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Online Marketing

A three-part plan to restore franchising’s ‘promise’ in digital age


Inspect a franchise network and you’re likely to find a great deal of consistency in branding, messaging, pricing, uniforms and even whether the bathrooms use paper towels or driers. One thing you probably won’t find, however, is a consistent franchise-wide approach to online marketing.  

This is odd, given that most consumers search for and discover local services online, and most franchise owners rely on online marketing as a critical channel to acquire new customers. A recent Yodle poll revealed that 66 percent of franchisees are at least somewhat dissatisfied with the online marketing support provided by their franchise operator. 

When a franchise operator sells a franchise they are usually making an implicit promise to their new franchisee. First, there’s the power of a brand. Second, they provide a playbook for success. Third, they offer support and experience. It’s a lonely world out there, and having the support of a similar group of franchise network business owners gives the franchisee a large pool of resources.

Corey O’Donnell

Corey O’Donnell

This three-part winning formula has been the foundation of the franchise operator to franchisee relationship for decades, but it hasn’t yet evolved to fully respect the role of the internet in acquiring customers in today’s ever-connected and mobile world.

The breakdown is not for lack of effort; franchise operators are pouring significant dollars and resources into online marketing support for their franchisees, but find it difficult to craft a cohesive plan. After all, each franchise market is unique, offering and emphasizing a different set of services or products based on the tastes, needs and competitive influences of their individual market.  

This can make it seem almost impossible for the franchise operator to craft a coordinated, customized, brand-consistent and locally relevant online strategy for each franchise location. This problem is only exacerbated in a market where everything is changing so rapidly— including search algorithms, bidding systems, map relevance and desktop and mobile platforms.

Despite these challenges, there is still a basic structure for a solution, relying on three guiding principles:

1. Rethink the website purpose:  Corporate franchise websites serve as brochures, educating the customer on the unique benefits of the franchise product or service. These sites are critical, but the local site for each franchise location needs a different emphasis: action. Local sites should be brand consistent, follow a structured domain-name policy, emphasize local services, and provide pages heavily focused on converting customers into callers, emailers, and prospects.  

2. Localize your search terms. Do you call it “pop” or “soda?”  Search terms can vary by location, and include descriptions for areas, neighborhoods or communities that don’t reconcile to the place names on a map. Your search term keywords need to be customized for each location, and for each organic or paid search provider.

3. Don’t allow family fights. Without a coordinated approach derived from the franchise operator, the more eager franchisees will take it upon themselves to run paid advertising campaigns on the web. However, without the expertise and coordination of a centralized plan, they can end up raising the cost for everyone by competing on search terms, and clouding and confusing the franchise brand. Get together and coordinate, possibly aggregating your efforts regionally.

With the leadership of the franchise operator, and the cooperation of the franchisees, the network can create an online presence that rewards every participant, reflects the preferences of each local market, and maintains a constant and consistent brand for the franchise. With that, the promise of the franchise is restored in the digital era. 

Corey O’Donnell is vice president of national marketing for Yodle, an online marketing firm, and can be reached at codonnell@yodle.com.

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