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Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

There are plenty of reasons why we’re seeing casual and fast casual chain restaurants go out of business: Millennials are killing them by not eating there. There are too many restaurants and not enough people are supporting them. People are more interested in farm-to-table not boil-in-a-bag. And some restaurants, like Chipotle, are working hard to re-earn their customers’ trust after several food contamination incidents.

A recent article on, These American Restaurants Are Failing to Attract Customers showed 17 casual and fast casual dining chains that are losing sales, closing up stores, and are seeing a general decline in their overall performance.

  1. Sonic
  2. Ovation Brands (Hometown Buffet, Old Country Buffet)
  3. Noodles and Company
  4. Panera Bread
  5. Outback Steakhouse (Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhours, Carabba’s, and Bonefish Grill)
  6. Subway
  7. Cheesecake Factory
  8. Applebee’s
  9. Chipotle
  10. Chili’s
  11. Buffalo Wild Wings
  12. TGI Friday’s
  13. Domino’s
  14. Shake Shack
  15. Ruby Tuesday
  16. Jack In The Box
  17. Starbucks

While each brand had its own reasons why it wasn’t doing well — Sonic blamed bad weather, Outback says people are flocking to delivery and take-out, Cheesecake Factory is found primarily in malls and suburbs — it’s hard to say why these particular casual/fast casual dining brands are failing.

But there are three strategies restaurant brands can use to help boost their sales and increase their customer base.

And they involve mystery shopping.

1. Ask your guests what they liked and didn’t like via mobile surveys.

Don’t rely on anecdotes from customers and don’t spend too much time reading online reviews. Anecdotes may be representative of patterns, but without actual data you can’t be sure. And online reviews are usually only written by complainers or people who love your product. They don’t catch the people who only had a “meh” experience and aren’t motivated to come back.

But with a 4- or 5-question mobile survey, you can quickly find out what problems your customers had, what they enjoyed, and spot patterns on the national, regional, and city level, as well as identify any problem stores or staff quickly and easily.

Rather than waiting for a six-month survey to show you why you’ve lost hundreds of customers, you can identify patterns and trends in a matter of days, and fix the problem before it gets worse.

2. Are your bartenders pouring right

Outback steakhouse, one of the 17 casual and fast casual dining brands having sales strugglesWe once mystery shopped a high-end restaurant that was losing thousands of dollars every year to help them identify their problem. One thing we found was that their bartenders weren’t using jiggers to measure their drinks, they were counting. They were often (unintentionally) over pouring, giving a little more liquor than a recipe called for. While that doesn’t matter one or two times, imagine losing three drinks out of every bottle of liquor. That starts to add up! Our client was losing a few thousand dollars a month just to overpouring.

Another thing they were doing is whenever the bartender poured beer from the taps, they would pour off the foam. I’ve seen bartenders fill up half a glass with foam, and keep filling until the foam ran out, sometimes losing one beer’s worth of foam for every two glasses.

Foam collapses and turns into beer. And all my beer snob friends tell me that the foam is part of the experience, and it enhances the flavor. (I don’t actually know — talk to some beer experts who will tell you why foam dumping is a bad idea for beer.)

But the bottom line is that your bartenders are dumping one in three beers. If you’re charging $5 per beer, you’re losing hundreds of dollars of inventory because they haven’t been properly trained on beer pouring.

Mystery shoppers can visit your restaurants, order from the bar, and pay attention to how the bartenders are filling their drinks.

3. There’s more to loss prevention than just theft.

How many people turn away because it took too long to be greeted and seated? How long did they have to wait before their server brought water or their food came out?

While it’s good PR to comp a person’s meal if there are screwups in the kitchen, how many times do you have to do that per day or per week? A mystery shopping program can help you identify where problems may lie with your hostesses, servers, bartenders, and even managers.

One problem with any kind of management-employee situation is that the employees are often on their best behavior when the boss is around, but they let up on those standards when he or she isn’t. Mystery shoppers can be your eyes and ears in your restaurant, telling you what you can’t see, showing you the problem areas, and helping you find areas to train and retrain your staff so they can better serve your customers.

By finding problem areas, correcting loss prevention and overpours, and surveying as many of your customers as you can, you can keep your patrons happy, keep them coming back, and possible help reverse the trend that these national chains have been seeing for the last couple of years.

If you would like to learn more about what mystery shopping can do for your casual or fast casual dining brand, please contact us and ask to speak with one of our mystery shopping experts.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Last week, we examined a study that looked at how different states and municipalities manage their alcohol age compliance checks. And it has already been established by several other studies that age compliance checks already decreases sales at establishments that get checked. But what kind of effect do those alcohol age compliance checks have on neighboring liquor stores and bars?

