad customer base ... so we do a lot just to "relay the experience inside our four walls." 

In-store — because our staff is young and a lot of them don't have prior restaurant experience — we want to offer cool things, kind of like venison chili because ... they not only "drink the Kool-aid," they also like to "make the Kool-aid." ... The regional officer's job is really to make sure the culture is right.

Cowboy Chicken:We invested a lot into digital in last year ... and one thing is that's it's changing. So they (millennials) don't want advertising or pictures of food so much now — they want to see, like the KFC (celebrity colonels) and cool stuff like that. That's really what attracts smart young millennial generations that really engage with your brand. 

In-store ... it's about brand continuity and brand style. Like we have a (brand) style guide ... so that's pretty buttoned up and it's something we really work hard on. 

Q: It's been said that 25 percent of a marketer's time is spent on marketing distribution, so how do you handle that and support it?

Nothing Bundt Cakes: We have a(n) (online) portal where (franchisees) can order all the things they need. Then another simple thing, but it's critical, is just planning and just knowing what's coming up so you can get those timelines locked in. 

Walk-On's: Also for us, everybody really understands those timelines. So franchisees will get their digital (marketing  materials) that way. ... It's important to not try to do too many things at once, so be strategic and do one thing at a time. 

Cowboy Chicken: Yeah, that calendar for us is really important. ... Like I said we have a good team ... and ours is really more "push" marketing. 

Nothing Bundt Cake:We need to get to more "push" (marketing) too. 

Q: In the future if your brand could do one thing it's not doing now, what would that be?

Walk-On's: For us, it's all about being on social (media) and being ahead of it (future social media trends). That's a goal that everybody is working on and that's where our efforts are focused. 

Nothing Bundt Cakes: It's very similar for us in trying to stay ahead of (social media) trends, too. 

Cowboy Chicken: Yeah, for us, it would be being more active in that (digital) environment to engage that  audience. We're primarily Facebook (now). But then, that's the opportunity right? To engage them on Instagram and Snapchat and all that.

Great conversations and restaurant wisdom like this is an all-day long experience at these summits. For an international perspective, please check out the upcoming Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in London this July. But hurry to register, the summit takes place in less than two months. For a deeper look at the use of interactive technologies to enhance the customer experience, come to Dallas June 12 through June 14 for the Interactive Customer Experience Summit.

Inset photo: Willie Lawless

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Chicken, Franchising & Growth, Marketing, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Online / Mobile / Social, Operations Management

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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