Effective National Marketing Policies for Your Local Franchisees

In an effort to protect and strengthen their brands, national franchisors and corporations often enforce restrictive marketing policies for franchisees and local operations.

For example, new research from BIA/Kelsey indicates some franchisors limit or filter social media used by franchisees. According to the survey of local franchise businesses, more than half (51 percent) stated their franchisors are "highly involved" with the social media presence of their local franchise businesses, with some requiring the local franchisee to run public dialogue with customers through the national corporate website.

Another 23 percent of franchisees said their franchisors are "somewhat involved" with their social media presence, allowing the local franchisees to use social networks like Facebook, but with rules and boundaries about how active they can be and what they can say.

This is understandable on the part of the franchisor and can be beneficial for local operations. A strong corporate or franchise brand can represent a huge competitive advantage for a local branch or franchisee.

At the same time, employing the right mix of marketing activities to distinguish a local operation within its local marketplace is critical to long-term success. The local business needs to be able to connect and communicate with customers on a local level that is relevant for their market area. Local operations can be hamstrung by restrictive corporate or franchise marketing programs and policies. Working within national brand guidelines can make it difficult to drive local awareness, consumer engagement, the feeling of connectedness or belonging and traffic.

Adding to these conflicting interests, franchisees and other local operations are increasingly drawn to the budget- and time investment-friendly advantages of digital marketing. When it comes to digital marketing, more than half of franchisees (58 percent) view online marketing as "very important" or "important" to the success of their business, while another 27 percent said it was "somewhat important," according to a recent survey of franchisees by Yodle. Yet, almost two thirds (64 percent) are at least "somewhat disappointed" with the level and quality of support they receive from corporate when it comes to online marketing.

So how can franchisees and local operations achieve their own marketing goals while also respecting the corporate or franchise brand and the marketing policies that are intended to protect it?

National branding at the local level

Two important areas of digital marketing offer significant local marketing value while adhering to restrictive corporate and franchise marketing policies: business listings management and local search optimization (LSO). These activities not only help protect the national brand, they are highly effective at driving awareness and engagement at the local level. These activities will allow the local franchisee to capture the search traffic and interest driven by the national marketing happening at the corporate level.

Before you can even focus on what brand or marketing message is delivered or who controls that message, an important first step for any local business is to make sure it can be found by local consumers. In today's digitally driven economy, that means you have to be present in local online and searches. The essential building block of local online findability is the local business listing. This includes basic business information (company name, address, and phone number), as well as enhanced content like website links, hours of operation, logos, menus, and photos of the business or products.

Consistency of this information across the hundreds of local business directories, search engines, business portals and social networks is critical. This commitment to a consistent - and persistent local online presence that is part of an effective business listings management and LSO strategy is also something that a national or regional franchise will likely appreciate and authorize in its effort to protect and reinforce its brand at the local level.

In branding, consistency is king. This is why franchisors often limit and regulate individual franchisees: to ensure that a consistent brand appears across their national or regional market.

The same is true for business listings. All the information across all listings should be accurate and consistent so that search efforts are reinforced, and each franchised location is findable across all search engines, mobile sites, apps, and even in-car navigation systems.

If executed correctly, business listings management helps leverage marketing and media spend on a local and granular level. The large corporate initiatives drive awareness and searches, and the local business listings are where the rubber meets the road for each franchisee, converting a search or desire into an action such as a call or a walk-in to that business.

Gideon RubinGideon Rubin is CMO of Local Market Launch, a Santa Barbara-based startup focused on driving new standards of quality in business listings management and local presence solutions for national brands, multi-location businesses, and SMBs. Contact him at gideon@localmarketlaunch.com or 805-960-5577.

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