Dr. Daren Erickson and other researchers from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota decided to find out for themselves and published the study, “Do Alcohol Compliance Checks Decrease Underage Sales at Neighboring Establishments?

The bar from Cheers. Never saw any alcohol compliance checks here!

The bar from Cheers.

Whenever a liquor store clerk or bartender doesn’t ask a young-looking person for ID, that’s considered a violation and the clerk or bartender will receive a ticket. In some states, the owner of the establishment may also receive a citation.

So does news spread around the area when age compliance checks are done? When the police do their checks, especially those who are doing it at random and not checking every establishment, do the bartenders and liquor store clerks notify each other? As Dr. Erickson and associates said:

Underage alcohol compliance checks conducted by law enforcement agencies can reduce the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales at checked alcohol establishments, and theory suggests that an alcohol establishment that is checked may warn nearby establishments that compliance checks are being conducted in the area. In this study, we examined whether the effects of compliance checks diffuse to neighboring establishments.

They used data from a previous study, which included more than 2,000 checks at more than 900 establishments. They used a multi-level logistic regression to “model the effect of a compliance check at each establishment as well as the effect of compliance checks at neighboring establishments within 500 m (stratified into four equal-radius concentric rings), after buyer, license, establishment, and community-level variables were controlled for.

In the end, they found that it was less likely that establishments would sell alcohol to underage youth after they had been checked, but that this effect decayed over time. More importantly, they found that of the stores and bars that were checked within 90 days, their alcohol-selling neighbors within 125 meters were also less likely to sell alcohol to youthful buyers. But they observed that those effects also decayed with distance — that is, the farther away a store was, the more likely they were to still sell alcohol to youthful-looking customers.

Alcohol-selling establishments that fail alcohol age compliance checks several times are in danger of losing their license, and in some states, the owners can be hit with citations and fines as well. Liquor store chains and bars that want to make sure their staff are complying with alcohol sales laws can work with Measure CP to run surprise mystery shopping checks. This will help you make sure you’re in compliance with the laws and find areas for additional training.

And local law enforcement agencies that would like to organize their own alcohol compliance checks can work with Measure CP to find youthful-looking professional shoppers, as well as to administer and tabulate all of the results of the compliance checks, leaving you to manage the actual enforcement.

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Underage alcohol consumption has become such a problem in the last couple decades that it is now a public health issue, and one that Measure CP can help local law enforcement agencies monitor.

A 2014 study, “Current Use of Underage Alcohol Compliance Checks by Enforcement Agencies in the U.S.” found that age compliance checks at liquor stores and convenience stores actually did curb illegal alcohol sales.

Alcohol compliance check sign from Utah. It says "No one under the age of 21 is permitted to enter this store unless accompanied by a parent or spouse of legal age."

Liquor store sign in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Daren Erickson and other researchers from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota conducted a national survey in 2010-2011 to measure how many law enforcement agencies were conducting underage alcohol compliance checks, and how many used optimal methods “including checking all establishments in the jurisdiction, conducting checks at least 3–4 times per year, conducting follow-up checks within 3 months, and penalizing the licensee (not only the server/clerk) for failing a compliance check.” They also wanted to determine some of the characteristics of agencies that performed these checks.

The group received responses from 1,082 local law enforcement agencies, and found the following:

  • 26% of them had at least one full-time agent assigned to work specifically on alcohol-related issues.
  • 7% of them had an alcohol-related division.
  • 94% of them indicated that underage drinking was “somewhat or very common” in their jurisdiction.
  • Only 35% of local law enforcement agencies reported conducting compliance checks.
  • Of those agencies performing checks, 55% reported checking all alcohol establishments, but 28% reported checking randomly selected establishments.
  • One third of agencies conducted checks annually, one fourth checked twice per year, and one fourth checked 3 – 4 times per year.
  • Finally, 76% did follow-up checks when an establishment failed an earlier compliance check.

They also measured some of the state-by-state comparisons and found:

  • In 47% of the states, both the state and local law enforcement agencies were responsible for enforcing alcohol retail laws.
  • In 39%, the state agencies alone had primary responsibility for alcohol retail enforcement.
  • 18% of the agencies (9 total) indicated that illegal alcohol sales were very common in their state.
  • 76% of the agencies with the authority to conduct alcohol compliance checks did so.
  • 24% conducted compliance checks almost yearly, and 21% conducted them 3 – 4 times per year.
  • Of the agencies that conducted compliance checks, 94% of them conducted follow-up checks of any kind.

Of course, things may have changed in the seven or so years since the surveys were first done. Did the numbers go up or down? Are there more alcohol compliance checks or fewer? What about the number of local law enforcement agencies that have, or don’t have, a full-time person dedicated to alcohol-related issues.

