Franchise Marketing: The Complete Formula For Success
Quick history lesson – it’s worth it, I promise! Not everyone knows who Dr. John Pemberton is. But his iconic franchise has found its way into your life at one point or another.
The civil war veteran and biochemist went through many trials before finding the proper formula – which included sugar, molasses, spices — and cocaine.
Shortly thereafter he started selling what would become Coca-Cola to local bottling companies. This formed the basis for what’s remembered as one of the earliest and biggest modern success stories in franchising.
What is Franchise Marketing?
Franchise marketing involves franchisors and their respective franchisees working in collaboration to adopt an efficient, scalable, repeatable strategy to successfully bring their products or services to market, increase brand awareness, generate leads, or retain customers across multiple locations. A strong franchise marketing plan has built-in flexibility, with franchisee growth – be it number of stores, customers, or leads – as a primary success metric.
Marketing a franchise entity is different because of this dynamic. While a typical marketing strategy model for a company could be a cycle like spokes on a bicycle wheel, a franchise marketing strategy may seem more like the spokes on a Nashville pedal party tour with an out of control bachelorette party at the helm.
Marketing for a corporate franchisor, or a single local franchise – on the client or agency side – can become a mixed mess of brand limitations, scale issues, approval bureaucracy, low budgets and limited accessibility to source materials. But there is a formula that works to help untangle these problems — one that does not require cocaine.
Strategy and Planning for Franchise Marketing
Regardless of what product or service is provided, a strategy is needed for franchise marketing — one that aligns each business with one (or a group) of key results or business outcomes. This should be approved by both the franchisor and franchisee to ensure consistency in success and how it is measured.
Establishing Brand Guidelines & Communication Processes
Require two documented brand guidelines — the primary ones set forth by the corporate franchisor, and a more specific, localized document. The latter should outline:
- Subtleties and nuances – Can a local franchise have a personality — and if so, how much? For example, a McDonalds may look cookie cutter from the outside, but often contains local photography and artwork inside the restaurant.
- General do’s and don’ts – some materials can be changed, while others may be subject to copyright or are not adjustable, in accordance with the corporate brand charter.
- Staffing and communications – who is the local team, who is on the franchisor team, and how will they communicate? Include standing meetings/updates, as well as risk management contingencies (technical, external, and organizational) and a crisis communication plan. What is meant by “risk”?
- Technical risk examples: websites, technology-related and IT issues, password protection and recovery
- External risk examples: customer-facing communication hurdles, contracts, warranties and other guarantees, sales and offers for both brand and local franchise.
- Organizational risk examples: logistical problems, resource and budget issues.
- Editorial style, content reviews, approval processes – some franchises place a high emphasis on their content governance for both editorial and style, while others leave it to the local entity.
Working With Stringent and Loose Brand Guidelines
While marketing assets at some franchises are fairly uniform, a look under the hood could reveal a lemon of mixed messaging. The larger the franchise, the harder it is to organize, create, distribute, and govern consistent brand standards.
Don’t feel compromised by stringent brand standards. Focus on technical solutions first.
- Update the Google My Business page and website consistently for maximum SEO value.
- Spend more time in Analytics dashboards, excel documents, and embrace a data-driven approach.
- Practice more A/B testing to show value.
- Craft empirical evidence in statistics to win decision makers over for your next big idea.
If brand standards are loose, embrace creativity! However, try to firm things up. Loose brand standards should allow you to work in sync with sales, business development, and customer support. This can help to craft a more consistent message moving forward.
- Pitch to management creating a style guide to show initiative.
- Establish a more collaborative approval process for campaign ideas.
- Embrace the challenge of working with a less-organized franchise by taking the lead.
- Find allies within the organization in sales or customer-facing roles.
- Make sales enablement a priority.
Source Materials and Asset Management
A corporate franchisor might have strict limitations on who can use their assets, and where they could be distributed. Likewise, rigid brand guidelines are often established for national brand promotions that are generic in nature.
Always source from the corporate franchise before creating new content. Save energy formulating the foundation of an asset library with existing creative, while saving in resources. Most franchises have established asset libraries. Ask a corporate franchise contact for further direction.
If there’s no latitude to make changes at the outset to personalize or localize corporate assets, contact marketing decision makers at the franchisor to convince them to allow certain aspects of localization or personalization.
Fight for this! Most companies understand the need for local, personalized content and are happy to collaborate if sold on a good idea. Personalizing content for franchises isn’t a panacea. But it plays a part in more than one solution. Read more about this below.
