Let me start by saying our personal and professional worlds have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting catastrophic effect. No franchise brand will go unscathed — and the worst may well be still ahead of us.
From my perspective, there are two different roads to take as we enter the new world of franchising:
1. Hunker down.
Pull back and go dormant until the sun is shining again, and the world has returned to normal (although normal will be redefined — see later in this article). You essentially become the proverbial twig floating in a river, letting the current take you where it chooses. However, the myriad reasons for pausing your marketing programs are both compelling and real.
“No one is buying franchises now.”
“Our system revenues are way down.”
“Our franchisees are freaking out.”
“The media isn’t covering companies like ours now.”
2. Improve your market position.
Look at the next quarter (or two) as a golden opportunity to elevate your brand and reap the market share and “mindshare” growth opportunities to reach and influence franchise candidates and the local customers of franchisees. They will be there for the taking as a result of your competitors going dark or complacent in their marketing campaigns.
Here are 5 insightful marketing strategies to catapult your brand to the next level during the coming “dark days of franchising”:
- Climb the organic search ladder — become one of the top 5 organic search listings when prospects are searching for the key topics that drive your business success.
- Tap into the emotions driving future franchise development decisions.
- Turn content into real conversations with your franchisees.
- Help franchisees to connect and build stronger relationships with their customers.
- Identify and address small marketing issues that will quickly make a big impact.
1. Climb the organic search content ladder
The benefits of paid search, retargeting and social media advertising are proven but short-term. I’ve seen dozens of franchise brands of all sizes spend enough money to quickly see results from paid search. However, watch what happens a day or two after the spending is cut — the branded content disappears.
Organic search results are earned, not bought. Organic search success is more difficult, but lasts longer and pays higher dividends because the listing is linked directly to content on your website (blog article) or branded content on high traffic websites (e.g. article on Forbes).
Find out the magnetic keywords and topics that pull franchise candidates and the customers of your franchisees to your website and social media channels. But don’t stop there. Find out what content is generating success for your top competitors and create an even better version of the web page, blog post, video, or e-book that is driving leads and conversions for them.
Vision drives smarter franchise marketing decisions. There are other solutions out there, but here at 919 we deploy a proprietary artificial intelligence platform — 919 Insights — that identifies the exact content that brings people to your website, what website content is actually read or viewed, and what website content drives conversions (leads, calls, form fills, etc.). It also crawls every piece of content on your competitors’ websites and social channels to uncover topics driving success for them.
Once you’ve determined the content that will boost your organic search ranking, you MUST get past your natural tendency to write about how great your franchise brand truly is — your low cost of entry, high margins, amazing, successful franchisees, all the great franchise rankings and awards you’ve accumulated over the years, etc. You must become a trusted anchor brand — see #2 below.
Your goal should be to move your brand to a top 5 ranking around the keyword search terms that drive success. We know it works! Because 919 Marketing ranks #1 as a franchise marketing agency — at least as of today. ????
2. Tap into the emotions driving future franchise development decisions
People are spending more time online than ever. The old sales acronym FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) is more in play now than at any other time in recent history. FUD is the most powerful sales motivator ever. Yet, while prospects are desperately seeking more control of their future, FUD also breeds mistrust and confusion.
Welcome to the new world of franchise marketing, where trust and empathy win the hearts and minds of franchise prospects. Where franchise brands are bought, not sold. Where brands that best validate candidates’ fears and aspirations and provide unbiased insights into the buying process become the most trusted “anchor” brands that prospects compare against all other franchise options. And when you are the lead brand with a prospect, you have significantly more control of the entire sales process.
Winning franchise brands create the right content that connects with the right audiences at the right time on the right channel. But it all starts with knowing versus guessing on the topics that resonate, educate, and motivate your best prospects to act.
Here’s an example of effectively tapping into the emotions of your target audience. The most read LinkedIn article of all time is an article by Dr. Travis Bradberry titled, How Successful People Stay Calm, with 2.8 million views. It just so happens that he is also a published author and CEO of an executive search firm.
He didn’t overtly promote his book nor his company in the article — yet he knew that the topic would strike a chord with the LinkedIn business community and lead them to his services. He educated and built trust with his target audience by writing an article to their perspective, not his own.
Online buying behaviors are changing the game and making your branded content THE reason why your franchise brand will win or lose moving forward.
To that point, did you know that according to a recent study by HubSpot, 70% of the buying decision is made before a franchise candidate decides to contact a sales rep or fill out a form?
It’s all about creating relevancy and trust. If you haven’t developed your sales content from the prospect’s point of view, your chance for success is shrinking by the day.
When a prospect is searching online for answers, the right organic content will score high in search and position your brand as a problem-solving resource and your people as trusted experts and innovators.
3. Turn content into conversations with your franchisees and their customers
It is essential to create an emotional connection between your brand and the audiences that control the current and future success of your franchise system: meaning both your franchisees and their local customers.