This is one area where Measure CP can help local law enforcement agencies. We have a vast network of mystery shoppers who can help with alcohol age compliance checks (as well as tobacco compliance checks), whether departments want to hire us to recruit shoppers or even work with us to coordinate a compliance check campaign.

We can coordinate with shoppers throughout a city or even a state and reach our shoppers via a mobile app, so information can come in a standardized format and in real time.

This can help reduce your workload, letting you focus more time on actual enforcement, while we handle the administrative aspect of the work, including paying shoppers, handling their taxes, and other details normally handled by the law enforcement personnel.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us, and one of our alcohol compliance check specialists can help you further.

Photo credit: Cory Doctorow (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Protecting investments comes in many forms. For hospitality and dining, ensuring identification and compliance checks are constantly safeguarding liquor licenses provides continuity in catering to patrons’ needs and hitting sales targets. All too often, establishments serving alcohol fail to recognize that training bartenders and servers with real world scenarios helps prep them for stings and audits, preventing unnecessary fines.

While training programs define company cultures and expectations, those can be difficult for management to observe and verify in high-volume locations or when staffing is light. Even seasoned employees make errors. Having a second set of eyes providing training feedback and giving age compliance insights can help businesses stay compliant with state and federal laws. Utilizing objective outside resources can capture the guest experience and verify compliance.

Instead of only having state alcohol compliance checks alerting you about deficiencies, launching internal age compliance checks provides you with another channel for identifying opportunities before they become penalties. By giving your business a buffer and additional layer of insights, you can identify training gaps and prescribe a remedy before encountering a costly mistake. Having a system in place to verify follow-up, action, and resolution are equally essential and should work in tandem with your program.

In addition to internal alcohol compliance checks, tighten the cork by confirming that measured pours are happening without losses and inventory depletion. While maintaining a liquor license is critical, verifying pour accuracy can prevent unnecessary waste and make sure patrons receive a properly prepared beverage. Over-pouring can add up quickly, resulting in unexpected shrink.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

What is brand protection, and why is it important? First, let’s discuss what your brand is. A brand, according to the American Marketing Association, is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” By the definition alone, it is easy to see why a company’s brand is important. Your brand is what defines you, and what sets you apart from your competition.

Brand protection, therefore, is just another way to build on the success of your business. Think of brand protection as identity theft protection – just as you don’t want a stranger stealing your identity and damaging your personal reputation and finances, you also don’t want your competition stealing your ideas or your image and using it to their advantage, or finding ways to damage your business. Strong, effective brand protection means that you – and only you – are in control of your brand image.SONY DSC

Protecting your brand should be an important aspect of your overall business model, regardless of the size of your company. Small to medium-sized business owners may think that they are not at risk of brand issues, when in fact the opposite is true. It’s as you are building and refining your brand that it is most susceptible to someone damaging the brand – especially companies who are your competitors, and who view your brand as a threat to their own success. Brand protection is as important at this stage of your company’s growth as it is in your long-term future. After all, consider the time and money that you have put into building brand awareness for your company. If another company steals your ideas, or misappropriates your image to their advantage, you should not be flattered. Instead, you should consider the large potential financial loss that your competitor’s brand theft represents, and you should take steps to strengthen your brand protection.

In today’s digital world, online brand protection is crucial. There are many things that you can do to secure your brand image, including filing for a trademark for anything that is unique to your company’s goods or services.A trademark will give you strong legal grounds against anyone who attempts to make money off of anything that is extremely similar to yours. Copywriting your website, marketing materials, and anything else that has to do with how your company is represented is another way you can strengthen your brand protection.

Another way to bolster your brand protection is to register your website domain name and any other iterations of your domain name that are similar to your organization. This goes for website domains that end in .com, .net and .org as well. Believe it or not, there are individuals out there who will buy domain names they think they can sell for a lot of money in the future. Do not be at the mercy of these individuals. Instead, take charge of your brand protection now, and this will protect your business not only now, but in the future as well.

One easy way to get an unbiased look at your company’s online performance and brand representation is to set up Google alerts. With Google alerts, you can be notified on a regular basis whenever a website or news venue mentions a specific product or name. By setting up alerts for your company name, domain name, and any goods or services which are uniquely provided by your business, you’re keeping an eye out for infractions on your brand. If you set up Google alerts, keep in mind that a person or company who is interested in stealing your ideas is most likely not going to use the exact same phrases that you do. So, set up Google alerts for similar company names, goods, and services to yours, in addition to your own specific alerts. This way, you’ll get a full picture of how your brand is represented online, and where your threats are coming from.Successful Business People Showing Thumbs Up.

