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A Marketing Lesson from the CEO of Popeyes: Influencing the Franchise Influencers


Creating a world-class franchise brand requires providing a world-class marketing experience for your franchisees.

The October 2016 Harvard Business Review features a piece written by Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder. Taking the reader through her own journey of self-discovery, Ms. Bachelder describes one of the most important lessons she’s learned during the course of her nine years turning the once-ailing Popeyes franchise into a great success story.

What was this lesson, and how did it help her correct course and right ­the ship? It centered on Popeyes most important assets and their most powerful engines of growth – the franchisees. As she states in the article, “They [franchisees] have mortgaged their homes and taken out large loans to open restaurants. They have signed 20-year agreements. No one has more skin in the game – they have no Plan B.” Popeyes adopted a model of “servant leadership,” deciding that the measure of the brand’s success would be measured by the franchisees’ success. This change in focus – to prioritizing the needs of the franchisees - was an inflection point for the brand, marking the beginning of a dramatic turn-around that saw revenues and profits skyrocket in the years to come.

So how can leaders responsible for the marketing support of franchisees adopt the “servant leadership” model, prioritize franchisees as their most important stakeholders, and ultimately fuel the long-term growth and success of their franchise?

Bachelder: “Are the people entrusted to our care better off?”

Being a franchisee is more than a job, it’s a life choice. The decision to be a part of your franchise system is one of the biggest commitments your people will ever make... period. Launching their business and getting it solvent means sleepless nights, long hours, and daily grinding in the trenches. There is a reason that your franchisees chose YOUR organization – they believe in the brand, the power of the system, and the long-term viability of your partnership.

  1. Fulfill the promise of your system by empowering your franchisees; they are in business for themselves, not by themselves.
  2. Provide franchise marketing resources, tools, and systems that measurably fuel the success of your franchisees to turn them into brand champions and stewards who understand that alignment with the franchisor is crucial to their own, personal success.
  3. Make their lives easier. Cutting-edge technology, experts who “do it for them,” and reporting that clearly shows how your marketing programs measurably impact their business (for the better) is the path towards creating a culture where zees jump at the opportunity to be the first to try a new program you introduce. Your franchisees will FEEL the results of your efforts whenever they spend extra time with their teams, customers, and families.

Bachelder: “If we use our influence on the franchisee, he can bring his influence to bear on the restaurant manager and the frontline team member.”

  1. Collaborate with your franchisees. Demonstrate that adopting franchise marketing best practices and programs is in the best interests of all stakeholders and the most effective path to creating true brand champions – an attitude that is infused into employees and ultimately customers. When a franchisor demonstrates that their marketing programs generate measurably positive results, an environment of trust and collaboration is fostered.
  2. Tell stories about the success that fellow franchisees have seen from a new digital marketing program. A sure-fire tactic to win the hearts and minds of your franchisees is to provide them with data on their true cost per lead or cost per acquisition so that they no longer worry that their marketing dollars are going to waste.

Bachelder: “It feels unfair sometimes, but it’s our job to keep modeling and earning trust.”

It’s simple, undeniable human nature. We all start any new endeavor eager to please but, lacking confidence in our own abilities, we are solicitous of advice and open to adapting our methods based upon the feedback of those who are proven winners. As we slowly gain experience and taste success, we gain confidence in ourselves and in turn become more rigid in our ways, shut off to the advice of others who clearly don’t know as much as we do.

This same mentality applies to your franchisees who, as the years pass, are increasingly more likely to want to do things “their way” (sometimes at the expense of the interests of the brand). It’s the franchisor’s job to continually align and re-align, staying one step ahead of changes in consumer behavior, media, and the latest in marketing technology. Actively demonstrate that you’re never complacent and are continually implementing programs that provide franchisees with a competitive edge

Bachelder: “Leadership is an act of stewardship, not a practice that’s solely for your personal benefit.”

The beauty in providing marketing support that demonstrably increases the value franchisees receive from being a part of your system is that everyone wins. Your franchisees spend more time operating their business, secure in the fact that they are always out in front of the competition. More consumers are exposed to the brand, and have a great experience. Ultimately, more revenue is generated, making your franchise more attractive to new partners and creating capital for existing zees to open new locations and develop new markets. Fantastic, measurable marketing support creates an upward spiral and plays a key role in the creation of sustainable, world-class franchise brands.

Contact Scorpion's franchise marketing experts to find out how you can provide your franchisees with the right tools and strategies for their success.