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Franchise Marketing in a Digital World: The Ultimate Strategy Guide
As a franchise owner, chances are you’ve run into some trouble with your marketing plans—specifically your digital marketing plans.
It’s not an uncommon challenge—in fact, franchise marketing is one of the tougher nuts to crack in the online marketing world.
You’ve not only got franchise marketing on the corporate level, you’ve got franchisees who all have their own local issues, goals, and marketing strategies.
Luckily for you, franchise marketing is one of Blue Corona’s specialties. Not only have we helped franchisees and franchisors navigate the waters of digital marketing, but we’ve also gotten them such great results, we can share them in case studies.
In this post, we’ll deliver the toughest franchisor and franchisee marketing obstacles and how our franchise digital marketing team overcomes them, along with quick wins to help boost your online marketing presence and give your marketing strategy a kick-start.
I know I need help with my strategy. I want to contact you and get started! >>
What Is Franchise Marketing?
Franchise marketing refers to having a branded online marketing strategy for each individual franchise location underneath a broad corporate strategy. Differences in market area, weather, population demographics, and local competition are all obstacles in franchise marketing, which is why you need specific digital marketing plans for each location.
Traditionally, franchise marketing included platforms such as print advertising, TV advertising, radio, direct mail, and PR. In today’s digital age, that’s expanded to the online realm, where the top contenders are SEO, PPC, social media, video, and local search engine marketing. This shift to digital is where many franchises have trouble because of all the nuances surrounding correct NAP (name, address, phone number) citations.
For example, a franchisee client of ours relied on the corporate site to generate local leads. To increase their online presence and capture even more local leads, our client was interested in creating and marketing a website of their own. However, they were worried that doing so would simply cannibalize the leads that consistently came in through the corporate efforts.
From January 2013 through May 2015, organic visits to the website increased 4,900 percent. You can read the entire franchise marketing case study to see our approach, but we successfully implemented franchise digital marketing to differentiate our client from corporate, track where new leads were coming from, and create a data-driven strategy to move forward.
What Should a Local Franchise Marketing Strategy Look Like?
Almost every article I’ve seen on this topic gives you some BS canned list on how to make a marketing strategy.
We’re not doing that here.
If you want to learn how to actually map out and make a base-level marketing strategy, we’ve got a great infographic on that exact topic. We’ve also got blog posts devoted to crafting a marketing strategy, including one I wrote on how to improve your digital marketing strategy over the weekend. Looking for a wider picture? Entrepreneur published a wonderfully simple breakdown of the umbrella strategy for an overall franchise marketing plan, and you can find it here.
No, in this post I’m going to roll my sleeves up and give you:
- A ground-level, in-the-trenches guide to digital marketing essentials for franchises and how to use them
- Real-world examples of problems franchisees and franchisors face with their digital marketing strategy
- How to overcome them
Online Marketing Channels for Franchises
First, no matter if you’re a franchisee or franchisor, you’ve got to understand your digital marketing platforms. Below are the top digital marketing channels available:
- Search engine marketing
- Your website
- Social media, including video
- Pay-per-click advertising, both display and search
- Email marketing
- Analytics and reporting
Only you will be able to tell where your franchise needs the most help and which channel would be best for you. For example, a frozen yogurt franchise may benefit more from social media than a cloud computing franchise would.
Below, we’ll dive a bit deeper into these channels, where you’ll find obstacles (both for franchisees and franchisors) and best practices to overcome them.
Franchise Marketing: Search Engine Marketing (SEM or SEO)
Search engine optimization is crucial for franchises, no matter if you’re a franchisee or franchisor. When someone searches for your service in Google, Bing, or any other search engine, they’re primed and ready to see your content. The goal with SEO is to get you as high in the search engine results page as possible.
And we’re not talking about ranking tenth or even fifth—we need to get you in one of the top three spots or else you may as well be throwing your money out a window. In fact, 55 percent of searchers click on a website in the top three spots.
Four things are required to rank well organically for all of your franchise locations:
- You need (volumes of) unique, relevant, and remarkable content. Your content must provide value to your visitors and answer the questions implied by their search query.
- You need a website that is coded and structured in a way that makes it easy for the search engines to find, read, and index.
- Your overall web presence must establish your company as an authority—a leader in your industry. While franchise companies typically have no problem getting links from media websites, vendors, suppliers, partners, etc., they frequently struggle with website structure and content.
- You need to be locally relevant to searchers, with markup and content that supports geo-targeted searches.
Think your franchises have plenty of content? Most marketing managers are quick to respond, “YES!”