Online reputation management is an important part of brand protection, and should not be overlooked.Because we live in a digital world, your reputation online is your reputation, period. If your business does not seem viable online, customers will not believe that it is viable in person. There are many things business owners can do to manage, protect, and build the company’s online reputation. The most important thing to do is to create your own content and optimized social media profiles, and make sure your online information is updated on a regular basis. Having a regularly maintained company blog helps with this, as well. Frequently updating your content with optimized keywords will aid in pushing any offending content that appears in search engine results down to the later pages in Google and other search engine results. By following the basics such as creating your own web domains, establishing a strong online presence, updating your social media profiles, blog, and website with new content on a regular basis, and setting up Google alerts will help you manage your online reputation and strengthen your brand protection.

If you want to maintain a high level of control over your brand, you must take steps to keep an eye out for intellectual property theft. Business owners are incredibly busy, and brand protection and intellectual property laws can be complicated and time-consuming to understand and monitor. It may be a good idea to consider hiring a third-party firm who can help you keep tabs on everything that comes with brand protection. After all, there are many tasks that must be completed when it comes to full brand protection. Monitoring threats, understanding if another organization is a threat or is misusing your image, and knowing how your organization is represented online are all important tasks that cannot be overlooked. Seeking the help of a professional can often be beneficial because you have an expert on your side who knows what threats are worth paying attention to, and how to best protect your business in the event that your intellectual property is being stolen or misused..

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Mystery shopping is essentially a mirror which reflects the reality of front-line customer interaction and how the company brand is interpreted by the customer. For small to medium-sized businesses especially, building a brand can be difficult and takes a lot of time. There are many things that play into building a brand – everything from your logo to your signage to your employees’ uniforms. There’s even more to consider when you think about how your brand image is created and interpreted in the minds of your customers. A mystery shopping program can help you determine if your brand is being projected correctly.

Mystery shopping programs can help you discover a variety of things that would be incredibly difficult to find out on your own. For example, let’s say that your business has multiple. Building a strong brand image requires there to be consistency between all your locations in the appearance of your stores and in the attitudes of your staff. It may be difficult for you to determine if this is the case if you are working on your own. Deploying a mystery shopping program can provide the unbiased experts you need to ensure your high standards are being met company-wide.

For example, a mystery shopping program can examine questions such as: Do the locations of your business look consistent from store to store? When a customer walks into one location then visits another at a later date, are they greeted with a welcoming, professional attitude each time? Do your employees across all locations dress in the appropriate uniforms and attire, and do they follow the same rules of decorum expected of all staff? A mystery shopping program can identify the answers to all of these questions, and more. And perhaps more importantly, a mystery shopping program will use questions like these, and a plethora of other questions, to determine if your brand standards are being met aesthetically in your stores as well as in the attitude of your staff.

Mystery shopping can help reinforce a company's brand image.If you are interested in measuring your brand image over time, consider employing a mystery shopping program on a yearly basis. The first step in this process would be to work with your mystery shopping program to identify what is successful about your business and what areas need work in order to increase sales. Then, on a yearly basis moving forward, the same things would be analyzed in order to measure improvement. As your mystery shopping program helps you build your brand, your sales will build as well.

A primary benefit of working with a mystery shopping program is that mystery shoppers see what you are not able to, and experience your company from the customer perspective. In order to build and protect your brand image, it is important to communicate with customers in the ways that work best for them. Mystery shopping can help you find ways to engage your target audience so that you can keep existing customers and find new audiences too.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Has your business ever used a mystery shopper? If not, now may be the time to see what a mystery shopper can do for your business. A well-trained mystery shopper provides insights into how customers see and interact with your business. Measure CP was founded as a mystery shopping company. While our services have expanded beyond mystery shopping alone, providing businesses with mystery shopper services is something that will always be a part of our company.

Is your business performing well? If not, what do you need to do to improve? And, if your business is performing well, there are still likely ways you can build upon your current growth. One of the many aspects of your business that a mystery shopper can help you analyze is how your business sales are affected by your employee’s performance.

If you are a business owner or manager, your employees are likely on their best behavior when you are nearby. Additionally, perhaps there are aspects of employee performance, such as the way employees are trained to approach a customer, that could be improved upon. A mystery shopper can discover these issues and help your business make improvements that drive sales.

Mystery shopping can help discover your employee performance strengths and weaknesses.A Measure CP mystery shopper is highly trained and incredibly observant.

By following our proven methods, mystery shoppers identify any potential issues with employee performance, employee behavior and demeanor, and anything else that may influence a customer to buy or to walk away. Through our successful mystery shopping program, Measure CP successfully measures your company’s processes and protocols.