Now that there’s a base with existing materials, so fill in the gaps with new creative. This can be done by creating a repository of images. Use a Dropbox folder or a more complex asset management tool such as Cloudinary, Canto, or Adobe Experience Manager if budget allows. A few things to consider:
- Make sure to get buy-in and communicate the process with the team.
- Create a support document to ensure organization and governance.
- Create a taxonomy to ensure assets are easily findable.
- Establish a schedule for sourcing new material from a corporate contact or repository monthly, quarterly, or whatever iteration is needed to keep the library fresh.
Establishing Goals and Proper Measurement
Setting goals for franchise marketing should be no different than measuring success at any other business. These metrics could include leads, brand impressions, engagement, conversion rate, organic search traffic…the list goes on.
What’s important is how success metrics are segmented:
- To ensure they serve the primary goals of the larger franchise.
- To measure metrics against other franchises if they can be cross-compared.
- To establish a model of data visualization that serves individual and cumulative data to show:
- How a singular franchise entity performed
- How a particular group of franchise entities performed broken out by finer segmentation – typically geographical regions
- How the entire collective performed in a roll-up report
Google Docs works well for these types of reports, though if you can find time to learn Google Data Studio, it may be worth the effort.
Download BAM’s Data Studio template to get started!
- Create your own data sources at Google Data Studio
- Copy BAM’s Data Studio template (you must be logged into your own Google Account)
- On the three dots in the upper right hand corner, click “Make A Copy” and connect your data sources.
Messaging and Targeting
Current Customers Come First
Face it: some people only want the next new thing. As a franchise, that’s probably not you. But this is ok. Work on pulling the silent majority of potential customers in the middle across to your side.
Keep the current customer base happy to encourage word-of-mouth leads and sales, which can boost marketing effectiveness by more than 54%. It’s also still (and always) the most powerful way to win the hearts and minds of non-believers.
Practice Personalization (In the Form Of Localization)
If the franchise brand messaging is plain and boring, perhaps that’s by design. Large franchise brands with commodity products such as McDonald’s and Starbucks can scoot by with massive advertising budgets. But you don’t need to partner with large organizations or blast ads during prime time to get the brand’s name out. The primary principle behind personalization is to provide a more specific focus to an audience.
The simplest way of personalizing franchise content is to add hyperlocal copy and imagery into as many creative assets as possible.
International Data Group found that 51% of companies surveyed benefitted from an increase in lead generation, and 71% saw an increase in sales thanks to their content localization efforts.
Want to go deeper? Have a brainstorm session: what do you know about the brand’s products and services, and how they affect the local population? Consider these things during the next editorial meeting:
- Age of population – would you change your messaging if your franchise were in Scottsdale, Arizona (median age 45) versus Provo, Utah (median age 23)?
- Different laws in different localities.
- Languages – consider the ethnic population – for example, does it have a large Spanish-speaking contingent?
- Regional terminology (a localized AP style) can be an endearing quality. For example, most outside my hometown aren’t privy to what a “Yinzer” is. But spend a day in Pittsburgh, and you’ll see the term is quite marketable for local products and services.
- Service preferences based on geography – For example, local water treatment. Some markets have different contaminant concerns and home infrastructure types. If it’s a pizza franchise, it’s best to find a college in your area…and maybe push operations to adjust hours to late night.
- Product preferences based on geography – if you’re from California, maybe you’ve never heard of a Taylor Pork Roll. In Jersey, you haven’t lived until you tried one.
- Socioeconomics – could the product or service be marketed differently to different demographics? How about the city, versus the suburbs, versus the country?
- Political climate – more brands are getting involved in “the conversation.” The local political climate may create an opportunity to reach a desired audience on the sub-surface level with advocacy. Assess the situation with the powers that be and make the right call.
Playing To Your Strengths
Fun fact: many local corporate franchises are family-owned. Some are just as much pillars of the community as the local Jim’s Hardware Store down on an Anytown, USA main street. But that won’t stop a national brand from being viewed as a “money-eating corporate machine” to some.
Utilize your strengths of brand recognition and higher budget. It’s also more than likely to be a proven service or product backed by years of success, or the original business wouldn’t have become franchised. Consumers like to know what they’re getting, and they can become very comfortable with a brand that is trustworthy.
This means from a strategy standpoint:
- There is possibly a built-in advantage to brand awareness.
- Consider allocating more resources to education campaigns, lead generation campaigns and sales enablement.
- Don’t forget service after the sale — testimonials, surveys, emails for upsell/cross-sell, etc.
Creation and Distribution for Franchise Marketing – A Checklist
In franchising, assuming there’s a website platform and a basic email list, consider leveraging your earned and shared media entities first. Why?