If you think you have a great deal of content, but you’re being outranked by other or smaller companies, an alarm should go off in your head. Lack of content should not be the reason a franchise association does not rank well organically, but it frequently is a large part of the problem. Often, the problem is not really a lack of content, it’s that the content is structured in the way that creates a road block for the search engines.
Tip for Franchisors: If your individual franchise locations have their own websites and domains, do they individually have enough content to rank well organically? Do they have the support needed to build out the website content that is well optimized for search engines? In one case, we worked with an insulation franchise company to build out the optimized web content for their dozens of locations nationwide—giving each branch the chance to dominate in the organic search field for their own markets.
Tip for Franchisees: One of the biggest content obstacles for franchisees is that they rely solely on the corporate site or marketing material to rank online. The solution? Build out a micro-site that’s well-optimized and content-heavy. If corporate has an issue with building out a micro-site, invest heavily in other channels you can own, like social media.
WEBSITE CODE AND SITE STRUCTURE
The biggest issue you’re going to face in website code and structure? Consistency, infrastructure, and scalability. Creating a unified SEO strategy can be incredibly laborious. At the same time, this is exactly what is required to create a foundation for (arguably) the most important aspect of SEO – relevant and valuable website content to compete in each location’s search market and competition.
Regardless if you’re a franchisor or franchisee, make sure you have constant, consistent communication with the other party and have regular checks to make sure all are aligned and in the loop. If you choose a franchise marketing company, make sure you choose one that has experience with creating and managing multiple brand sites and understands the ins and outs of the franchisee-franchisor relationship.
Tip for Franchisors: Many franchise websites or collections of websites are massive in size. Often, there’s a lot to handle within one CMS that manages all the locations either on one domain or individual websites. You also may be dealing with multiple franchise owners managing their own website and have to ensure that everyone adheres to a certain consistent standard. We recommend you create shared assets and shore up your website infrastructure to be as supportive to your franchisees as possible.
Tip for Franchisees: Your toughest obstacle will be shared assets and overlap in SEO. We recommend you invest in building a microsite to focus your efforts on, so you can control your optimization and tracking. Who knows, you may provide new insight to corporate if your analytics and reporting is tight enough.
If you can’t build a microsite, invest in other channels like social media.
LOCAL SEO CHALLENGES
The last main thing any franchise needs to rank well is impeccable local SEO. To learn more about what local SEO is, jump on over to this blog post to read up.
As a franchise, you have multiple locations. Are you confident in the local SEO and consistency of each location’s local directory listings and citations? Are you even confident if each location has a verified and optimized Google My Business listing?
You need to be.
True, it’s not easy, especially with the wild wild west of local directories and the ability for crowd-fact-checking.
Tip for Franchisors: Your toughest obstacle will be wrangling all your locations to be consistent and rank well. Sometimes your franchisees don’t understand SEO. Sometimes franchisees have their own plans, or prefer to work with local vendors. To circumvent these issues, make sure every franchisee understands what a Google My Business listing is, and hound them to claim theirs and keep it updated. Or take it one step further and claim control over all local listings. The key is communication and education. Make sure your franchisees are educated on the overall franchise marketing strategy, and keep communication lines wide open.
Tip for Franchisees: The obstacle we’ve heard most often from our franchisees is the lack of control of or lack of understanding of SEO. It’s bad when corporate doesn’t agree with your marketing plans, but it’s even worse when they don’t understand digital marketing. Take the time to educate them on the benefits and communicate why you want to take this route. If you’re stuck, take matters into your own hands by optimizing social media profiles and your website.
Franchise Marketing: Social Media
Is social media important for franchises? You bet your britches. Social media is especially powerful for franchisees because it’s one channel they can pretty much control. Trouble with that control, though, is that it can lead to inconsistency in branding and messaging, not to mention the local SEO nightmare that comes from having too many profiles managed by too many people.
Tip for Franchisors: Create a social media guidelines handbook that gives franchisees explicit direction on branding and messaging, along with a how-to on successful social media strategy. Then, and this is very important, enable the Facebook Locations page feature. If you have trouble or don’t understand how to do this, contact us—we have successfully built and maintained location pages for numerous franchisors and franchisees.
Here’s how it works:
You have one main “brand” page. This page doesn’t have an address and is meant to be the only page at the corporate level.
Branching off from the main brand page are location pages. Each location page can be managed by the franchisee and can be accessed by corporate. Note: While this can technically be done by anyone, in order to get to the clear layout below you need to use Facebook Business Manager or a digital marketing agency with the right tools.
