Franchise Digital Marketing Outlook 2014

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It’s honestly hard to believe that we’re already rapidly approaching the 54th Annual IFA Convention, as it feels like last year’s conference in Las Vegas was just yesterday.  Time flies, as they say, and when it comes to digital marketing there is no question that the last twelve months have brought about a variety of changes that will impact franchise systems as we move forward in 2014.  We’re very excited to be exhibiting at the IFA Convention for our seventh consecutive year, and if you’re in New Orleans this month please join us at Booth #929 to discuss the many ways you can optimize the performance of your online marketing channels across your entire franchise system.

Although we could riff about the many exciting things taking shape in our industry all day long, we wanted to focus on a few key elements that are likely to have a major impact on the ways in which franchise systems market themselves online, attract new customers and engage with their most loyal fans.  To begin, it is our opinion that 2014 is truly about standardization for franchise systems.  Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of emerging and mid-level franchise systems run into brand management and control issues because they haven’t already established a digital marketing foundation for their respective franchisees.  As a result, there have been a number of consequences including corporate teams spending unnecessary time policing rogue marketing efforts, a distinct segmentation of both brand messaging and strategy across multiple partners, and the emergence of competitive efforts between the brand itself and local franchisees. While we understand that establishing a level of system-wide standardization with regard to digital marketing best practices is not always easy, setting marketing guidelines and creating a resource center for franchisees is a big key to success for all parties involved.  Based on our experience and success in implementing digital marketing strategies for franchise systems nationwide, we think the following tips can help get you started in the right direction while also establishing buy-in from both executive management and franchisees in 2014:

  • As an organization, it is more important than ever to identify goals for your franchise system and understand how all marketing efforts, including the correlation between online and offline advertising, contribute to achieving these goals.  Start by selecting a few key customer profiles and use a combination of both data and anecdotes to establish the path to purchase of each profile on paper.  This method can help identify the influence of each marketing tactic at each step of the buying cycle and help you understand how they contribute to the end goal of a purchase.
  • Start an Advertising Council made up of an array of franchisees, if one doesn’t already exist.  Having franchisee input is invaluable and can ultimately lead to the development of true ambassadors of the brand.
  • Develop playbooks for all advertising strategies.  Playbooks outline best practices, brand requirements and guidelines, saving franchisees time and money while ensuring franchisee satisfaction and brand consistency across all locations.
  • Determine which marketing channels will be funded at the corporate level vs. the franchisee level as a means for establishing reasonable boundaries.  Corporate or management-funded efforts such as local business listings management or system-wide SEO optimization can not only serve to protect your brand’s reputation but can also increase the visibility of individual store locations in online user search queries.

So what if your franchise system is already ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing standard best practices and tactics like the ones we just mentioned above? In your case, this could very well be the year for getting back to focusing on the basics.  Over the past few years we’ve seen the emergence of a multitude of technology platforms and “solutions” with a variety of bells and whistles, many of which can be overwhelming for franchise systems to implement across the board and highly unnecessary for marketing success.  Instead of jumping on the next internet bandwagon, why not focus here in 2014:

  • Send out a marketing survey to your franchisees with a simple question: “What do we, and our preferred vendors, need to do to improve our services?”
  • Re-evaluate your current vendors.  This is not meant to imply you should put their feet to the fire every at every turn, but service offerings and marketing philosophies evolve over time.  It might be worth asking if your franchise system would benefit from a single marketing partner.  Using multiple vendors can be beneficial, but it can also be time consuming to manage and frustrating for everyone involved when trying to align strategies properly.
  • Cut out the excess.  Examine a few key customer profiles as we mentioned previously, put their path to purchase on paper, and write down all of the vendors, franchisees, and in-house resources contributing to each step along that path.  You might find unnecessary overlap that you can ultimately streamline and allow for extra budget to be put back into the system for use in other areas.

Now that we’ve established a baseline for standardization in marketing your franchise system this year, let’s also take a look at a few specific digital marketing channels and how they can be optimized properly for success:

Local Business Listings Management

Local business listings are the foundation of a franchise’s online presence.  If managed properly across the entire system, optimized local listings can not only drive increases in search ranking for your business, but more importantly drive customers to your store locations. We recommend that you consider the following this year when it comes to managing these important listings:

  • Centralize the data distribution and management for local listings across the entire franchise system.  The key to improved search rankings revolves around the accuracy of not just one single listing, but all location listings associated with your brand. It is important to ensure that these listings are managed in one central location rather than allowing individual franchisees to manage their own respective listings so that your brand’s message remains consistent and your reputation intact.
  • Partner with a vendor that will provide you with an account management team before you choose to simply go the route of using a software-as-a-service tool (SaaS) to distribute your location data for local listings. SaaS tools can only impact certain distribution channels online, and they lack the level of customer service and distribution reach that a vendor can provide.  Having an account manager that is only a phone call away can help ease the burden on your in-house marketing team while providing support to your franchisees in the event that updates to individual locations need to be made or changes to the search engines require system-wide updates.  Technology is a wonderful thing, but having the right people in place to manage that technology while providing strategic input is what sets you apart from your competitors.

