After three days of breakout sessions and round tables at the International Franchise Association (IFA) convention, it became very apparent that social media and web marketing are still hot topics in the franchise world. Most industries value these facets too, but, unlike healthcare or high tech verticals, a company isn’t turning over its branding and messaging like a franchise concept does.
The brand promise is the most critical component to the success of a franchisor and franchisee, which is why so much focus is put on brand compliance. Whether the handbook calls for uniform standards, signage requirements, or logo usage, it is all very clear: present your brand in a consistent way that continues to deliver on the expectations that have been set for the customer.
It’s all about the franchise brand promise.
But what is it about online marketing that makes it so hard to deliver on the brand promise and attract eyeballs? Isn’t it just another marketing channel? From session to session, it seems that, despite online marketing as mainstream channel for more than 15 years now, franchisors have not put the same effort into online brand compliance as they do elsewhere. This leads to some franchisees “going rogue” and starting their own online presence.
In some ways this is good. You want owners taking control of their local marketing efforts to connect with their customers. But in other ways the initiative can go awry in a hurry. Owners task their 15-year-old kid to build them a website which does not resemble anything close to brand standards (yikes!).
Look, at the end of the day, online marketing needs the same amount of oversight given to other marketing channels. The difference now is that a franchisor can truly empower owners with the tools to make their franchisees successful, whether they do the work or not.
Without further ado, here are some best practices for helping franchisees get found online and converting web traffic into customers.
- Take Ownership of the Brand – Some brands allow franchisees to have their own social media presences. This is fine, but those brands need to have admin rights to the accounts. If your franchisee won’t allow that, you can have the account shut down for trademark infringement. Don’t allow someone to damage your brand.
- Market Locally – More than 50% of searches occur from mobile devices and a third of all searches have local qualifiers. This means that your franchisees web listings need to show up for relevant searches, and not the brand’s homepage. In an effort to effectively move visitors through the funnel of search to engagement to customer, the digital experience must eliminate all the hurdles. Sending someone to a location finder instead of the proper local listing is asking for them to essentially search again. Local search optimization goes a long way in helping get your potential customers moving towards a purchase.
- Control the Experience – Just as local search needs to drive site visitors to the right location, it also has to deliver the best user experience. The debate about mobile-optimized sites is long dead. Today websites need to deliver high usability, whether they are being accessed on a full size screen, tablet, or mobile device. Responsive design is the best option to meet these standards, as it allows flexibility between devices with forward reaching upgrade capabilities.
- Leverage Your Authority – To paraphrase Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot be found”. If every franchisee has their own URL, then none of them will benefit from the combined SEO authority of the brand. Inbound links are the primary factor determining a URL’s relative “search authority”. If all the inbound links are directed to one URL, for your brand, while each franchisee has a section of the website, everyone wins.
- Empower Your Franchisees – Once your brand compliance is in place, give franchisees the ability to update and expand their location listings with a content management system. Whether it’s special hours or a focus on a particular service or offering, don’t force your franchisees to have cookie cutter web listings. They have the ability to promote locally through other channels, allow them the same opportunity on the biggest channel of that exists … The Internet.
Don’t be scared of the Internet for marketing – embrace it. With the way that web search is becoming the first tool that many consumers use to find products and services, it is critical that your franchisees have a chance to get found. Instead of telling them no, give franchise owners the tools they need to be succesful.