5th Annual Franchise Innovation Awards: Marketing & Branding: 2023 Winners Leverage Tech to Create Unique Solutions
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5th Annual Franchise Innovation Awards: Marketing & Branding: 2023 Winners Leverage Tech to Create Unique Solutions

5th Annual Franchise Innovation Awards: Marketing & Branding: 2023 Winners Leverage Tech to Create Unique Solutions

5th Annual Franchise Innovation Awards: 2023 winners leverage tech to create unique solutions

This year's Franchise Update Media Innovation Award winners were selected from a long list of entrants about franchise brands turning technological innovations and strategies into cost-cutting and time-saving efficiencies. This year saw more than 100 entries from franchise brands large and small, legacy and emerging. A choice few grabbed the top spots to earn the prestigious awards and recognition.

The contest recognized two overall winners: Denny's took home the Franchise Marketing Leadership Award, and Dickey's Barbecue Pit won the Operations & Technology Leadership Award.

A panel of expert judges evaluated each entry's objective, the problem it solved, and the innovations required to achieve the stated goals. Winners in each of the four main categories and 22 subcategories are highlighted in the following pages. The four major categories are Marketing & Branding, Operations & Technology, Products & Services, and Human Resources.

  • Marketing & Branding: This category asked brands what innovative solutions they employed to grow consumer awareness, engagement, and loyalty--everything from traditional advertising and PR campaigns to social media, rewards programs, new product launches, and local store marketing campaigns.
  • Operations & Technology: Systems and processes, along with replicability and scalability, are essential for franchising success. And who could do all that without advanced technology. Judges reviewed the most forward-thinking operations teams and how they improved and streamlined their processes and practices through innovation in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • Products & Services: To meet the needs of today's consumers, franchise systems must evolve along with what customers want in products and services--and in how they want them delivered. For many entrants, technology played a huge role in adapting to how customers ordered, paid for, and received their products or services in 2022.
  • Human Resources: Growing a great brand requires the best people at every level. This category examined how brands employed unique, innovative strategies and tactics to attract, hire, train, and retain the employees who best suited their vision and culture.


Best Big Budget Campaign
Kumon North America

Objective: When Covid forced many Kumon Centers to close, the company needed to address parents' concerns about the disruption to their children's education. Competitors were emphasizing tutoring as a quick fix, but that was not true to the Kumon brand. The corporate team felt the brand voice and visual identity had gotten lost, and franchisees were unhappy with the current creative campaign. The brand needed a fresh and authentic creative campaign that reminded parents of its proven program and value.

Overview: Research conducted by franchise marketing agency Curious Jane showed that Kumon had a brand awareness issue among parents who were anxious about their children's education. However, its ads were difficult to distinguish from those of competitors. Curious Jane wanted to communicate to moms that Kumon understood them and could help their children build successful lives. The agency's team identified two target personas: Millennial Maya, a younger, well-educated mom, and Forties Faith, a mom who had waited to have children until after she had established her career. Kumon launched a new creative campaign, Practice Makes Possibilities.

Results: The campaign resonated strongly with parents, franchisees, and children. Goal 1: Increase traffic to Kumon.com by 20% year over year; in 2022, there was a 50% increase in web sessions over 2021. Goal 2: Optimize campaign and the salesforce lead management process to achieve at least a 20% increase in booked parent orientations year over year; in 2022, there was a 23% increase in booked orientations over 2021. Goal 3: Achieve at least a 10% increase in new student enrollments or additional subject enrollments for existing students; in 2022, there was a 10% increase in new student enrollments or new subject enrollments, the highest number of new enrollments in more than 40 years.

Best Digital Campaign
Dogtopia (Canada)

Objective: We needed to design a digital lead acquisition campaign that adhered to Dogtopia's brand standards and overall marketing strategy, while also ensuring it could be independently customized, funded, and deployed by each franchisee to suit their individual needs and help them grow their local business.

Overview: We chose to employ Facebook, Instagram, and search engine advertising to create a cross-platform integrated campaign. We employed a proprietary digital advertising platform to create, localize, and measure the campaign.

Results: The strategy achieved all of the company's objectives, allowing local franchisees to deploy, fund, and measure their own lead-generation campaigns within a common branding and messaging approach. Local franchisees invested more than $2 million in advertising during 2022. With that investment, we achieved the following social/search advertising results: 185 million impressions, 107,645 leads, a $0.77 cost per click, a 1.4% click-through rate, an $18.65 cost per lead, and a 4.1% conversion rate.

Best Limited Budget Campaign (under $1 million)
RNR Tire Express

Objective:Our goal was to create a national promotion that was unique and culturally relevant that would position ourselves to generate more interest and action than ever before. Our Jurassic Park Jeep Giveaway promotion was conceptualized and executed, resulting in one of the most successful lead generating, customer growth initiatives we’ve ever launched.

Overview: When the new "Jurassic Park" movie released in June 2022, it was the perfect opportunity to leverage that theme with our annual Father's Day campaign. We sourced a vintage "Jurassic Park" replica Jeep, and in true RNR fashion upgraded the Jeep with a 4-inch lift kit and new tires and wheels. We created all the supporting campaign assets, including print POS materials, creative content for social media, display ads, and videos for streaming TV and YouTube ads.

Results: When the campaign wrapped up, we had received more than 11,000 entries from across the country. These leads were then shared with each corresponding franchise so they could later be retargeted. The winner of the Father's Day Jeep was a lifetime fan of the movies and shared a passion for collecting "Jurassic Park" memorabilia with his daughter, so it was truly a perfect fit. From a franchisor perspective, we received a great deal of PR from the event. Additionally, our customer growth as a franchise grew 10,000 customers from June 2021 to June 2022.