Because the barrier to entry is low in cost (and often free) to these media types. This includes:
- Public relations
- Link building/SEO
- Review management
- Community engagement
- Gathering customer feedback
- Social responsibility & volunteer work
- Organic social media posting
- Participation in industry-focused forums
- Local events
Here’s a basic checklist of content creation ideas, and distribution channels to focus efforts:
- Check service and product reviews daily on Google, Yelp, Angi, or any relevant review site the business exists. Respond quickly to customer service requests, and leverage anyone posting about the brand on social media. Maximize its effectiveness by working with your franchisor on internal review response guidelines, and by establishing an action plan for prompt customer service response.
- Encourage and incentivize. Start loyalty programs via referral discounts on social media, email and the web. Create a community of brand advocates.
- Solicit more reviews and testimonials from customers via email and social media.
- Look for awards and thought leadership opportunities such as speaking engagements. Create a schedule and budget for this. Turn this into content on all available channels.
- Set up a public relations plan. Is there a good story to tell? Earn media placement in local outlets. Turn this into content on email, social media and the website. The super secret ingredient: make friends and develop relationships with local journalists!
- Start an email marketing list. Especially with the current customer base. Valuable content after the sale helps with engagement, feedback, upsell/cross-sell and retention – this includes emailing current customers tips, news, or surveys for research insights into how customers perceive the brand.
- Work in community service and practice social responsibility. For example, run contests that donate a portion of the proceeds to local charity or organize a fundraiser – capturing emails and creating content in the process. Whether it’s promoting for a cause or taking photography at an event, it’s useful content on digital channels, and associates the brand with a higher purpose.
- Take photos and create videos regularly. Any iPhone or Android is more than capable of handling these duties for franchises. Document as much as you can: of team members, products, services, surroundings, partnerships, customers, team building events and social outings…the list goes on forever.
Organization Methodologies for Franchise Marketing
You have gathered a TON of information. But where does it all live, and how do you turn it into material the audience would want to engage with and act upon?
There are many tools that can help organize research and data — From Google Sheets, a task management platform such as Asana, to an affinity diagram on a whiteboard using sticky notes.
The tactical aspects of brainstorming is less important than how you plan and prioritize these ideas.
The Planning Matrix – organize ideas into two groups based on Business Impact (profitability, growth) and user (or customer) needs. For example, service guidelines, return or refund instructions, product manuals and location maps are all core essentials of customer service but don’t impact business directly. What focus impacts both bottom line AND customer experience?
The Priority Matrix – After segmenting ideas, take the focus ideas in the upper right quadrant first, and place them in a priority matrix.
What can return the most value for the least amount of effort? The key is to execute on the most impactful tactics that use the least amount of resources first, and then move on from this point to more high-effort initiatives.
Distribution Channels in Franchise Marketing
As discussed earlier, the primary channels of focus are shared media (social media) and owned media (email and website), with possibly some earned media (PR) sprinkled in.
How to prioritize these channels, and the mediums and messages of focus are contingent on the nature of the business. Is there a great story to tell? Don’t hesitate to find local journalists that want to tell it. Does ownership have a built-in passion for altruism? It’s not too early to get into social responsibility initiatives.
The one true need for owned media is a solid website. As a franchise, it can be assumed one exists. Make sure it’s clean, up to date, and presents a great user experience. It does not have to incorporate whimsical design with complex navigation. Give users the basics, take stock of rudimentary website metrics such as contact forms and traffic regularly, and see where you can adjust accordingly every quarter or so.
Paid promotions, organic posting (particularly video and livestream), and influencer marketing on social media can provide great opportunities for the franchise. They can also be a waste of time and money if not planned for, created, and analyzed properly.
Budgeting For Social Media
According to SalesFuel, the BIA/Kelsey Local Commerce Monitor reports that the typical franchising organization pays about 43% of the cost of online marketing for franchisees. This may often be funded by the advertising contribution the local business is required to make (some call these a “Co-op”).
In addition, about 51% of franchising organizations are also “highly involved” in the social media presence put forth by local businesses.
An explicit plan should be formulated to establish goals + audience from the outset that reflects primary marketing goals and business outcomes (see messaging and targeting in the section above).
Some tips specific to franchise marketing social media:
- Make sure there is access to the franchisor’s shared asset library. A creative department can tweak these or create new messaging around the artwork, depending on company policy.
- Work with corporate to establish a social alignment document that standardizes what gets shared, key messaging, and hashtags.
