Franchise Marketing: Meeting in the middle

There is an old marketing adage, based on a scientific study about the average ‘learning curve’ for people assimilating new information (originally attributed to Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 1800’s), which states that a customer must be exposed to a brand or message at least seven times before they’ll remember it and/or buy the product.  That ‘Rule of 7’ has driven marketers for decades as they try to ensure consistent and frequent exposure of their brand to their target audience.  While there is plenty of scholarly debate about the origins and accuracy of the ‘Rule of 7’, no one disputes that repeated exposure to a consistent brand and message positively affects consumer behavior – just ask Coca-Cola.

Impact of the Internet and Mobile Devices

The internet and the rise of mobile devices have radically altered the landscape of opportunities to reach a potential customer with your brand.  85% of consumers are now using the Internet as their primary source for finding local businesses and, by 2015, it is forecast that more than half of local searches will take place on mobile devices. In today’s mobile world, the ability to link directly to the local instance of a business is more important than ever.  In order to maximize conversion, you want potential customers to see the local website, presence, and message when searching for the relevant service or product.

One challenge around this relatively new dynamic is that it has further fragmented the presence of many big brands, especially in the franchise sector, as franchisors struggle to maintain control and cohesion of their brand.  This is a significant issue for multiple reasons but particularly when you consider that the 2011 US Census reports that the average American will move 11.7 times in their lifetime.  That means that…

the brand impressions formed by an individual franchise location will likely impact as many as 11 other locations in the network – and a ‘rogue’, inconsistent message will adversely affect the other location’s ability to earn customers as they move about the country.

Franchisor and Franchisee Disconnect

Quite often, the local franchisee is going it alone, building whatever website and online marketing presence he or she deems appropriate to reach the prospective customers in their community.  That approach is valid to a certain extent as each franchise location and community is unique when considering factors such as terms of the services offered and search terms used by consumers. However, too much variation on the web can dilute the brand, fundamentally weakening a major reason to be part of a franchise network in the first place.  A cooperative strategy between the franchisor and franchisees is critical to attain the right balance between a consistent ‘face’ for the brand and the differences found in each market.

In the recently published Yodle Franchisee Survey, we found that local franchise business owners not only want guidance from their franchisor on internet marketing but are hungry for it.

89% of respondents in the poll sent to over 3,000 franchisees rated online marketing support as an important factor when choosing a franchise network partner, and over 60% of franchisees were at least somewhat dissatisfied with the current support provided by their franchisor. 

Meanwhile, franchisors know all too well the challenges of sometimes trying to get franchise locations in their network to participate in the programs they offer.  Solving this tug of war between the local business owner’s need for autonomy in serving his market and the franchisor’s need to build the brand for the benefit of every location is critical to the long-term success of the franchise network.

The ideal balance between local influence and franchisor oversight differs depending on the nature of each network and business segment, but there are some basic principles that can help almost any network reach local customers with effective messages while adding value to the franchise’s overall ‘Rule of 7’ brand exposure.

Franchisor Tips

  1. Establish a Website Strategy for Your Network.  Ideally, each franchise location will have a site dedicated to the support and service of their local community that adheres to a brand standard.  Changes in the search space (maps) and the future potential needs of your business (CRM software, scheduling solutions, location-triggered advertising, etc.) suggest that a discrete site for each location may be the most adaptable solution over the long term.  Whether you provide these sites to your franchisees or allow them to set up their own, set firm guidelines directly in your franchise agreements that protect the greater value of your brand.  After all, it’s that brand that other potential franchisees are evaluating and deciding whether to adopt, so your overall web consistency is a driving factor in franchise network development.
  2. Expand Standards to Search-based and Other Online Marketing Tactics.  Even more so than a website, most customers will be exposed to your brand when conducting a search. Based on a myriad of factors they may see ads, map locations, and organic listings for locations outside of their actual area of intent.  Setting standards around the language used in all online content will ensure that every impression gained with a customer is additive to that ‘Rule of 7’ exposure.
  3. Embrace Local Differences.  While the above recommendations help achieve consistency, the goal is not to reach a boring monotony in the network that ignores regional needs.  Provide mechanisms for the local franchisee to customize their site, ad copy, keyword strategy, and other online marketing efforts to suit the practices that work best in their area.  Consider using content management tools or a partner to help build out the network so that your sites maintain a common look, feel and message while retaining the unique character of each location.

Franchisee Tips

  1. Be a Good Citizen.  Aggressive tactics that break from your franchisor’s guidelines may provide near-term results. However, for each customer you gain remember that there are others that just moved to town who have familiarity with another franchise location, and your rogue message is less likely to resonate with them.
  2. Trust Your Franchisor.  You bought into a franchise network in large part because you likely recognized the power a national brand could bring to your ability to quickly attract new customers and scale your business. Trust that what they’re advising you to do is in your best interests.

A consistent brand, message and online presentation of the franchise equates to a high frequency and high recognition of the brand, adding to the ‘Rule of 7’ exposure for each prospective customer and ultimately equating to more business for your business.

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