We will determine how your customers interact with your employees, and whether these interactions are producing actual sales. If there is room for improvement in the way that your employees project your brand and interact with customers, we will identify the opportunities available. We also go the extra mile to suggest tactics for putting these ideas into practice.

Stellar employee performance is crucial to the success of your business. But are employee interactions with customers driving sales? The Measure CP mystery shopping program discovers what is truly driving customers to make a purchase, improving your employees’ performance and in turn driving sales for your business.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

A brand audit can help companies of all types and sizes better communicate with their customers. Especially when a company experiences rapid growth, “good enough” takes the place of “perfect” in terms of getting something out the door. If this is the case for your company, perhaps it is time for a brand audit.

A brand audit looks at your company’s outgoing communications, with a critical eye to detail. Whether you realize it or not, the communication going out to the public or to vendors cover a huge range, and absolutely every piece plays a role in communicating your brand. A brand audit examines everything your company creates: proposals, press releases, the company website, sales flyers, and more. The brand audit then finds answers to questions such as: Are all outgoing communications effectively communicating the company’s brand image? Is the logo modern, and does your company tagline communicate the organization’s value proposition? A brand audit can help you answer all these questions.

The purpose of a brand audit is to determine if the message your company is sending to employees, vendors, and customers is the right message, and if it is being communicated effectively. Brand audits also take a look at compliance issues within your particular industry, ensuring that your company is meeting standard benchmarks and following industry guidelines where appropriate. The primary goal of a brand audit is to help your organization communicate with customers consistently and effectively – which in turn will help your company create scalable growth.

Brand AuditThat is why performing a brand audit is not just for big companies. Small to medium sized businesses have the most to gain from performing a brand audit. If your organization is experiencing rapid growth, and if you hope to keep growing at the same or even a faster rate, a brand audit may be a crucial aspect of your marketing plan. In order to ensure your organization is getting the best return on investment possible from your marketing and communications efforts, it is of utmost importance that all aspects of the brand are in alignment. If your brochures, advertisements, and website fail to give customers the same impression, this can truly impede opportunities for growth and brand recognition. Performing a brand audit ensures that your organization can move forward with a consistent, modern approach that increases customer loyalty and expands awareness of your brand.

Large companies may perform brand audits from time to time to ensure that globally, there is consistency in how the brand is communicated. Language translations, advertising standards worldwide, and trends that change from country to country can all impact a brand’s consistency and effectiveness. Brand audits ensure that large-scale marketing problems are kept under control. Small to medium sized companies face similar issues to a large organization, but on a different scale. Perhaps dealing with global trends in advertising isn’t an issue yet for your organization – but as your organization grows, issues like this may not be far off. Performing a brand audit in the early stages of your company’s growth ensures that your company reaches customers as effectively as possible as you expand your brand.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Understanding the customer perspective is crucial to a business’ success. A business owner may train staff to offer the best possible customer experience, and the store may be in excellent physical condition. However, it can be very difficult to know your customers are taking note of your knowledgeable staff and impeccable store, and if those factors are positively impacting the customer perspective. This is where mystery shoppers come in.

Using mystery shoppers can help you gain a candid, detailed view of your business’s customer perspective. Mystery shoppers help business owners and managers understand what is happening in real time at their company. Using the insight and research gathered a mystery shopper can help you obtain actionable insights into what the customer perspective of your business is, and how it can be improved.

Understanding a business' customer perspective can help you understand their decision making processFor example, do you know if your employees are truly evangelizing your brand? Is your staff trained to properly elevate issues they aren’t familiar with handling on a daily basis? Mystery shoppers are experienced in analyzing the customer perspective of your business. They are able to determine areas of strength and weakness, discover where profits and losses are coming from, and more.

A mystery shopper or auditor plays a crucial role in evaluating the customer service experience, brand immersion experience, and the overall consumer perspective for your business. Mystery shoppers come from all backgrounds and walks of life and are highly trained to gather intelligence on the metrics that matter most when it comes to getting all your customers to have a positive outlook on your business. If changes in the way your business looks or operates need to be made, a mystery shopping firm can recommend not only what changes to make but how to make those changes so that your bottom line is positively impacted. Mystery shopping programs include traditional in-person mystery shoppers, telephone mystery shoppers, and website mystery shoppers. As a business owner or manager, you will get a full analysis of the customer perspective on all aspects of your business, so you will know exactly what is working well and what needs improvement in order to boost your business.

You may feel as if you have trained your employees to properly evaluate a customer’s needs, but are your staff members truly prepared to handle any customer? It’s impossible for a business owner or operator to get an unbiased view of the customer perspective on their own. But a mystery shopper can help you gain the unbiased view you’re looking for, so you know if the work you’re doing is truly making a positive impact on the customer perspective of your business. If you have recently been wondering what the customer perspective of your business is and how it might be improved, a mystery shopping program may be an excellent next step to help you actively pursue business growth.

