Why Local Marketing Should Be On Your Agenda

 

Why Local Marketing Should Be On Your Agenda

Franchise marketing presents a unique and sometimes complex challenge. The benefit of a proven business model can quickly become frustratingly restrictive once the doors open. Especially if the proud  new owner discovers they are more entrepreneurial than they thought, or business performance is lacklustre in the early days. One of the biggest attraction points to become a franchisee is that it offers the opportunity to own your own business, without having to jump through the hoops it would take to launch a traditional small business.

The ability to leverage the credibility of an existing brand, alongside a business model that is generally proven to be successful is understandably appealing, however it does come with limitations,  particularly around brand management.

When you consider a business’ most valuable asset is arguably their brand, it makes sense that a franchisor would want to have consistency and control over their public image across multiple locations.  Moving too far away from the core characteristics and positioning of the company can be detrimental to business. No brand wants to look sloppy, unprofessional and uncoordinated.

On the other hand, local area marketing is recognised as one of the most effective ways to engage and drive business within communities. Connecting with the people who visit your business regularly-  digital or offline- and having an active presence in the community is conducive to building profitability, trust, a credible reputation and distinguishes friendly local businesses from cold, faceless corporations.

Local area marketing can produce a variety of fantastic results, for example we recently saw one franchise gain 100 memberships through a Corporate Fitness challenge given its proximity to a local  business park. In comparison, its sister location generates 25 per cent of its revenue from joining fees from transient customers, being located in a tourist town. Imagine walking away from both opportunities because of a blanket ban on local area marketing.

But how can you execute properly on all these local opportunities across the country? How can franchisors maintain autonomy and still enable franchisees to execute local area marketing, whilst keeping  head office at ease when it comes to brand integrity?

Don’t be naive in recognising pain-points:

Before diving head-first into a local area marketing proposal, it’s important to realise and understand the hesitations that exist on the corporate level. Head offices know their franchisees have the  knowledge and insight to run their own local area marketing. They’re part of the community and hold the best customer relationships. They understand local seasonality, the nuances of local competition,  and where they’re winning.

No one is better placed to produce engaging local marketing than franchisees- and contrary to what a lot of franchisees may believe, head office is well aware of this. The biggest issue is recognising if  this opportunity if profitable enough to outweigh the potential risks. When brands have been burnt before, many become risk averse. Many head offices hold the concern that while franchisees may be  fantastic business people, they may not have the marketing expertise to execute campaigns to an acceptable level that strengthens the brand rather than destroying it. After all, the proportion of franchises  that award new locations to prospective owners based on marketing acumen is next to zero. In order to realistically implement a local area marketing process, franchisees and head offices need to work  together to identify areas of concern and put into place a guideline that works for both parties, and most importantly mitigates any risk of brand damage.

Define the desired outcomes of local area marketing, the channels through which this will be executed (will it be limited to social media or will this include direct marketing, events etc.?) and set clear no- go zones to ensure all parties share mutual expectations.

Invest in the right tools

Franchise business owners need a way to channel the passion, insight, personality, will, and financial motivation of franchisees into strictly controlled, brand-approved marketing communications.

You can’t expect expert level marketing campaigns without providing the right tools. Unless franchisees have advertising or marcomms backgrounds, chances are they may be new to the marketing game  and can benefit from tools that make their lives easier as well as produce professional content that drives business outcomes.

That’s how we came to build Digital Stack. We realised franchisees were exceptionally passionate about the success of their business and wanted to invest in their marketing strategy, but didn’t have the  right tech support, understanding or faced obstacles from their franchisors.

Franchisor support is crucial when it comes to implementing new systems and strategies. The most successful brand head offices are the ones that embrace new technology and trends and use it to their advantage.

Groups like 9Round Fitness, Subway, Domino’s and Snap Fitness are leading the way in this area. From the outset, each of these companies invested in creative, yet simple and easy to follow brand  guidelines to ensure everything from tone, style, colour palette and logo were well defined. They also do a great job in making ready-to-use content available to save franchisees from having to do their own graphics work.