Let’s start with your franchisees. The reality is that many brands and franchisees still have a largely transactional relationship centered around royalties and fees. It’s time to attack the unspoken topics that cause friction (ad fund, vendors, communication issues, protected territories, etc.) that, once defused, could dramatically improve your relationships and trust. You probably know the topics of contention, but if not, one way to uncover them is to commission a third party to conduct an online survey.
Keep in mind that the content needs to be created from the franchisees’ point of view, not yours. The new content strategy can be delivered through your usual franchisee channels of communication (email, monthly calls, webinars, conferences) and through new interactive and engaging platforms like CEO videos, or even better, your own monthly TV channel.
4. Help franchisees to build strong relationships with their customers
The same approach rings true with the customers of your franchisees. Find out what content is driving online and social media engagement for your brand and competitive brands and put all your efforts behind creating more consumer-focused content around those topics and less on telling people “how great thou are.” Humanize and localize the message by making your local franchisees relatable and trustworthy.
This involves creating blog content that can be localized and shared by your franchisees. I know, you are doing that, and it’s not really resonating. Ask these questions before creating future consumer content:
- Is the topic based on actual consumer behavior on your website and social media channels?
- Does the topic match what answers consumers are searching for online? How difficult will it be for the content you produce to rank high in organic search?
- Will you be able to generate back-links from other websites with a higher Domain Authority than yours?
- Who is writing the content? An intern, or a freelance reporter for major publications? There is already way too much average content out there that no one reads. The content must be persuasive, entertaining, insightful, authentic and tap into the emotional issues your consumers are facing.
Now is the time to show current franchisees you are providing a higher level of marketing than ever before — and future franchisees that you actually put more muscle behind consumer marketing programs during perhaps the darkest time franchising has ever seen.
5. Identify and address small marketing issues that will quickly make a big impact
When things are moving at the speed of sound, franchise marketing folks have a growing roster of marketing “to-do’s” that never seem to bubble up to active projects.
Now’s the perfect time to take a step back and identify and address those marketing issues and opportunities — some of which can make a MAJOR impact on your future marketing efforts.
Validate or recalibrate your brand positioning and messaging.
This could be as simple as making sure that all your customer-facing channels (social media channels, websites, etc.) have the same look and feel. Is your graphics standards manual up to date?
Have you done research to discover if your brand identity/tagline resonates and sets you apart from the competition? Even worse, does your current messaging strategy confuse or turn off prospects?
Is your franchise development website still on a separate domain?
This is often a sensitive topic with brands that have spent a lot of money creating a separate franchise development website. However, the truth will set you (and your improved online search results) free. You need to combine the consumer and franchise development websites onto a single domain as soon as possible.
Don’t believe me? We’ve analyzed more than 100 brands over the past year, and we’ve never seen a franchise development website score higher than the consumer website. Not once. Plus, by having them separate you don’t reap the shared value of consumer and franchise development content creation. Reach out to me, and I can show you in five minutes what I’m talking about.
Are you missing out on critical content and technical tweaks?
Run a free SEO Test to identify website issues. If these are addressed, it can optimize your website’s SEO performance, greatly impact the visitor experience, and even improve your Google ranking by increasing site speed.
Use data analytics findings to make website content upgrades and create a 12-month content calendar informed by the topics and content strategies mentioned earlier.
Are you behind on creating the video assets you need to drive success?
I’m sure you already know that video is the number one consumed online content. Every minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube! Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day.
Show the human side of your company, connect on an emotional level. Let the personality of your company employees shine through video. People seek out companies whose values align with their own.
How does that translate to franchise marketing? I’ll stick to franchise development for the moment, but consumer franchise marketing videos are just as needed and powerful when done correctly. And they don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming.
I wrote an article in Franchising World magazine, titled Close More Deals With These 7 Franchise Sales Videos, which fully covers the 7 key franchise marketing videos. Here are a few more marketing videos that you should consider producing over the next 60-90 days:
- Brand story video – who started the brand, why, what does the brand stand for, is it a good fit?
- Day in the life franchisee profile videos – not shot at conferences against a curtain, but authentic, emotional stories of franchisees — shot on location.
- CEO video – The CEO’s vision, background, and passion for the business. Do our cultural values align with yours and vice versa? Candidates want to know who is steering the ship.
- Top 10 questions video – answers to the top 10 questions candidates most often ask us when exploring our brand – quickly takes the prospect to the next level in the sales cycle.
- Support team video – meet the folks you will work with on a regular basis.
- Marketing team video – here’s how we support our franchisees.
- Why consider the (insert) category video? – give an informative and unbiased assessment.
- Why you shouldn’t be a franchisee of ours… video – an unexpected way to communicate your value proposition in a more human and tongue-in-cheek manner.
So, there you have it. Five quick-start marketing strategies to win the mindshare and market share your brand deserves. The question is… are you going to hunker down and be driven by Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, or are you going to improve your market position over the next 90 days?
I know what I’m going to do.