Paid Search Management (PPC)

There are several “must-dos” for PPC management when it comes to franchise systems:

  • Make sure your website is equipped for using PPC best practices. Examples include:
    • Sitelinks require unique pages for each link
    • Quality score is impacted by the relevance of your landing page
    • Mobile specific landing environments are a must have
    • Understand which step in the path to purchase your potential customers are on when they reach your website via a pay-per-click ad. Are they in research mode or buying mode? Depending on the data returns, ensure that your ads are driving consumers to the proper landing pages on your website.
  • If you have online retail and brick and mortar locations, ensure that your ad messaging and targeting strategies are set up specifically for each versus one blanket message and targeting demographic.
  • If franchisees are contributing their own dollars to pay-per-click advertising programs, make sure the reporting system they have access to tells them the full story of their ROI.  If your franchisees have access to your existing CRM, it might be better to pull those PPC metrics directly into that internal system for reporting.
  • Remember that Google AdWords and Bing Ads don’t just offer search marketing tools.  AdWords offers display advertising, remarketing and video advertising through YouTube, while Bing ads also offers display.  Take advantage of all advertising options to reach your consumers throughout the entire path to purchase.
  • Define success metrics internally or with your vendor so that franchisees know what to expect from AdWords and/or Bing ads advertising.  This will save a lot of frustration on the franchisee side by setting expectations in advance.

Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

As search engines have evolved to provide results to the user that are more personalized and, by effect, localized, it has never been more important to establish an effective Local SEO strategy that will ultimately benefit your brand and impact your franchise locations significantly.  Google specifically has made a number of algorithm updates over the last few years, most notably Venice and Hummingbird, that have validated this industry shift to provide more localized and useful search results to the individual consumer.  Furthermore, the rapid growth of mobile and expansion to multi-screen devices solidifies the fact that Local SEO is not to be considered a fad, but a key element to digital marketing success.  How do you establish a Local SEO strategy for your franchise?  For multi-location and franchise brands that have hundreds or thousands of locations, there are many challenges to implementing and evaluating a local SEO program, but here is where we think you should focus your energy:

Rather than go through the hassle, time and money required for developing individual websites for each of your franchise locations, it should instead be your goal to establish individual location landing pages within the root domain of your brand’s website. This allows you to draw from your national brand page authority and generate unique location URLs at the same time. The structure and content of the local pages themselves are directly related to your site’s ability to rank well in localized search results, and the following technical aspects need to be considered:

  • Navigation to local pages
  • URL & file structure
  • On-page optimizations
  • Local and non-branded keyphrase usage
  • Service and location-orientated content
  • Metro landing pages
  • Internal linking

Once you have a foundation of individual location pages in place for your franchises, you can then go about optimizing both the front end and back end of your website with keywords relevant to both your industry and your individual locations.  Your keyword strategy should also truly be a part of a larger overall content strategy that seeks to provide specific relevant content for each individual location, as each franchise is unique and localized content will result in a higher organic ranking for localized searches by consumers.

As scaled creation of relevant content for hundreds to thousands of locations can certainly prove challenging, finding an effective, scalable and creative way to write content about the same brand for all of the different store locations can exhaust resources and strain budgets.  One solution that has proven to be effective involves writing content at the metro level and pointing links back to the individual location pages from the metro-level content pages.  Passing page rank down to the location pages can be quite impactful in achieving your ranking goals for your targeted local search terms and is much more scalable than writing content for hundreds or thousands of individual locations. Another content creation strategy that we find extremely beneficial is implementing a rotational approach for the franchises which allows for highly relevant content creation at the location level done in a rotational sequence. This type of approach also allows for enough time to pass between content posts to gauge the full impact of the content on each location.

Comprehensive local SEO is more than just building the proper foundation. Beyond launching properly optimized location pages and creating relevant content for users to engage with, there are many other factors of influence that should be strategically prioritized in direct relation to the overall impact of each factor. Some other considerations include properly structured data, using location pages in local listings, citation creation, social media and PR integration, link building, image search, the local carousel, video optimization in relation to Universal search results, and ranking of local citation profile assets on IYP’s.

If that sounds overwhelming don’t fret – by getting the foundational elements in place you will put your brand and your franchises in a good position to rank better locally, and you’ll set the stage for your brand to be ready to embrace some of the more challenging ongoing local SEO strategies moving forward in 2014 and beyond.

How do we know all of this information about franchise digital marketing? 

At Location3, we know the unique challenges and opportunities franchise systems face.  We understand that a franchise system can be a complex business that requires strategy on both the corporate level as well as the franchisee level to accomplish the overall goals of the entire brand.  We understand that franchisees are small business owners that want to have a local voice, and should absolutely have a stake in marketing their very own businesses in the online world.  Through our many years of experience in developing successful franchise digital marketing programs across numerous industry verticals, we’ve developed tailor-made marketing solutions that meet the needs of both executive management and the franchisees themselves.  Our approach to franchise digital marketing begins with learning about all of the ways your franchise system operates on a functional level from the very beginning, as well as how you’re currently reaching customers, so that we can fully integrate digital programs with your brand’s mission in order to impact your franchisees while ensuring your brand message stays intact.

So as we approach the 54th Annual IFA Convention in New Orleans, we couldn’t be more excited to connect with our constituents in the franchise industry and discuss the many ways in which their needs have evolved over the last twelve months.  We’d love to see you at Booth #929 if you have a chance to stop by and chat with us.  We’ll also be conducting some live trivia at the conference during exhibit hall hours so be sure to follow us on Twitter at @Location3 for your chance to win! As they say in New Orleans: Laissez les bons temps rouler!

photo credit: franchise.orgpixeljones via photopin cc

 

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