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Who’s driving the bus in new year?


Mark Siebert

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

Just three short years ago, dollars spent on television advertising exceeded the amount spent on digital ads by 10 percent. But in the last couple of years, the tables have turned.

This year, according to eMarketer.com, more than $93 billion was spent across digital platforms while only $74 billion was spent on television advertising, and eMarketer projects digital media will outpace television expenditures by more than 45 percent within the next two years.   

Eighty percent of Americans have Facebook profiles, a third of the country posts on Instagram, and LinkedIn has some 500 million members—most of whom are interested in furthering their careers.  

Traditionally, marketers have thrived by driving their advertising campaigns to the masses. Yet the last several years have taught us we aren’t doing the driving anymore. User-generated content is king; the content users post drives others to us, or in some cases away from us.

With franchise buyers at the wheel, the way we market needs to adapt at an ever-quickening pace.

Billboards on the superhighway

Years ago, we would barrel down the information superhighway and think nothing of the huge billboards that cluttered our view. But the way we have approached social media and digital marketing in recent years has changed.

For many franchisors, the problem is one of simple mathematics. Consider the fact that some 2,500 new franchisors have begun franchising in the last eight years and that some 60 percent of the franchise brands operating in the U.S. did not even exist in 2000.

Couple that increase in demand with franchise sales numbers that have only increased marginally over that same time frame, and one can readily see how demand for quality franchise leads is outstripping supply. There are now so many billboards along the route that the driver often pays no attention to any of them.

Social media has made it simple and affordable to tap into their extremely specific demographic databases to cash in on target markets “where they live.” But unlike radio, social media cuts both ways.

One need look no further than any of the dozens of websites that make a living by encouraging posts of largely negative reviews to understand how a single misstep can adversely impact a brand.

As is often the case, sometimes too much of even a good thing can cause complications. Recent events involving social media posting and social media advertising now have some lawmakers looking at regulation.

Facebook and Twitter filled headlines across the nation over the length of 2018. Facebook made over a dozen changes to its platform in the first quarter alone, and that was before its founder found himself in front of Congress. Accusations flew around Twitter’s leaders as well, and suddenly marketers knew too much about their target audiences. Algorithms that once were paths of least resistance became roadblocks. People began dropping their profile pages and stopped trusting ads. Social media sites began blocking content and banning abusers.

In response, most social media platforms upped their game to calm the anxiety of users and marketers alike, including those like us in the franchise industry who rely on social media marketing for portions of our overall franchise lead generation or consumer marketing campaigns.

A new kind of marketing has emerged and will continue to develop as we drive through 2019. It’s cheaper, has a broader reach, and gives us the ability to retain some level of control. Our targeted publics may be behind the wheel, but we get to navigate.

The publication Project Muse asks its readers to imagine themselves in a department store circa 1905, buying gloves. The store clerks know every detail about the gloves they sell. They build relationships with their customers, and then bring out a tray of gloves based on what the customers desire. Long fingers or short? Leather or man-made? Where will they wear them?

The point of the story will be as true on social media in 2019 as it was in department stores in 1905. The sale relies on relationships, customization and optimal experience for the customer.

Americans use social media for just about every interaction with the brands they use, a place where customer service, marketing and public relations meet.

Take this example from Southwest Airlines, spoken about at a recent social media conference in Seattle. A female Southwest passenger was upset because the WiFi signal on the plane lacked strength to live-stream a sports event, so she took to social media to complain about the airline.

Southwest has an entire team of social listeners in its marketing department.  One of them introduced himself, apologized, and then gave her continuous updates of the game for the entirety of her flight. What happened? The woman posted that she was sad her team lost, but that Southwest Airlines was a true winner.

Our target publics for franchise sales may require that we find them behind their mobile screens within their favorite platform. They give real-time reviews of what we are offering (or what they have bought) and retweet or regram their pleasure or misgivings about the brand.

If marketers understand their franchisees and prospects, and offer products, services and experiences that are customized specifically for the user, not only will they act on our call to action, but they’ll share, follow, blog, tweet, post, review, snap and more.

There is little doubt in my mind that 2019 will be the year of user-generated content. And the sooner we recognize that it will be our various publics—consumers, prospects, franchisees and colleagues—that will drive our message in the future, the sooner we will be able to focus on delivering it to them in a manner that they can pass on to the world.

Mark Siebert is CEO of franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com.

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