Photo credit: Khemkaeng (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Brand auditing is a crucial method for rapidly growing businesses that may be struggling with consistency in regards to brand perception. Brand auditing provides a clear perspective of how well a company’s brand is performing and how exactly the brand is presented to customers by employees, franchisees, and even third-party vendors.

If your goal is to create and maintain consistency between your corporate office and your franchisees, a brand audit is an excellent place to start. You may have a general feeling of how your brand is accepted in the marketplace, but if you want to gain clearer insight into how franchisee growth is affecting your brand, brand auditing is an important step for your business.

Brand AuditingBrand auditing can be performed transparently or covertly, depending on the needs of your business and what you hope to accomplish. In many situations, a covert brand audit may be more beneficial to your business because the auditors will discover how your employees and franchisees communicate your brand and your brand’s principals when no one is looking. It is impossible for a business owner to be everywhere at once, so hiring an unbiased outside firm to perform the brand audit is of key importance to understanding how your brand is being projected by franchisees. That way, you can focus on running your business, and the brand auditing firm can focus on analyzing the perception of your brand. A third party firm can also likely provide a less biased brand audit than an internal employee may provide.A third party firm is motivated by the goal of identifying opportunities for growth and development of your brand, whereas an internal employee may be motivated by one metric over another, as opposed to what is in the best interest of the brand.

Brand auditing helps keep your franchises consistent is that it identifies any discrepancies facing the business from a positioning perspective. Brand auditing takes into account aspects of sales and marketing such as pricing and promotional offers, finding any inconsistencies that exist between franchisees and corporate requirements. After all, if two franchisees are offering different sale prices on the same items, this could speak to a larger brand issue and affect how your company is perceived in the marketplace by consumers and competitors alike. Brand auditing finds these issues and fixes them, creating consistency across all franchisees.

Brand auditing also serves to identify how your brand is performing against competitors. In the case of franchisees, some franchisees may be competing in nearby or similar markets, so this creates an additional level of competition. Brand auditing helps to ensure that customers from one franchise are not being cannibalized by another franchise. Brand auditing examines franchise-to-franchise relationships in addition to outside competitor relationships, and an effective brand audit will help franchises work with one another to grow markets overall.

When your business follows a franchise model, it is crucial that franchises are consistent in their offerings and presentation of the brand. Brand auditing helps ensure that your business is consistently presented, helping to grow and strengthen your brand.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

A brand audit can help give you a peace of mind. How is this so? Well, if you are a member of a large company and franchise, be it a clothing store, department store or restaurant chain is it not of critical importance to maintain brand consistency across all stores in each state, even country?

A mystery shopping agency with brand audit services, like Measure CP, can help you make certain your brand is being portrayed and perceived how you want it to be.

Measure CP will send in one of its professionals to perform the brand audit.  He or she will evaluate many aspects of your business, in particular, the way in which your brand is positioned and how your clients perceive it.  It is entirely necessary to discover whether or not your brand is being positioned properly so your store can stay on the same page or level as the rest in your franchise.

Brand AuditWhat makes companies such as Nike, Nordstrom’s, Chipotle or Porsche so successful? In large part, it is their brand.

People recognize the Nike Swoosh and the Porsche sigil; they trust Nordstrom’s and Chipotle’s customer service and quality.  Their brand is a combination of marketing collateral, a consistent logo and customer service and quality.

Customers will return to franchises and companies such as these because they trust the brand. They have no doubts as to what they will get when they walk into the doors of one of these companies’ stores.

A brand audit will help get you that kind of trust and loyalty. Measure CP’s auditors will come to your locations and assess the personality, position, and perception of your brand inside and outside of your store, giving you the needed information to make changes, and bring your business to a position where each customer will learn to trust your brand.

Keeping a brand consistent will take advertising and marketing a long way, and with a Measure CP brand audit, you’ll be able to identify any problems quickly and easily.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

A brand audit can give a company a clear understanding of what their customers see when they enter a store, visit a website, or interact with a company’s employees. But this is different from a mystery shop, because for one thing, the shopper isn’t secret. They can be out in the open, checking items off on their clipboard or mobile phone, and looking for a company’s strengths and weaknesses in its brand messaging. Here are a few brand audit basics we always look for.

Measure CP’s audit services give clear insight into how a brand displays to customers by the company’s employees, resellers and franchisees. A brand audit through Measure CP’s program reveals whether a company’s money spent on advertising, marketing and operations is working correctly, out on the streets, to convey the company’s brand in the way it wants to be seen.

