In today’s digital age, news spreads like wildfire whether it’s true or fake—a phenomenon causing consumers’ trust in big brands, government, media and even nonprofits to rapidly decline. In fact, according to Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer, consumers’ trust levels dropped across all four of these institutions for the first time in its 17 years of publication. That should concern franchise operators, considering that a franchise’s reputation is often one of its greatest selling points.
For example, let’s examine Chipotle. Back in 2015, the chain was battling food safety issues, and the brand’s revenue and stock price plummeted. While the chain was attempting to make a comeback, Chipotle faced even more backlash after an unlucky string of norovirus outbreaks. With highly publicized foodborne illnesses continuing to weaken its credibility, Chipotle’s image is far from being restored.
Similarly, consumers’ opinions toward United Airlines recently fell to an all-time low when a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from one of its planes went viral. According to the perception research service YouGov BrandIndex, the incident caused consumer sentiment of the airlines to dip to the lowest levels the brand had seen in 10 years.
While these examples are extreme, they demonstrate that how a brand is perceived and what a company represents are much more powerful than the quality of the products or services offered.
So, what can franchise operators do to break through to consumers and gain their trust while also competing with similar chains? If you want to strengthen your brand’s overall credibility, consider incorporating these strategies into your business model:
1. Mobilize Community Leaders
Although trust for brands can be lacking, people often trust other people—especially if they share common values. That’s why it’s important for franchise operators to humanize their business and hire individuals who best represent and communicate the company’s mission. Turn the focus on your franchisees and invest in those who already have strong, positive connections with their communities. These individuals can act as a natural extension of your brand to relay the right messages and boost public perception.
For example, all of our instructors at 911 Driving School are current or former police officers, firefighters or EMS professionals who know and understand the rules of the roads—as well as the consequences of poor driving—from firsthand experiences. By recruiting respected leaders who have a vested interest in safety, the brand communicates a clear message to parents: Your students are receiving the best instruction out there. This strengthens brand dependence and consumer loyalty.
2. Leverage Philanthropic Partnerships
Engaging with local community groups and non-profit organizations is an important part of defining your brand and building company character. Whether it’s sponsoring a local youth sports league or hosting a franchise-wide donation drive, forming authentic relationships helps position a company as socially responsible and supportive of community endeavors. However, not all charity is created equally.
Philanthropic partnerships typically resonate best with consumers when the organization’s purpose aligns with the brand’s mission and the cause benefited. In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, 911 Driving School locations encouraged students to pledge to “Call Back Later” by putting down their phones and focusing on the road ahead. For each pledge made, the brand made a monetary donation to the National Road Safety Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing crashes, deaths and injuries by promoting safe driving behavior.
3. Encourage Transparent Feedback
Brand credibility and transparency go hand in hand. If deliberate honesty is at the core of a company’s culture, then communication to the public comes across more genuine. To build trust with consumers, business leaders should keep the public involved both when big decisions are made and when minor mistakes occur.
Whether it’s announcing an exciting development through social media or sending sincere, apologetic emails after an unfortunate incident, give others an inside look at your business to maintain a meaningful connection with the communities you serve. Having a consistent, open-book policy shows your customers, employees and stakeholders that your company appreciates transparency and values their trust.
While there’s no cookie-cutter program that franchise operators can follow to establish credibility, these strategies can certainly serve as a basis when developing business practices. Community leaders, philanthropic partnerships and transparent feedback can all strengthen a brand’s reputation, but it’s consistency in these efforts that will keep your franchise afloat.
Joe Giammona is the CEO of 911 Driving School, a driving school franchise providing leading edge driver’s education programs for teens, adults and mature drivers.