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How three emerging brands make digital marketing work, in Living Large


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From search engine marketing to social media (including video), pay-per-click advertising and email campaigns, there’s no shortage of platforms on which franchises can spend their digital marketing dollars.

With so many options—plus print advertising, direct mail, PR and more—marketing success comes from having a coherent strategy, understanding the target customer audience and using each platform to its fullest capabilities.  

Whether you’re the franchisor or franchisee, search engine optimization is vital, digital marketing experts say. Seventy-one percent of people look up a business online before visiting for the first time, according to digital marketing agency WebFX, and 89 percent of people search for a local business on their smartphone at least once a week. A tip for franchisors: help your ‘zees understand what a Google My Business listing is and keep it updated—or take control of local listings. Either way, it’s important that franchisees understand the overall marketing strategy and can execute it on their end.

Social media is another powerful channel, and more franchisors are choosing to run all branding and messaging through the corporate office to ensure consistency. But highlighting local franchises and their community connections is crucial to social media engagement, which is why our Living Large bosses say they also actively seek local content from their ‘zees.   

Josh Sevick

“We need to affect people at the time of need, that’s how we make money.” — Josh Sevick, CPR Cell Phone Repair

‘Ridiculous amounts of growth’

The digital marketing program at CPR Cell Phone Repair is “by far the best thing we do for our franchisees,” says CEO Josh Sevick. That’s due in large part to Front Porch Solutions, the digital marketing firm that, like CPR, is part of Cleveland-based Merrymeeting Group’s portfolio.

Franchisees contribute a monthly fee of up to 2 percent of gross sales to a national ad fund, and Front Porch creates a digital marketing footprint for each franchise territory. The ad fund includes corporate and local SEO, email marketing, corporate social media and review management, along with pay-per-click management.

When Merrymeeting Group bought CPR in 2013 “it had zero digital marketing presence and no SEO authority,” recalls Sevick. That wasn’t going to cut it in an industry that’s heavily driven by web traffic and customers who search “iPhone repair near me” when they’re ready to spend money on device repair.

“We’ve since dumped boatloads of effort and resources into our digital platforms,” says Sevick, resulting in “ridiculous amounts of growth” in web traffic, which has ultimately driven same-store sales increases.

In the digital device repair business, “people don’t need you until they need you,” continues Sevick. “We need to affect people at the time of need, that’s how we make money.”

Similarly, when CPR acquired Digital Doc earlier this year, the brand didn’t have much of a marketing presence. As stores converted they immediately began seeing more web traffic and online estimate requests—“stuff that’s actually making the door swing,” says Sevick.

Franchisees get a report each month from Front Porch with analysis covering everything from pageviews to mobile traffic and adwords cost per conversion. ‘Zees can see where they rank on key word search and see how their competitors stack up. That to Sevick is a key benchmark.

“We want to make sure that every year we take more and more of our market share of those searches,” he says. “That’s telling us we’re stealing stuff away from our competitors.”

Social media has its place as well, with CPR taking a combined approach.

“The thing about social media is, we do really great national social media and structured content for our franchisees, but we need our franchisees to bring that local component,” says Sevick, such as snapping and posting a photo of a pro athlete who comes into a store or sharing news of supporting a community fundraiser. “You have to partner with franchisees in social media to do it effectively.”

Andy Howard

“We’re still learning on loyalty … ultimately, how much do we want to give away?” — Andy Howard, Huey Magoo’s

Targeted digital effort

When Andy Howard and his cohort of former Wingstop execs bought the then-four-unit Huey Magoo’s chicken tender chain in 2016 there wasn’t much to the brand’s marketing program, digital or otherwise, recalls Howard, now the CEO. An ad fund was launched, into which each store funnels 2 percent of its weekly sales, and the brand began working with Ilene Lieber of Passion PR Consulting, along with marketing group InnoVision.

“We can really hone in on our customers around our stores,” says Howard of InnoVision’s ability to create targeted digital ads for its home market of Orlando, Florida. As Huey Magoo’s grows “we’re able to turn that marketing on wherever they are so our future franchisees will get the same value whether they’re in Atlanta or Orlando.” The brand just inked a deal for Atlanta with a group of Papa John’s ‘zees.

InnoVision also runs Huey Magoo’s social media accounts and creates a monthly social media calendar with various promotions, aligning the messaging with Lieber’s PR efforts. Negative comments get immediate attention and reviews are shared with everyone in the system to both recognize good work and identify areas for improvement.