Understand these brand audit basics Instead of taking the time and money to send one of your own employees, why not hire a brand auditor to send into your facilities? Whether your company is in the health and fitness, hospitality and food industry, the hair care, salon and spa category, or the retail and shopping business, you will want to know if your company’s brand is perceived, or not, the way you have planned. A brand audit will give you that capability.

A trained brand auditor will be sent to your facilities with a checklist for both the front of the house and behind the scenes. The checklists impart an analysis of your business’ marketing and advertising, as well as the operations behind the front desk. Our brand audit services also include compliance audits for regulated businesses, including age compliance related to alcohol and tobacco sales, marketing message compliance and fair housing compliance issues. And our brand package can also include other in-town and online properties in the area.

Knowing if your store, hotel, salon, gym, or restaurant is branded correctly is critical, but so is knowing if your brand is permeating the world beyond your storefront through proper advertising and marketing. It’s important that your logo and company name are being used correctly inside and outside the house in order to portray your image in the best possible light. Covering these brand audit basics will ensure that everything is running according to the company’s marketing plan.

You can learn more about our brand auditing services on our website, or you can contact us for more information.

Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

While both brand audits and mystery shops help a company or corporation expose its weaknesses and strengths, the holes in its operations and the areas that need improvement, a brand audit asks a shopper to go deeper.

As a brand auditor, you will be asked to delve into more than just the setting, cleanliness and customer-employee interaction; you will be given a checklist, which will prompt you to evaluate and analyze everything from the appearance of the logo and marketing collateral within the store to the positioning, perception and reputation of the brand out in the field to the employee interactions and knowledge to the basics of compliance rules and more.  Now, that does not mean you are under qualified or that it will be too difficult for you. It simply means you will be asked to go above and beyond a typical mystery shop, while performing a brand audit.

Brand audits versus mystery shopsBrand audits look further into the marketing elements, brand structure and differentiators, the brand’s personality, and position inside and outside the storefront.  On the other hand, a mystery shopper is asked to look more at the topical, physical aspects. Some examples are customer service, overall environment, tidiness and sanitation of the store, and clients’ responses to their experience in general.

The following are some of the basic differences between brand audits and mystery shops:

Overt or Covert

Unlike mystery shops, brand audits can be either overt or covert.  Brand auditors will usually go into the store, office, hotel, gym or restaurant and make themselves known to the employees and managers before they continue on with their audit.  There is a possibility that the auditor will be undercover and equipped with microphones and video cameras just as a mystery shopper is during his or her shop.

The Checklist

Brand audits require auditors to look at a whole array of specific items; on the other hand, mystery shoppers are asked to evaluate their experience across the board with the employees, services, and atmosphere. The checklist will guide the auditor through the process, so nothing is left untouched.

Dive In Deeper

Mystery shoppers typically report on their experience, while brand auditors look at marketing strategy and budgeting, brand positioning in and out of store, the personality of the brand, what makes this brand unique and different, how the logo looks, and the particular qualities of the brand.  All of these components are listed in the checklist, so auditors have no need to worry about missing some aspect of their brand audits.  In addition to the marketing and positioning of the brand, brand auditors may be asked to perform compliance audits, which include age compliance in relation to the selling of tobacco and alcohol, marketing messaging compliance and fair housing compliance.

Despite the differences and the deeper level of analysis required by brand audits, together mystery shops and brand audits can help a company make necessary changes and build its strengths.


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Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

If anyone needs a brand audit, it is the hospitality industry. For large, upscale hotel chains, there are so many places where the hotel’s brand is visible, it is difficult for the marketing department and hotel staff to keep track of it all.

For example, a downtown hotel near a city’s shopping district or convention center is sure to draw a lot of traffic, especially at peak times. But what are visitors to the hotel seeing when they enter the building? What about in the rooms?

Inside the building is usually not an issue: hotels are very good about making sure everything is properly labeled and branded throughout the building. If there is one thing hotels know, it is how to brand themselves inside.

Galt House in Louisville, KY

Galt House in Louisville, KY

But what about throughout the city? There are posters and flyers, ads in local magazines, logos on menus of nearby restaurants, coupons, and more online marketing collateral than most people are aware of. They need to know where their brand is being used, possibly without permission. This is where a brand audit can help.

Hotels can work with a mystery shopping agency that provides brand audit services as a way to monitor all the places where their brand is being used or misused. A mystery shopper can attend a conference, visit different restaurants, and even monitor online mentions on behalf of the central office. Rather than having an already-overworked marketing staff try to do their own brand audit, which needs to be an ongoing venture, they can work with the mystery shopping agency to do regular checks on their behalf.

