As winter turns to spring, my thoughts invariably turn to fishing. I have, for most of my life, enjoyed the sport. Fresh water, salt water, good weather, bad — you name it. But I am only an amateur at best, because for me fishing is as much about being on the water and enjoying the outdoors as it is about the size of any catch. Not my friend Fred, though. Fred was a serious angler.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that Fred’s techniques for successful fishing are a good lesson for franchise salespeople. Now Fred never sold a franchise and probably never read an FDD — in fact, he wasn’t even in sales. But he knew it’s a lot easier to catch a boatload of throwaway pan fish than to catch one or two real keepers. For Fred, that meant knowing where the fish are and using the right bait.

It’s the same in franchise marketing. To build a successful franchise network, it is not a good idea to haul just anyone into your boat. And it’s not enough to simply drop your line and sit back to admire the view. You need to take the steps that are most likely to help you find and identify the real keepers, the franchisees who fit your concept well and will help you grow your network.
Let’s take a look at the right “bait” for marketing your franchise system.

For the best net results

Awarding franchises is not about selling recipes, or secret sauces, proprietary equipment, your service guarantee, or the results you provide your customers. It is, instead, all about selling something entirely different: a franchise. As a franchisor, you are selling a brand, a system, training, support, and a tackle-box full of benefits. So to be successful, both the medium and the message will need to be different from your everyday consumer marketing.

Fred used to tell me about fishing for muskellunge — or “muskies.”  Muskies are “the fish of 10,000 casts,” because they are both elusive and great fighters. So it is considered a successful trip if you put just one trophy in the boat. And, like fishing for trophy muskies, the goal of franchise sales should be to catch the best fish— and only the best.

The franchise salesperson needs to persuade someone to undertake a complete life change and to invest tens, or perhaps hundreds, of thousands of dollars in what they believe is the potential of a franchise concept. To this end, your franchise materials cannot just focus on décor or products. You want your franchise prospects to know you are committed to providing the services and support they want and need and that you are capable of helping them succeed as business owners. This is a whole different kettle of fish and it will require you to use new skills beyond the ones that made your original concept a success. This effort will require the skills of an expert fisherman who knows what he is casting for and won’t settle for anything less than his goal.

You can presume your franchise prospect will be looking at more than one franchise opportunity, so you need to focus on your unique selling points. Do you offer a turn-key operation for a complicated-to-start business? Do your founders have decades of experience? Is there a depth of corporate support available to future franchisees? These are just some key concepts that must be put across when marketing a franchise opportunity.

Then, franchise marketing must be tailored to your audience. And while prospective franchisees are your primary target, you must consider others who will be looking at these materials as well — spouses, partners, lenders, lawyers, landlords and other secondary influencers. This calls for a level of sophistication and business savvy that may not be necessary in your usual consumer materials. You need to use a different kind of bait.

Don’t get me wrong: Your carefully nurtured brand identity definitely has a role to play, but it will be more of a supporting role. You will still use the taglines, logos, color schemes and fonts that identify your brand so well now in your franchise marketing materials. And a “Franchises Available” message should certainly start to appear on your normal TV and print media advertising, point-of-sale pieces, delivery vans, and other logo-bearing items as you begin your franchise sales activities.

Many franchisees will buy into your concept because they have a genuine passion for the product or service you offer, not just because they have made a cold assessment of its financial potential — and there’s nothing wrong with this. You want your franchisees to love your product and service. But what’s important to remember when you are marketing a franchise concept is that you are no longer just selling pets, dresses or home-health services  —  you are also selling business ownership and a pathway to a certain lifestyle. And your prospects must be qualified — financially, temperamentally, and in terms of their general business experience.

Plan to support the franchise message in all aspects of your marketing: the brochure copy, the video, testimonials, and pictures. For example, the pictures in your franchise marketing pieces could show dedicated staff doing their jobs with a smile. You can show your franchise team assisting a new franchisee with training shots or blueprints laid out. If you are showing interior shots of a store, make sure you show happy customers in the shot. The empty store may look beautiful, but it is the prospective franchisee’s worst nightmare.

Just be sure the portrayals are accurate: For example, don’t show five franchisor reps at an opening if you’ll only be sending one. You want the prospect to begin feeling like an insider — a part of the team — so your franchise marketing materials must create this connection.
Update your website to include a page on your franchise program and an initial inquiry form prospects can fill out and submit. Make your message informative and compelling, but keep it brief. A larger print brochure delivered to qualified prospects can be more detailed and include more historical information on the founder/concept to convince them this is the right franchise for them so they will take the next step and contact you.

Use the right hook

Like Fred used to say when angling muskie, “The bigger the fish, the bigger the bait.” The bottom line: You need to know who your prospect is. For example, if you are selling a $1 million restaurant concept and will sell only to experienced, multi-unit developers, the message will need to accommodate the sensibilities of the sophisticated businessperson looking at your marketing pieces. On the other hand, if you anticipate your franchisees will likely be first-time business owners, anticipate the typical concerns a new business owner may have (e.g. “What kinds of start-up assistance can I expect to receive?” ”How do I know if there’s a market for this product or service?”)

The marketing medium may also differ. In addition to traditional franchise marketing vehicles, marketing through general business media or even job-search media may be appropriate — again, depending on your target.

Finally, you will need to be sure that anyone involved in your franchise sales process — including brokers or outsourced sales personnel — are “on message.” They must be thoroughly versed in the value of your franchise program so they can support it enthusiastically.

A cautionary note: Remember that franchise marketing is highly regulated — perhaps even more so than consumer advertising — so you will need to ensure your franchise sales team chooses its words, timing, and media carefully. Some states require that franchise advertising is approved before use in that state. This can get complicated considering the multi-state reach of many media — especially factoring in social media. Also, phrases that may be acceptable in consumer advertising may raise red flags in franchise advertising. You will need to have all of your marketing materials reviewed by an experienced franchise attorney.

In the end, fishing for “lunkers” is all about thinking like a fish. You have to know where they will be, what bait they will strike, and how that bait should be presented. And while it may take more casts to find those few fish worth keeping, focusing exclusively on your target will likely net you the best results.

Mark Siebert is the chief executive officer of the iFranchise Group (www.ifranchisegroup.com), a franchise consulting firm. Mark can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at info@ifranchise.net.