As franchise systems continue to develop ways to attract new customers and create brand advocates from their frequent customers, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to understand consumers' online buying behavior. The reality for all franchise systems is that their customers are not only online, they are also actively seeking information and feedback before making a buying decision. In fact, 94 percent of consumers say they research products online before buying and, more important, 97 percent use online media when researching local products and services.
The buyer's journey to purchase is now a consumer-directed, socially influenced, brand-inspired pursuit of truth and opportunity. Long gone are the days of simple price comparisons. Consumers want to know not only the best price available, but also what other consumers think of the product or business, where the closest store is located, and many other bits of information that allow them to make the best possible choice for themselves and their wallets.
To stay in front of potential customers at each step of the path to purchase, these four key pillars of an integrated digital marketing strategy should not be ignored by any franchise system or multi-unit retail business: 1) local business listings, 2) local paid search marketing, 3) local search engine optimization (SEO), and 4) local social media.
Implementing specific strategies for success across each of these four channels requires a combined effort between a franchisor's management team and its franchisees. While every franchise system has individual franchisees dedicated to being active in marketing their own businesses and store locations, without a consistent plan of action for all franchisees to embrace, things can sometimes go awry and result in a potential loss of brand reputation. Here are a few best practices that can help create better system-wide harmony in your digital marketing efforts.
The two keys to gaining top local rankings in search engine results are 1) data integrity, and 2) listing accuracy. When location data is managed by a corporate team or partner, data integrity can be ensured across the entire system, resulting in top positions for all locations. Local business listings in the top position of page one receive 42 percent of all click-through traffic. The most important step in achieving this top position is accurate data across all locations.
Local pay-per-click programs are an incredible way to empower franchisees to market to their local customers by creating ad programs that speak directly to their location and provide offers in the ad copy, targeting consumers in their specific territories or markets. It is important to have consistency in overall brand messaging, but franchisees should also have the opportunity to customize budgets and messaging to fit their local marketing needs.
Managing website content on a system-wide content management system (CMS) should come from the executive team, as SEO is a long-term strategy to help increase the brand's position in organic rankings. Although a variety of factors are involved in achieving success from an SEO standpoint, one option for franchise systems includes developing individual location pages. Changes to Google's Venice algorithm have placed a greater emphasis on localized content to achieve top ranking, and driving consumers to individual store location pages provides a better overall user experience by displaying more useful and relevant local content. Franchise systems can also give franchisees access to customize content on their own location pages, while still preserving the brand identity by building them on a flexible, open-sourced CMS.
Local fans of a business deliver exponentially more marketing value than corporate fans, to the tune of 40:1. Why? Local fans relate more to local content from their favorite business, local content is more visible in their social media news updates, and local business owners often occupy front row seats in their communities. Franchise system managers should still have a dedicated social media manager or team to help develop content and manage the overall brand community, but empowering franchisees with the tools to connect with local customers and promote community events, offers, and local store culture can lead to true brand advocacy from customers.
Managing the consumer path to purchase is not always easy, which is why a coordinated effort between the franchisor and its franchisees is imperative. By providing customers with the information they seek and the content they desire at every step of their online buying journey, franchise systems can grow their customer base exponentially.
Josh Allen is the Marketing Manager for Location3 Media, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Denver. He is responsible for managing all marketing strategies, initiatives, and branding opportunities. Location3 Media is an approved Supplier Forum member of the IFA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2010 Compete Online Shopper Intelligence Study
March 2010 BIA/Kelsey consumer tracking study
2010 Deloitte LLP Survey
Mainstay Salire, Research Study, The Power of Going Local, 2012
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