What about in smaller cities, where the hotels are often independently-owned franchises? This is a little more difficult, since many larger chains have hundreds, if not thousands, of franchisees in the world. A brand audit would be next to impossible for the staff to perform.

Again, this is where the mystery shopping agency can help. They have shoppers throughout the world who can perform a brand audit on all the properties, ensuring all the branding is being used properly.

A brand audit is usually done publicly, unlike regular mystery shopping, which is a secret. The shopper is anonymous, and does not make himself or herself known to the staff. But in a brand audit, the shopper can show up, checklist in hand, and check off the different categories to make sure the franchisee is following all the requirements and using the marketing collateral properly. A brand audit can also cover the different in-town and online properties in the surrounding area, and can often be done as part of the same package.

Hotels need to protect their own brand image, to make sure that their franchisees are displaying the proper information, and that the company name and logo are being used properly outside of the hotel. A brand audit can help the marketing department ensure everything is in order.

Photo credit: CC Chapman (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Corporations should make brand protection an integral part of their sports sponsorship packages, not only as a way to make sure their brand integrity is maintained, but to ensure the teams and events being sponsored are meeting their obligations of the sponsorship contract.

Large corporations will often be involved in several sports sponsorships, as well as many high dollar sponsorship packages. Consider what goes into sponsoring an NFL team, a motor sports team, or even an entire sporting event. Often hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent per year on a single team or event.

A London Underground train decorated to promot...

A London Underground train decorated to promote London’s Olympic bid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, anyone who watches the Indianapolis 500 this weekend will notice several things related to sponsorships:

  • Everything has a name — the Izod IndyCar series, for example.
  • There are sponsor names on a driver’s car and his or her firesuit. Some spots on the car and suit have more value than others — side pods on the car, and larger sponsor patches up near the driver’s face, as well as the driver’s hat.
  • The drivers will use the name of the sponsors and their cars, like James Hinchcliffe referring to “the number 27 GoDaddy car” in interviews.

While teams will do everything they can to honor their sponsorship agreement, the companies still need brand protection to make sure that the agreement is followed exactly. An agency that specializes in brand protection can monitor whether a team has placed their logos in the correct places, is using them properly, and not overusing them or misusing them.

A brand protection agency can also police a sporting event to make sure that sponsor messages aren’t being overused or misused. In fact, the 2012 London Olympics actually hand “brand police” provide sponsor and brand protection, by making sure someone wasn’t misusing the Olympics name, or sneaking in sponsorship messages when they weren’t allowed.

The brand protection agency can even provide auditing documents when the event is over, or on regular intervals of the contract, to help ensure all aspects of the contract are being properly followed.

Corporate sports sponsorship is an important marketing investment. To be sure companies are getting their return on investment, they need to work with an agency to make sure everything is being done properly. A brand protection agency can provide the necessary documentation and support to help corporations know their obligations are being met.

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Brand Protection

Can Mystery Shopping Save Casual and Fast Casual Dining

Brand protection and anti-counterfeiting are necessary for luxury brands that often fall prey to fakes and knockoffs being sold by street vendors, illegal websites, and from boxes that mysteriously “fell off a truck.”

The problem is, these knockoffs are being sold as the real deal, which ultimately dilutes the value of the luxury brand. Brand protection is something these companies — Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, and many others — take very seriously. They pride themselves on the quality and relative scarcity of the product, which is how they can demand higher prices.

Counterfeit designer shirts on display. This is where brand protection can help brands protect their intellectual property and designs, as well as their brand name.

English: Counterfeit designer shirts on display at a flea market. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But if counterfeit versions of their products are being sold at a fraction of the price, and are shoddily made, this can also ruin the reputation and image of the real brands, since counterfeiters are often trying to pass their knockoffs as the real thing.

While it’s illegal to sell counterfeit products, some of the knockoff products are becoming so good and convincing, some stores are even convinced of their authenticity. Rather than being sold at a fraction of the price, these goods are being sold to stores as the real thing. The problem is, they discover the products weren’t real in the first place.

Other times, there may be less-than-reputable store owners who are knowingly selling knockoffs — a recent case in Illinois saw the arrest of two women selling knockoff purses on a website.

Many luxury good manufacturers are hiring mystery shopping agencies like Measure CP for brand protection. They hire us to send mystery shoppers to the various stores and websites to check out the products and make sure they’re the real ones. The brand protection efforts help them identify counterfeiters and companies that sell them. It helps them keep the counterfeit goods from cutting into their sales margins and diluting their brand.

Brand protection is necessary for manufacturers whose products are sold all over the world, where it’s difficult to keep track of where they end up. By using mystery shoppers for brand protection, they can better control their reputation and their image.

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