- Incentivize employees to interact with their neighborhood threads. Facebook and Nextdoor provide a wealth of information to their hyperlocal groups. Within them exists a high value of trust. Companies themselves do not want to spam these threads. But encourage them to join, and recommend business within their own neighborhood threads.
Email marketing is still one of the easiest and most scalable ways to reach customers on a local and national level. If you have a functioning website, the first step is to create a lead magnet (such as an offer), make it pop up on the site, and start collecting a list.
This captures valuable customer data without using a ton of time or effort. Lead magnets can expand over time to include more comprehensive pieces of content, such as e-books and case studies.
Communicate with the franchisor to see how their email marketing works. Sign up and receive their emails to curate content ideas. Likewise, they may be helpful in sharing contact information with local leads, which gives a head start on a built-in email audience to serve content.
Does your franchisor have a CRM? Use it to access information regarding email contacts and leads already in the pipeline. Local franchises themselves are less likely to have adopted a CRM, but if they have, make sure to learn how to use and leverage it for email and marketing automation purposes.
Looking for a basic place to start? Check out this quick guide from BAM Advertising & Marketing on email marketing best practices.
Search Engine Optimization
Some franchises have a solid website set up already. Good. That’s one less thing to worry about. Make sure there’s a local page, and that primary category pages are built in for relevant organic local search queries.
Understand the basics of how to publish a page, upload photos, add title tags and meta descriptions and other rudimentary executions in the website’s CMS.
Depending on the franchise, there may be limitations in access, publishing, and customization. Understand the parameters so you can easily publish a blog or web page, saving money with minimal use of outsourcing to freelancers or agencies.
Local SEO bonus: register for every local online directory possible that may funnel leads. Join the local Chamber of Commerce and other like-minded entities if it’s financially viable.
Third party directories can drive website traffic, and legitimize the business. Additionally, these listings are particularly helpful in local search signals for Google.
Franchise marketing can breed tons of duplicate content. It’s been said that unique content is always ideal in the eyes of search engines – but not as much as it used to be. If there is a small team creating content for more than one local franchise, this is just not a valid premise for publishing across multiple platforms with limited time and resources consistently.
Remember that Google does not necessarily penalize duplicate content – it simply prefers it to be unique. Take pieces of content that would be considered universal in terms of features and benefits and localize it. Content doesn’t always have to be 100 percent unique – just original to the franchisor itself. This will help maximize efficiency in producing written content.
Paid Media Spending
Is there a paid media budget? Hint: it should be more than you think. Save a bucket of money to test and try different avenues of paid promotion — maybe a particular magazine, influencer, or radio channel works well.
Advertise in local print and online publications. Use local influencers if budget allows in lieu of Google and Facebook. There is an avenue for every franchise niche locally.
Many audiences read local publications in both online and print, focusing on particular specialties and specifics that could help them with what they need. Don’t skimp on budget, explore the long tail, and find where your people are!
Print & Other Options
Direct mail and print advertising can be expensive, but there’s still value depending on the audience. A media advertising plan may also exist, and it should consider print outlets. Depending on how independent the franchise is, it may participate in local and TV advertising as well.
There’s something out there for everyone these days — don’t just go to the big newspapers and other well-known publications. Explore options, particularly in local online publications and community magazines where an audience may be lurking. Just make sure the brand messaging is in alignment with your customer-facing digital content.
Share & Compare
One of the best features of franchise marketing is the ability to measure data against the same brand based on geography — be it hyperlocal from zip code to zip code, city to city, or regionally.
You can gain plenty of insights based on the numbers — but you should always take them with a grain of salt. Understanding the nuance of why certain franchises perform better than others takes time and experience. It all goes back to relationships — make friends with other franchises and corporate partners, and establish a schedule of meeting and sharing results and insights with each other, as well as planning and strategy for the future.
Test Campaigns (A/B Testing)
If there is direct access to more than one franchise, test generic content through different locations. After what works best is found, personalize it to increase performance. Likewise, use certain locations as test beds for different content. Find low-performing franchise locations and use them to find what works – these are places that can only go up, so failure is less damaging.
What happened to Dr. Pemberton and his franchise? He eventually sold the rights to Coca-Cola for $1,750 in 1888 and died broke. In 2021, the company pulled in $38.7 billion.
However, you need not reach such desperate measures with your life and legacy. If you are a newly appointed marketing or brand manager — on the agency or client side — saddled with marketing for one or many franchises, there is a special formula that works. One to craft the proper franchise content marketing strategy for any budget.
There is no cookie cutter approach to any marketing plan — especially one dealing with franchises. Use this as a roadmap, and tailor it to what suits your needs.