Neuroscience Explains Franchise Success

Franchising and the brain

Nowadays in almost every mainstream magazine there is an article about the brain. The new found popularity of neuroscience is helping us learn and explain how and why we do the things we do. New brain paradigms are transforming the way we see ourselves and others, and also opening up new frontiers for our growth and learning. And, good news comes with this new knowledge, especially for the world of franchising.

Intuitively and experientially we know the franchising model works; after all, it has been proven many times. Today, however, brain science helps us explain scientifically why franchising is such a successful model and shows us how many of its premises may have been ahead of its time. Here are few examples:

Franchising and Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to create new connections that allow us to change and learn regardless of age. Neuroplasticity is a fairly new concept–a paradigm of the 20th century. Only in the last 20 years or so has this concept become a hot topic and replaced the long-held belief that after a certain age our brains couldn’t change.

The idiom “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” arose from the conviction that we all reached a point when our brains became rigid and started to decline; and, that meant we couldn’t learn new things. Franchising didn’t buy this now outdated belief. In fact, franchising is based in the idea that we can take people of any age or background and teach them how to operate a successful and proven business. Furthermore, the average age of most people buying a franchise coincides with the decline of the brain under the obsolete paradigm.

Standards of Operation and the Brain

One key to successful franchising is the use of standards of operation as the foundation of the system.  As it turns out, there are many brain-based reasons why this element of franchising produces such positive results. We’ll cover two here; one relating directly to franchisees and their staff and the other concerning customers of franchise outlets.

  • The Hebbian Axiom states that neurons that “fire together wire together”; this simply means that, when we repeat a thought or an action, we strengthen those particular brain cell connections. We create superhighways that make tasks easier and easier to accomplish every time we do them. In other words, repetition creates brain speed and efficiency which are beneficial in any business venture. There are many ways to make a burger, to serve a customer, to tutor a child, or to cut hair, but for each franchise system offering these products or services, there is only their way–their standard. Having consistent procedures for every activity of the business helps franchisees and staff members replicate successful results.
  • Standardization is perhaps not the preference of more artistic or creative people, yet for the rest of us our brains crave it. In fact, when something changes in our environment or when our expectations are not met, the discrepancy is processed by our brains as an error that generates a stress response which is unpleasant. The opposite is also true. The standards of operation and the consistency of franchising produce a pleasant feeling of safety since no error is detected by the brain of customers. All is good when things are the same; at least, as far as the brain is concerned. This feeling keeps customers going back to those franchise locations and produces the brand loyalty experienced in franchising.

Being in Business for Yourself but Not By Yourself and the Brain

Franchising is often defined as “being in business for yourself, but not by yourself”. This definition has two powerful brain implications. First, as David Rock has reported in his books and articles,  a sense of autonomy activates our brain reward center. Avoidance and disengagement occur when a lack of independence is perceived by our brains, triggering the danger-avoidance response. On the other hand, a sense of autonomy helps the brain to more easily engage in cognitive functions resulting in higher performance levels and a sense of happiness and satisfaction.  Franchising provides a level of self-sufficiency and autonomy not found when we work for someone else. Even when there are operating guidelines to follow, franchisees have the power to make daily business decisions which provides them with the level of autonomy that allows their brains to focus on meeting their goals and objectives.

The second part of the previous definition speaks to the sense of community and family inherent in franchising. Franchisees are not alone; upon joining a franchise company they gain a new social network that is unlike any other business relations. Franchisees quickly find that other franchisees are not competitors but allies; they care about each other’s success; they are supportive and giving. Our brains are constantly scanning the environment and cataloging people as friends or foes. That’s just part of our survival instinct that kept us alive eons ago.  So when franchisees discover they have gained many new friends, it provides them with the feeling of safety needed for engagement and performance. Moreover, the social aspects of belonging to a franchise network strengthen this sense of safety craved by most of us. In his book, Social, Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter. Franchising provides a way to connect with other people who we consider friends, and the support system of most franchise organizations reassures the brain that all is well.

Although franchising benefits from its intuitive use of many brain science principles, we still have much to learn. Groundbreaking research and findings are becoming more accessible every day.  This information can help franchisors immensely to improve relationships with franchisees, create higher performance levels, reduce ramp-up time and ensure franchisee success system-wise. The more franchisors learn about neuroscience, the better equipped they will be to assist franchisees achieve the success they desire which will result in their own success. Likewise franchisees who become versed in these new scientific principles will more easily achieve their objectives while becoming happier and more fulfilled.

Stay tuned for more information on how you too can use brain science to create the franchise success you seek.



  1. Mike Scheerer says

    Lizette, great article!

  2. Tim Mariner says

    Greatly informative. One can see a lot of parallels between this information and the processes used by some of the more successful Franchises.

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