“Yelp is a big one, it’s sort of universal to the brand,” says Howard. “If someone sees a bad review, it’s associated with the brand, not a particular store, so we address those right away. Everybody is in it together.”

When it comes to digital marketing, the question of “is it working?” is one that is asked often, notes Howard, and while InnoVision tracks the click-through rates and impressions of digital ads, sales are the ultimate indicator of marketing success.

“And we’re up double digits on comp store sales,” says Howard.

PR, too, “is still one of the most effective ways to communicate,” continues Howard. “We’ve been able to get an enormous amount of press for a tiny brand.”

Huey Magoo’s also has an email club and is exploring the addition of a text message program to send promotions but hasn’t gone the loyalty program route just yet.

“We’re still learning on loyalty,” says Howard of considering how customers would accrue points and what food freebies would be among the rewards. “Ultimately, how much do we want to give away? It appears to me, once you’re in the loyalty game it’s hard to get out of.”

David Morton

“Our goal simply is to not be forgotten.” — David Morton, DMK Burger Bar

Constant storytelling

DMK Burger Bar’s greatest form of marketing, according to co-founder David Morton, is “aiming to deliver an experience that’s so exceptional that people want to tell their friends.

“That’s our overall approach,” continues Morton. “We also have a fairly robust public relations strategy with multiple PR firms on retainer to help us have our story told in the media. And we’re active users of social media.”

As DMK Burger Bar looks to grow beyond its five open Chicago-area locations, that social media piece will become increasingly important. The brand’s social media manager already generates weekly reports, including a summary of DMK’s online reputation and notable reviews (green for good, red for “areas of opportunity”), with a localized approach planned for new markets.

“We’ll look to franchisees for ideas, content and ways in which we can uniquely highlight their location,” says Morton. Messaging and management of accounts will still come from the corporate level to ensure consistency across the brand.

On the SEO front, Morton is more focused on generating lots of media mentions and getting his concept’s name referenced on other websites, which he says “is the most effective form of SEO other than pay-per-click.” Getting those mentions means constantly telling the brand’s story,  

“Overall, our mission for marketing, our goal simply is to not be forgotten,” says Morton. While he does get monthly media equivalency reports and other analysis, “Trying to measure every piece can be an inhibitor.”

Instead, Morton ultimately looks to restaurant revenue, such as sales during a particular daypart, as the proof of overall marketing success.

Laura Michaels is managing editor of Franchise Times and follows three emerging brands through a year’s worth of challenges in Living Large. Reach her at lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.


What the experts say

Transparency wins. When it comes to your brand’s franchise sales website, don’t withhold important information, writes Susan Baloun, partner and lead writer at marketing agency Wheat Creative. That means unlocking any locked content, such as a virtual brochures, on your website. “When you’re attempting to establish a basis of trust with potential franchisees, withholding information is a big no-no,” Baloun writes on the company blog. “Not only does it feel like an annoying game of keep-away until they give you what you want—their contact information—what’s to keep prospects from moving on to your competitor’s website that isn’t making them work so hard to get the information they want.”

Reap the benefits of social media. Whether you opt for corporate control of your brand’s social media platforms or get franchisees involved, a social media strategy starts with defining the target audience, according to Sparktank Franchise Marketing’s guide on the topic. “Evaluate where your customers spend their time online to establish which social media sites to utilize in your social media marketing efforts.” Then it’s time to develop a style guide and create a calendar of postings that includes text, images, video and links—and covers a variety of content, from the promotional to the humorous. And if ‘zees are allowed to post make sure there’s a system in place to monitor that activity.

Optimize for mobile. The average consumer spends 3.3 hours a day engaging with digital media on their mobile device. That number comes from the Kleiner Perkins 2018 Internet Trends Report and means digital marketing strategies need to shift focus to mobile as well, writes Betsy McLeod, digital marketing specialist at Blue Corona. “The most important asset—and the one you should prioritize—is a mobile-friendly website,” McLeod writes on the company blog. That means easy to read text and buttons and links that are large enough to be tapped with a finger. McLeod references more stats: 57 percent of all U.S. online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets; three in four smartphone owners turn to mobile search first for immediate needs. “Point-blank, if you’re interested in getting new customers (and keeping the ones you have), you need a mobile website design.”

Join the conversation in the Franchise Times Insights group on LinkedIn. The next topic is protecting the brand.

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