Tip for Franchisees: Pursue having corporate create location pages on Facebook. From there, make the most of this space. Create new content, post videos, grow your audience. Establish a place on YouTube, and take advantage of the social media channels where your target audience is.
Franchise Marketing: PPC
Pay-per-click advertising is one of the best ways to get your company in front of people at the exact moment they’re searching. The problem arises from multiple hands in strategy.
Tip for Franchisors: If you’re a national franchise, use display ads and search ads to promote the brand offerings as well as local locations. By strengthening the brand, you’re going to give your franchisees extra ammo to boost buy-in, and eventually leads and sales.
Tip for Franchisees: You can use similar targeting and strategies but each location needs to be customized so your ads are relevant and compelling to a local audience. Examples include:
- Using local cities in keywords and ads
- Differentiating from local competitors’ ads and offers
- Adjusting negative keywords for common local searches
Franchise Marketing: Email
Opt-in email marketing campaigns are a highly effective way to grow your franchising business. Opt-in email marketing refers to sending your messages—whether they’re to current customers, prospective customers, referral partners, or vendors—to people that have chosen to receive them. Why is this important? If a user has chosen to receive content from your franchise, they are more likely to open and engage with the email campaign than if it was an unsolicited message. Because of this, opt-in email marketing is far more effective at getting you the leads (and sales!) you’re looking for.
Tips for Franchisors: Your biggest issue will be staying locally relevant and ensuring consistency with your messaging. Franchisees may have their own email newsletter, or your markets and locations may vary so much, it’s almost impossible to be relevant to all chains all at once. We recommend establishing different email newsletter templates for each location, and controlling the style, consistency, and branding. If you send out a franchise-wide email newsletter, make sure the content is relevant to all franchise market areas.
Tip for Franchisees: Your biggest issue will most likely be consistency in messaging and branding. Be straightforward with the franchise about your goals and get any creatives directly from them. Start building your own email list with lead form ads on social media, and use that as a line of communication.
Franchise Marketing: Analytics and Reporting
Yes, I know that analytics and reporting isn’t technically a marketing channel, but it’s incredibly important for any of your efforts. Here’s why:
Imagine you’ve got 11 franchise locations, owned by 11 different owners (or imagine you’re one of the owners).
Now let’s say you’ve successfully implemented all the above tips.
Great! The overall marketing report comes out, and there’s a 10 percent increase in leads over the 11 locations.
- How many of those phone call leads came from the different branches?
- Are there any branches that have a low call-to-lead ratio?
- Which branches have a larger call volume but fewer leads?
- How do visitors to each franchise website behave when they reach the website?
- Where exactly in the marketing funnel do you need to improve, both on each individual franchise and overall?
If you’re like the majority of franchise owners we’ve worked with, you don’t know the answer to most of the above. With the right tracking and analytics in place, you get a bigger, data-driven look at the overall picture, how corporate is doing compared to individual branches, and how the individual branches perform compared to each other.
I’ll admit, it’s pretty data-heavy work, and if you don’t have digital data analysts on staff, I guarantee you’re not getting half of the information you could be. Our analysts spend all day looking at this stuff, which is why our franchise clients’ great results are like cake. We have that proven process in place.
Tip for Franchisors and Franchisees:
A big problem for franchisors and franchisees is data sharing and accurate tracking. When franchisees independently maintain and develop their own analytics and reporting is that they run the risk of having wildly inconsistent tracking. The data often isn’t shared back to corporate for franchise roll-up reports—which can help give insight into how branches are performing compared to each other. Another problem? Multiple pixels and tags from different vendors. We STRONGLY recommend a tag management solution like Google Tag Manager. It can lighten the load on your webmasters and developers, coordinate multiple tracking needs, and tackle overlap and conflicting code.
Franchise Marketing 101: Know Your Competitors as Well as You Know Your Own Company
Blue Corona is adamant about competitive analysis. You can have the best franchise marketing strategy in the world, but if your competitors outrank you, it’s all for nothing. Before you begin your strategy, we strongly suggest you get a free digital competitor analysis from our specialists. Not only will it give you a window into where your franchise stands, it will also give you concrete takeaways on how to improve and pull ahead of your competitors.
Good luck with your franchise marketing efforts, and contact us for any help you need!
About The Author: Betsy is the social media team lead and a content marketing specialist with Blue Corona. When she’s not managing social media marketing campaigns or writing badass blog posts she’s practicing Muay Thai, hiking with her dog or teaching kids how not to fall off a horse.
View more blogs by Betsy McLeod