When it comes to building customer loyalty, brand consistency is key. When a company delivers the same branding from location to location, the brand will quickly start to feel like a "friend" that customers know and trust. However, when your multi-location brand isn't delivering this consistent customer experience, brand equity starts to disappear.
It takes the right strategy for corporate marketing teams to equip their local affiliates with the tools and resources needed to deliver a consistent brand experience to customers. And it's not easy to do.
In fact, consistent branding across the franchised network is one of the reasons that renowned companies like Fast Signs, Sport Clips and Massage Envy rank as some of the most profitable franchises in the world.  On the other hand, distributed brands that don't do a good job of developing, deploying and managing branding consistency are plagued with executional challenges at the local level that hurt the bottom line.
"Multi-unit franchises may face a variety of difficulties along the way toward building brand consistency. Balancing brand uniformity while respecting franchisee independence and regulating brand messages while effectively targeting local communities are two of the struggles that often arise."
- Gary Findley, CEO at Findley Group. 
How Local Marketers Kill Brand Consistency
It's unfortunate but true: local affiliates aren't the marketing pros we often want them to be. At the same time, over-managing your local affiliates' marketing activity can quickly stifle brand growth. The best multi-unit brands find a way to maintain a careful blend of control and autonomy in marketing. Without the mission-critical insight, direction and guidance provided by their corporate marketing team the local affiliate is stuck without useful marketing assets. In these cases, local affiliates are often forced to take matters into their own hands by creating their own offers and marketing collateral. More often than not, these self-made marketing promotions stray from the brand's established guidelines and aesthetic.
As we saw above, the brand has to provide the same quality branding at every turn. When customers see the same great logo, display ad, or in-store sign from one location to the next, their trust in the brand grows. In fact, according to the 2017 Distributed Marketing Benchmark Report, branding consistency is one of the most important things multi-location brands can do to increase brand equity quickly.
Are your local affiliates struggling to stay on brand? Be sure to stay ahead of these common brand-consistency-killing design mistakes:
1. Bad Reproduction
Creating a marketing asset can be quite challenging even for the most well-equipped graphic designer. For an untrained local marketer, the complexity is increased tenfold. Unfortunately, many local marketers don't understand what "good" branding actually looks like. Even if they did, they simply haven't got a technical understanding of the design tools or file formats that go into delivering those results. This means the entire design process can quickly spiral out of control.
You probably know what that looks like, and it isn't pretty. Pixelated images on printed collateral. Distorted or horribly skewed images in all their digital ad formats. Even down to print-outs that were done on their office inkjet and came out with totally the wrong color. Bad reproduction looks, well, bad.
At every turn, corporate teams have to look for ways to streamline the local design process. The most successful distributed brands stay ahead of these reproduction issues by providing high-quality assets to their local affiliates which take all the guesswork out of the equation. In fact, these brands have their design teams build an organized repository of the brand's most popular marketing materials.
In most instances, these design files are built specifically so that local marketers can understand and use them on their own. This makes it much easier for the field to be self-service and still keep up the high production standards that designers want.
Stay on top of the latest marketing trends with the 2017 Distributed Marketing Benchmark Report.
2. Through Un-Approved Executions
More often than not, local marketers will have a much better understanding of their customers than corporate marketing teams. So they'll probably have some ideas about what marketing promotions and offers the brand should be running. Some of those opinions might even be pretty strong. When corporate teams fail to deliver the hyper-local and hyper-relevant marketing materials that local affiliates want, local marketers will try to create their own. Unfortunately, this is where branding inconsistencies so often happen.
To stay out in front of these non-standard executions, corporate marketing teams must routinely gather feedback from their local partners. What marketing language resonates with local customers? What do local audiences appreciate most about the brand? Is there a particular offer that the local affiliate really likes? Use this information to determine what's working and what's not working.
Oftentimes, you'll get different answers depending on the region or location that you're focusing on. Mine those differences for examples of how your partners/affiliates might need unique marketing assets in different locations. With this insight, the brand is well-equipped to deliver high-impact p that are consistent with the brand AND have local flavor. Win-win.
3. Through Outdated Collateral
According to SmallBizTrends, 150 million promotions were sent via direct mail in 2015.  Year after year, direct mail pops up as one of the most effective marketing tactics for multi-location brands. Why does direct mail do so well? Most likely because it allows the brand to test many different approaches and find the ones that work the best.
Across the board, industry-leading distributed brands routinely audit the effectiveness of these and other marketing tactics. In fact, they're constantly iterating on previous designs, looking for areas of improvement that will drive higher response rates.
In some cases, designers just want to give customers a new look at the brand so that they don't get tired of the same old stuff. But when a brand doesn't modernize or update their marketing material across the whole location network, inconsistency challenges start cropping up. If the brand isn't making sure they keep the field updated about all the additions to the repository of marketing collateral, how will the local affiliate know which materials are up-to-date and which ones need to be canned?
The best multi-location brands avoid this local marketing mishap by constantly updating their marketing materials and pushing those changes out to the field frequently. They only share the most current and up-to-date marketing collateral in their asset repositories. And they notify the field any time a major new asset is released or an old one is retired.
Naturally, the designers at HQ stay up-to-date on the latest marketing trends and tactics by reading industry news, reevaluating their marketing strategy, measuring their creative's effectiveness and more. But the key to consistency across the whole brand is making sure that they share this special insight with their local affiliates and help them to always deliver timely and fresh marketing.
Boost Brand Consistency with Local Marketing Automation
For distributed brands, consistency doesn't have to be so touch and go. With the right amount of teamwork and communication across the whole organization, brand consistency can actually turn into a competitive advantage. When corporate teams, brand managers and local affiliates work together to present a united front to the customer with consistent design and visual elements, the brand is always better off.
Ultimately, however, it's the responsibility of the local affiliate not just to be consistent but to make sure that the brand translates into a stellar customer experience. That's why many leading distributed brands have chosen to invest in Local Marketing Automation (LMA).
With the right foundational process in place, these tools give corporate marketing teams the power they need to maintain branding consistency across the whole location network. In fact, teams can simply upload their branded and templated materials to the online repository. From there, local affiliates can introduce their own localized messaging and visuals as needed.
If there's a particular design asset that the brand doesn't want the local affiliate to manipulate, corporate teams can effortlessly "lock" them down. LMA solutions help industry-leading brands manage assets, create design constraints and distribute marketing materials across the distributed network