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The Importance of Brand "Sizzle" How to stand out from the crowd

By Mark Siebert

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's an old saying in the restaurant business: "You sell the sizzle--not the steak." Regarding everything from marketability to sex appeal, if a franchise wants to achieve its true growth potential, it must stand out from the crowd and appeal to a particular franchise buyer.

Sizzle can be created by dazzling marketing campaigns, by the look of an operation or by the rapid growth of a particular market segment. Sizzle can come from innovative systems that bring additional profits to a tired industry, a wonderful recipe that drives customers to your door or from the right franchise marketing materials. It can come from "sexy" software, increased buying power, better support or a well-established brand in the marketplace. It can come from a number of places, but if you don't know what your sizzle is, you don't have it.

Fortunately, however, it's never too late to create it.

It Starts with the Steak
No matter how good you are at creating brand "sizzle," it always starts with the steak--or, in the case of franchising, it starts with the concept.

One of the most important elements when creating sizzle is credibility. In order to sell franchises, a company and its management team must first be credible in the eyes of its prospective franchisees. No matter how "hot" the concept, if you can't get your prospects to believe in you, you'll never sell to your concept's potential.

Credibility can be reflected in a number of ways: organization size, number of units, number of years in operation, look and feel of the prototype unit, quality of marketing materials, a blue-chip client list, publicity generated by the concept and the strength of management. More important, credibility is cumulative. The more of these credibility-builders you have, the more credibility you'll garner in the eyes of your prospective franchisee.

If you aren't there already, you can do a number of things to polish your credibility as a franchisor:

  • Hire a designer to update the look and feel of your operation.
  • Update your consumer marketing materials and website.
  • Retain a PR firm to help you obtain press in the local market.
  • Recruit an advisory board made up of your most prominent business acquaintances.
  • Develop marketing materials that are better than those of your established
  • competitors.
  • And, from a self-serving perspective, retain the best consultants and attorneys you can afford when making the leap into franchising.

Is Your Sauce Really Different?
If I were really pressed to name my favorite steakhouse, I think I would vote for Ruth's Chris. Now, over the years, I've eaten at a number of steakhouses, but for me, Ruth's Chris is the one with the most sizzle--literally. The way they achieve that sizzle isn't magic. It's competitive differentiation. They start with super-hot grills and top each steak with fresh melted butter. That's how they get the sizzle. Are there other great steakhouses? Of course. But how do you--or I--differentiate one from the next? Melted butter, hot steaks and--of course--the sizzle.

While it may not be hot butter, every business needs a point of difference. The consultants at McMillan|Doolittle, who specialize in retail differentiation, have taken this differentiation a step further by explaining some of these basic tenets in what they call "EST theory." EST theory states that a business needs to carve out a unique position in the marketplace by developing an EST: Bigg est (largest selection), Cheapest (lowest price), Hott est (newest fashion) or Easi est (best service). Each EST represents a specific consumer desire. And each represents something desirable in a retail environment.

But--and here's the part that may be counterintuitive--you shouldn't try to be every EST. If you try to do it all, according to McMillan|Doolittle, you'll end up in the "Black Hole"--the place in the center of the EST positioning grid where mediocre companies go to die.

On closer examination, the underlying theory makes complete sense. You can't provide the most service and still have the lowest cost. You can't be an exclusive, high-fashion offering and still be the cheapest. And while this is a gross oversimplification of the theory (a more detailed understanding can be found at ), the point of the analysis is clear. It's better to be great at one thing than to simply be good at everything. "Me Too" franchises all too often fall, undifferentiated, by the wayside.

Marketing texts will refer to this principle as the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Before succeeding in business--and by extension, in franchising--you must define and hone your USP. You must understand what makes you different from the next franchisor, and why your franchise is better than the franchise offered by your franchised competitors.

And remember, one franchisor's advantage can be made into a competitor's advantage. Consider the proposition of going head-to-head with an established giant in the industry. Sure, they have advantages in terms of brand recognition, but, as a new franchisor, you can sell against their size by emphasizing the personal involvement of the founder and a higher level of service.

