PR as a Cost-Effective Lead Generation Strategy
With the proliferation of more sophisticated social media, PR, web, and blogging tools available today, franchisors have a golden opportunity to tell their story to a captive pool of franchise candidates who are hungry for such information. During a Franchise Update Leadership & Development Conference only a few years ago, you could count on one hand the number of franchisees successfully recruited through franchisors' implementation of a social media strategy.
In contrast, Showhomes, then an emerging franchisor specializing in decorating and staging vacant, upscale residential properties for quick resale, stood out as an exception. Showhomes attributed $300,000 in franchise fee revenue in 2009 to their social media outreach efforts. Thomas Scott, then Showhomes' partner and resident social media expert (and collaborator on this e-book), is quick to point out what he does differently than everyone else... which appears to make all the difference.
When explaining his approach, Scott, a former journalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, gave me a huge "Aha!" And despite the rapid changes in online PR and communication since then, the lessons still hold today.
Scott outlined three things Showhomes did differently than other franchisors. First, he explained the difference in writing styles between PR writers and journalists. "PR writers are often hired to promote and sell products and services. In contrast, journalists entertain, intrigue, grab attention, and inform readers by putting out engaging content. I am not a PR writer. I am Showhomes' Brand Journalist," he told me.
Aside from using a different writer's voice, Scott explained how his tactics are different. "When I was a journalist with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, every day the newspaper carried hundreds of articles, all competing for the readers' attention. I wanted them to read my article. I couldn't 'sell them' on why they should read my article. Instead, I wrote a snappy headline that grabbed their attention and followed up with captivating content. Content is king."
Scott appears to relate to the Internet as if it is one big newspaper with an almost infinite number of articles fighting to grab his readers' attention. Knowing that his target franchise candidates gravitate toward the "real estate section" of the Internet, he released a continual stream of snappy, newsworthy, and engaging content, such as blogs, online publications, and other online resources, where those interested in residential real estate and home decorating typically troll for information.
Unlike today's newspaper, which is read today and lines the bird cage tomorrow, Internet content, when optimized for search engines, has permanent staying power. Scott likens his leaving steady streams of information with targeted Internet venues to leaving a trail of bread crumbs that leads his target franchise candidate to the Showhomes franchise opportunity website. There he can tell his story, communicate his value proposition, and convert both first-time and returning visitors to fully engaged and buyer-ready leads.
Scott insists his strategy will successfully translate to other brands. "Candidates who are already interested in the products, services, or ideas of your business will try to tune in to your story. For instance, people who have had a bad experience with home health care are already tuned into content about a home health care business. People who work in the real estate or interior design industry are already interested in a home staging business like Showhomes. People who are into working out are already interested in the fitness industry and so on."
Scott wasn't interested in the total number of leads Showhomes generated. Instead, he subscribes to the Franchise Performance Group's lead generation philosophy of quality and fit over quantity. Says Scott, "I want to recruit 25 franchisees this year. Therefore, I only need to find 25 franchise candidates who want what we have. All my social media content, advertising, franchise opportunity website, and email drip campaigns are designed to communicate our franchise opportunity value proposition to those 25 who are a good fit for our system. I don't care about anyone else."
Is Showhomes a trailblazer in the next frontier of lead generation or a "one-hit wonder" like '80s pop band Dexys Midnight Runners, the group responsible for the brain-stabbing abomination "Come on Eileen"? Was Showhomes' success an indicator of a new winning formula for lead generation that leverages Internet content to intersect, inform, and engage new leads or to reinvigorate old ones? Are they creating a lead generation template allowing franchisors to bypass franchise opportunity portals and brokers and engage leads directly?
Are you posting steady streams of captivating information intended to educate your target franchise candidate on the value proposition of your business? Do you have a stand-alone franchise opportunity website designed to transition franchise candidates from the "Entrepreneurial Aha!" and "Data Gathering" stages to "Engagement"? Are you actively networking and posting in online communities whose members can connect to your value proposition?
Joe Mathews is a founding partner of Franchise Performance Group, which specializes in franchisee recruitment, sales, and performance. This article is adapted from his free, downloadable e-book, The Franchise Sales Tipping Point: 10 Keys to Creating a Franchise Sales Breakthrough. Contact him at 860-567-3099 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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