Franchisees of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King are required to remodel their restaurant locations whenever their franchisors determine it’s necessary. These are often full-scale remodels that shut a location down for weeks and cost a good chunk of the franchisee’s annual profits to pay for. The mother brands require updates as part of their franchise agreements because they know it represents a critical investment in keeping their brands fresh, appealing, and relevant to their customers. The burgers and fries haven’t changed, but the experience of visiting the new dining room, or even just the improved drive-through, reflects positively on the brand and will for years to come.
Anything that affects your customer (or prospect) experience is part of your brand, so the definition of investing in your brand is broad. The proper amount varies widely by industry, of course. As in the fast food example above, the amount can be an expensive remodel every few years, or it could just be new menu signage and a mobile phone app that speeds takeout orders. The key is to keep an eye on the competition’s level of investment and make sure you budget for improvements on a long-term basis.
Here are three principles for investing in your brand:
Brand and brand experience cover a lot of ground, so there are many ways to improve them. But a more efficient accounting system isn’t a brand investment unless it improves your customers’ experience through, say, simplified invoicing, or improved account management tools. Restructuring your customer service department to create dedicated account service people would be a great example of investing in your brand.
Brands are built over time, not overnight. This means regular spending over years will build and sustain the qualities of your brand. You can’t build a brand in a month, no matter how much cash you have. Exhibit A: The dot.com boom where brands like pets.com soared and crashed in two years. They built awareness and short-term sales, but it wasn’t enough to create sustained brand loyalty. Ironically, digital technology is likely changing your business in many ways and will undoubtedly affect perceptions of your brand if your competition has faster software, a better website, or a slicker mobile app.
It isn’t always about money. There are many ways to invest in your brand without spending money, although you will likely have to spend some time to do so. Starbucks recently closed its stores for retraining their employees on issues of racial sensitivity. In the past, they have shut the doors to retrain on the proper way to take orders and prepare their many beverage options. Both are more an investment of time than money to shape their brand.
Once, while working with a client, we discovered that a major brand issue with their customers was the cleanliness of their trucks. Where they had once taken pride in keeping their vehicles sparkling clean, they had drifted away from being so fastidious. Turned out their customers were noticing and saw it as a sign that the company’s quality was slipping. It wasn’t, but we realized that something as mundane as a little road grime was putting serious dings in the perception of the brand.
The exact amount to invest in your brand isn’t a simple number or percentage, but the principles of regular attention to brand experience, investment of time and money, and planning for long-range improvement must remain a focus for management and owners of brands large and small