Dare to be different. Differentiation can come in the form of proprietary products or services, a reduced investment cost, a unique marketing strategy or different target markets. It can be structured into your franchise agreement in the form of lower fees, bigger territories or increased support. Or it can come by redefining the marketplace.

If I were to say "hamburger franchise," chances are that one of three names would come to mind: McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's. So how do you compete with these 800-pound gorillas? One way is to choose to redefine the marketplace. Instead of being an "also ran" in the hamburger segment of the sandwich marketplace, you could compete for market leadership in the newly defined "gourmet hamburger" segment ... or the double-drive thru segment ... or the "healthy burger" segment--if you can make the business model work first.

Sell to the Steak-Lover
Another way to succeed in franchising is to appeal to a very specific and highly targeted franchise buyer. Buyer appeal can be created by the growth of a market (internet businesses), the look of a business (something fun), flexibility (homebased businesses) the return offered (pure ROI plays), or by the taste of a product (restaurants). But for some franchisees, it's the nature of the prospective franchise itself that makes the franchise attractive.

Century 21, for example, helped to revolutionize a marketplace that was dominated by independent real estate agents in the 1950s and 1960s, by targeting a very specific franchisee. Optical franchisors such as Pearle Vision may have little appeal to the average franchise buyer, but likely have a much stronger appeal to an optician or optometrist. The examples of franchisors that have succeeded by targeting a very specific franchisee are numerous: direct sales franchisors targeting salespeople, complex restaurants targeting existing restaurateurs, internet franchises targeting techies--the list goes on and on.

The fact is, the more specifically you can target the right franchise candidate, the more likely a franchisor will succeed in rapidly selling franchises. For some franchisors, the nature of the franchise itself will dictate the nature of the franchise buyer. But for those franchises with a less obvious franchise prospect, the key lies in researching the demographics of your franchise buyer. Just as you would with your core concept, you must know your prospective buyer (your franchisee) as well as you know your own product.

A Steak by any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
One of my early mentors once told me that "Names don't make companies--companies make names." And I'm reminded of this quote often when companies new to franchising inquire about the need for an established brand in order to franchise. While established brands like McDonald's certainly provide the franchisor with a huge advantage in the franchise marketplace, people sometimes forget that before McDonald's was a franchise icon, it was a one-unit operation that nobody outside of Southern California had ever heard of.

So how do you start to establish such a brand? The fact is, if you've been up and operating your business for any length of time, you already have.

Several weeks ago, I spoke with a four-office staffing company who was considering franchising as a means of expansion. They were thinking of changing their name, which mirrored the name of the founder, because they felt that their existing name didn't "sound like a franchise."

"Why would anyone ever want to use our name," they asked, "when we aren't a national brand?"

After spending some time with them, I realized they had a track record stretching back almost two decades. They had a blue-chip client list. And they had fantastic references who would swear by them.

So I asked them in return, "Who would stand a greater chance of success: a startup operator new to a market with no experience and no references, or a company who could walk into a prospective client and say, 'We're expanding in your market, were established some 20 years ago, and here are the names of just a few of our Fortune 500 clients'?"

Like H&R Block, McDonald's, Snelling Personnel and many other franchises named after their founders, the brand is developed over time based on consistently delivering the steak you promised along with the sizzle you sold. If you can deliver on the steak, the sizzle is as easy as a little butter.

Mark Siebert

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Franchise Consultant for Start-Up and Established Franchisors

Mark Siebert is the author of The Franchisee Handbook (Entrepreneur Press, 2019) and the CEO of the iFranchise Group, a franchise consulting organization since 1998. He is an expert in evaluating company franchisability, structuring franchise offerings, and developing franchise programs domestically and internationally. Siebert has personally assisted more than 30 Fortune 2000 companies and more that 500 startup franchisors. His book Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is also available at all book retailers.

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