Best Loyalty App
Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Objective: The digital and marketing teams at Tropical Smoothie Cafe came together to create an initiative aimed at driving increased food item sales both in-cafe and online, as well as creating an uptick in Tropic Rewards loyalty member sign-ups and usage.

Overview: Tropic Fan Fest rewarded all loyalty members with a free 24-oz. smoothie with the purchase of a food item every day for a week. Tropic Fan Fest provides the brand's superfans with incentives while attracting potential new guests by giving them a compelling reason to try the brand. Using a loyalty program, the brand was able to drive incredible results by using pre-owned media channels.

Results: Loyalty checks with food increased by 22%, up more than 6% from the previous year. Overall transactions increased by 131 per cafe nationwide, enough that the penny profit per cafe during that week was an incremental $101. Guests could use this offer repeatedly during the week, so it did drive some increased frequency as well, and 24.3% of redeemers used this offer more than once. Redeemers saw their frequency increase 6.5% from the pre-period during this promo. Attracting new guests while also ramping up repeat guest visits were both clear drivers in this program. Specifically, this was the first time 24% of Tropical Smoothie Cafe guests tried food items, accounting for nearly a quarter of the 4 million nationwide fanbase.

Best PR Campaign

Objective: To retake the value position in the minds of our guests, Denny's introduced a newly revamped national value menu featuring the $5.99 Everyday Value Slam. So how would Denny's communicate our unique value proposition in a way that would stand out?

Overview: Denny's sought ideas for a headline-driving and buzz-building brand act that would build cultural relevance and desire with a younger, multicultural audience. The conceptual solution was the first-ever wearable coupon. For $5.99, we sold a fashionably designed T-shirt with limited availability, and each featured a unique QR code that gave the wearer a free Denny's Everyday Value Slam every day for a whole year. That equates to a $2,186 value. But only 150 shirts would be made available for sale on the day when value means the most: Black Friday.

Results: Denny's saw 360 placements totaling more than 150 million earned media impressions, equal to almost 3 weeks of paid TV media. Some higher-profile stories appeared in Yahoo, CNN, Forbes, and Thrillist, among others. We saw a 293% increase in organic social media impressions compared with the month before the campaign's launch, as well as an 86% positive sentiment. More than 410,000 total visitors to DinerDrip.com were recorded at midnight on Black Friday, the official kickoff day. The T-Shirts sold out in less than 2 minutes.

Best Social Media Campaign
Budget Blinds/Home Franchise Concepts

Objective: To honor its 30th anniversary, Budget Blinds developed its first-ever influencer-led Instagram giveaway to celebrate its heritage and vision for the future as the brand continues to position itself as a pioneer in the home improvement space.

Overview: The company used influencer marketing and worked with several home design experts and influencers to further position itself as the leader of style in the home services industry. Over the course of 30 days, the brand worked with four influencer partners to host weekly giveaways that increased in scope and value as the weeks went on, offering prizes such as home accents, motorized window treatments, and custom window treatments. It ended with a two-room window treatment makeover. To enter, consumers had to follow Budget Blinds' official handle along with the influencer and tag a friend in need of new window treatments or accents.

Results: Through this social media campaign with these design experts, Budget Blinds reached more than 500,000 followers, increasing its own Instagram following by 3% and its engagement rate by 150%. One influencer video alone received 145,000 views and an engagement rate of 1.19%. The current average video engagement rate on Instagram is 0.66%.

Cause Marketing Champion

Objective: Denny's is "America's Diner," a place shaped by a simple philosophy: "We Love to Feed People." This is the Denny's purpose, and it serves as the resounding rallying cry throughout the organization, from team members in the restaurants to those working in our corporate office. But what happens when disaster strikes? When our communities are dealing with a debilitating crisis, can Denny's serve a slight bit of comfort during a most difficult time?

Overview: The Mobile Relief Diner is a 53-foot semitrailer with a full kitchen that allows our team members to quickly travel anywhere in the U.S. to feed those suffering in the wake of disasters and emergencies. During these deployments, the Mobile Relief Diner provides warm meals to the affected communities. Our goal is to feed the body as well as the mind and soul.

Results: Since the inception of the program in 2017, the Mobile Relief Diner has traveled more than 51,000 miles and served almost 102,000 meals to those affected by natural disasters, including hurricanes Harvey, Ida, and Ian; wildfires in Paradise City, California; tornadoes in Nashville; and floods in Hazard, Kentucky.

Local Marketing Leadership
Cicis Pizza

Objective: The Endless Pizzabilities campaign was created to spread Cicis' core message beyond affordability: The brand brings people together to have fun. It focused on a broad, dramatic, and creative departure of brand messaging. With bold humor and visual effects, the campaign spotlighted specific menu items and experiences to attract key target audiences. The launch came as the U.S. continued to see a return to more on-site dining, encouraging Cicis to make aggressive moves to position itself favorably in its segment.

Overview: Cicis launched a fresh focus on its dining and social experiences with its Endless Pizzabilities branding campaign. It started with a 30-second video spot by C.C. Pazzini, a fictional and whimsical spokesperson the franchise leans on to spread its messaging. In the campaign's video, the four-inch-tall Pazzini gives viewers a tour of Cicis in his magical flying machine. Pazzini's tour features things unique to the concept, such as the all-you-can-eat buffet, specialty pizzas, including mac & cheese, and the on-site game room. It was all highlighted amid tongue-in-cheek rhymes designed to add levity to the brand.

Results: Since the launch of the campaign in August 2022, Cicis has seen unprecedented growth in same store sales with consecutive double-digit growth for 27 weeks. This resulted in a 33.1% sales increase in 2022 compared with 2021. The mix of paid, earned, and owned media strategies has boosted foot traffic, led to repeat visits, and secured high-value press coverage.

Published: September 11th, 2023

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