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Paperless branding
May 20, 2004
Peter Caulfield
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Franchisors all across North America are turning in droves to the latest communication technologies to entice customers and to promote their brands, especially to technology-savvy youth markets. Companies are using everything they can to entice customers to use a particular brand--offering wi-fi to consumers, innovative Internet ad campaigns, free music downloads, smart cards, loyalty cards, gift cards, point-of-sale solutions and payment processing.

Whether someone calls it Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, or wireless networking, the fact is that offering free wireless Internet access to consumers is one of the hottest trends out there for franchises looking to get people into seats. McDonald’s Corp., for one, will install Wi-Fi networks in 3,000 of its stores in 2004 and another 3,000 in 2005. The networks will deliver a wide range of digital content to customers, including music files and tie-in movie trailers, and also support in-house business applications, such as cashless payment systems.

Sony Connect, the digital music download division of Sony Corp., is expected to provide digital content to McDonald's customers, with music clips provided free to customers who purchase certain menu items. The Wi-Fi network can also be used to distribute movie trailers to customers, as an extension of McDonald's movie-based meal promotions.

Illinois-based McDonald’s isn’t the only franchisor to adopt creative, outside-the-box strategies to get attention. Burger King Corp., and ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, recently launched a subtle online marketing campaign to reinforce their “Have it your way” concept—and to attract a younger demographic. The Subserviant Chicken (http://www.subserviantchicken.com) is the talk of the Internet, with millions of page views the first week it launched. When the site loads, a man dressed in a chicken suit will do almost whatever is typed into the field, allowing the user to have it their way. The website doesn’t beat a user over the head with the brand; it merely has a small Burger King Brands Inc. copyright notice at the bottom of the page and a small link to their corporate page.

Hampton Inns has developed a similar Internet strategy to get people thinking about staying in one of their rooms with the a site called Hampton’s Hidden Landmarks (http://www.hamptonlandmarks.com). Users can find some of American’s favorite (but hidden) pop culture landmarks—separated by categories like Music, Sports, American History—like “the corner in Winslow, Arizona,” immortalized in the 1970s Eagles hit Take It Easy, or the actual field of dreams from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, profiled on the site’s homepage. Ironically, Hampton expects that if “you build it, they will come,” and offers directions from each landmark to the closest Hampton Inn.

But it isn’t only the big brands that are thinking digital. Fresh City, a chain of fast-casual restaurants located in New England, is utilizing gift cards to entice and digital keys to stand out from the crowd. Fresh City’s ‘key’ program shows how technology that increases in-store efficiency can be exciting, too. After they place their orders, customers receive a magnetic key they take to their table and insert in a combination salt-and-pepper holder and LED display. “When their orders are ready, the LED lights up,” Andrew Yakoobian, Director of Marketing, says. “Then the customers know they can go and pick up their food.”

Yakoobian says Fresh City has been successfully selling magnetic-swipe gift cards in the six stores that are company-owned. “The program has gone very well. And it has worked especially well in those stores where our guests pay for their orders immediately after ordering, instead of paying after they receive their meals.”

Forrester Research predicts that more retailers and restaurants will follow Kroger’s lead with paperless coupons that are sent directly to a customer’s loyalty card. Forrester predicts that Internet couponing will continue to expand, despite recent fraud cases.

In the Southwest, Taco Bueno Restaurants, Inc., a Dallas-based quick-service Mexican restaurant chain, recently introduced payment by credit and debit card. Taco Bueno IT Director Tim Collins says the move has been a big winner with its customers.

“There’s been a definite up-tick in the average check,” says Collins. “Credit card orders have about a $2 higher average check than an order paid for with cash. And we believe it is bringing in more customers. As customers realize we take credit cards, they are coming in more often.”

Paymentech, a Dallas-based electronic payment processor, is processing the card transactions for Taco Bueno. “The technology and reporting capabilities that Paymentech offer are far superior to its competitors,” Collins says. Taco Bueno has been so pleased with the introduction of credit and debit card payment that it is planning to roll out gift cards by the end of 2004.

NCR Corporation, provider of point-of-sale systems, has a self-checkout solution for retailers called FastLane. Atlanta-based NCR spokesperson Caroline Rose says FastLane’s original name was SCOT. “That name didn’t communicate any solution benefits,” Rose says. “The [adoption of the] FastLane brand was the result of focus groups and the [customers’] overwhelming desire for speed and convenience.”

According to Rose, the FastLane brand has been “hugely successful” for NCR because it identifies the mutual benefits of self-checkout. “It has resonated so well that, in many cases, media, analysts and other market influencers now use the word “FastLane” when referring to any self-checkout solution,” Rose says. “Customers have been more apt to use the solution because the name speaks to their need for convenience and to get in and out of the store quickly. In fact, some retailers report that up to 40 percent of sales now come through NCR FastLane.”

Digital branding and technology—especially web-based programs—offer many advantages over traditional marketing, says Jerry Wilkerson, President and founder of Chicago-based consultants Franchise Recruiters. “It’s inexpensive compared to print,” he says. “And you can update quickly and easily direct your message to different markets.”

In October 2003, Frank V. Fiume Jr. launched i9 Sports Corporation, a company trying to turn running leagues in some of America’s favorite pastimes into a franchised business. The cornerstone of the company is its website, i9Sports.com, which allows players to access news, statistics and information on their team and league, and i9 Sports’ proprietary “Franchise Manager” software allows franchisees to run their business online.

“The web site is the backbone of the whole business,” Fiume said. “It’s our heart and soul.”

Wilkerson says savvy franchisors should all hire good web technology officers. “Don’t do it on the cheap,” he says. “Your web site shouldn’t be your company’s stepchild. It needs to be taken very seriously.”

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