These brands demonstrate consistency, regardless of whether content is used across social media platforms in email, or used as physical collateral for hand-outs, posters and more.

In a recent February 2018 trial with a global fitness franchise we ran a side-by-side comparison between gyms using branded templates and those with no marketing guidelines or tools. For those using  branded templates across their social media, traffic to their landing pages was 112 per cent higher compared to the control group. Conversion rates in the gym were even stronger, with three times more  trialists converted in locations using localised, branded content like posters, signage, name tags, business cards and referral cards.

When identifying the right tools to assist with local area marketing, decision makers need to be considering platforms that benefit both franchisees and the franchisor. Other tools we see work well in  franchises are group communication tools like Slack or Facebook or LinkedIn Groups where franchisees can share specific tips or learnings from their campaigns. From times of the day to be handing out  free trial cards, to note swapping on successful upsell tactics, franchisees love sharing their day-to-day tips. Too often, we see tools like Canva used that give franchisees too much bandwidth to get  creative with the branding, whereas approaches like uploading non-editable images to Dropbox can be too restrictive and take all autonomy away from the business owner for fear of brand damage.

The only way to reap the benefits of local area marketing is to leverage tools and procedures that support and empower franchisees to showcase the brand in the best possible way. Perhaps the worst trend  (and most detrimental to brand integrity) is franchisors completely banning local area marketing. By preventing business owners from spreading the word about the companies they’ve poured their heart,  time and finances into, there’s a high chance that franchisees will go rogue and take marketing into their own hands anyway. In the same way that prohibition led to bootlegging and the establishment of organised crime, an outright ban on local area marketing produces ugly unintended consequences. Desperate promotions, amateurish signage, suicidal pricing, poor resolution cut-and-paste graphics on  social media are just some of the many marketing faux pas.

Running a franchise comes with many challenges and for those who may be struggling to attract customers or are having a slow patch, growth at all costs can quickly become the mindset. Turning chains  into communities.

Perhaps the biggest benefit that comes with investing in local area marketing is the ability to engage with local communities at a grass-roots level that drives tangible businessoutcomes. Snap Fitness  franchises are a stellar example of how successful local area marketing can propel a business’ growth at the suburbanlevel that creates a positive ripple effect to the overarching brand reputation. Snap  Fitness franchises are recognised as market leaders given their growth track record. They’ve historically had fantastic success in turning ‘new franchise gyms’ into local institutions with engaged followers, within 12 months, demonstrating some of the highest levels of engagement and activity across social platforms when compared against users from over 20 countries.

At a national and international level, they do it through polished branding and cementing their overarching positioning, from 24/7 hours, to quality equipment and flexible membership options. At a local  level, engaging local success stories (like body transformations that inspire the community and spread like wildfire on social media), timely email campaigns to combat local seasonality and quiet times,  and smart community outreach to local businesses and sports clubs are strong points.

Their communication strategy is so strong and well-managed that the brand is able to replicate this success across an impressive 18 countries.

Ty Menzies, CEO of Lift Brands Australia and New Zealand which includes Snap Fitness, says the company experienced similar marketing challenges across their global markets.

“The strength of a brand is about being able to control it, but franchisees are always asking for more flexibility. They need something specific for their location, for their marketplace,” he said.

Businesses like Snap Fitness demonstrate the value in introducing local area marketing to your business. For franchise business owners and franchises alike, ignoring local area marketing is a sure way to  limit growth and earning potential by cutting out important market segments.

When empowered with the right tools to protect brand integrity, local area marketing could be the secret weapon to accelerating business success. For forward thinking franchise businesses, local area  marketing should be front of mind to stay relevant in a competitive market.

Peter Harris is the founder of franchise marketing platform Digital Stack, which aims to connect global brands to local customers with simple and useful technology.

Digital Stack is the leading marketing platform for franchises. It provides complete brand protection while enabling franchisees to quickly create professional, localised communications, from Facebook posts to brochures, Google Adwords and more.

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