I met David Buckley, chief marketing officer for Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores at a workshop on franchise consumer marketing I moderated recently.
What does he know about marketing at scale, and how does he provide leadership in a hyper-competitive home improvement marketplace? And, most important, what can other franchisors learn from this?
We wanted to find out. From the hundreds of conversations about marketing at scale we've had with franchisors and franchisees, the pitfalls that derail local marketing at scale tend to be similar. Why is that? It may be simply a question of misperceptions that persist that creates two versions of reality.
To help answer this question, we asked David what the top three misperceptions are that derail success in franchise systems, and how does he gain alignment at Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores? Here's what he shared.
DAVID: Local marketing efforts often are assessed on performance seen by the franchisee in their locations. Oftentimes, the measure of success is subjective. If customers bring in specific marketing pieces more than others, those efforts are deemed to be more successful. This leads to investment in more trackable media and increased discounting. What is visible or can be measured at the store level isn't always the most productive marketing. More structured tests with control groups to measure lift aids the franchisee in understanding what is truly driving their business.
CMOO: We see that marketing at scale is a perennial challenge for franchisors and franchisees alike. Understanding the underlying business drivers for the system as a whole and benchmarked against individual locations will help bring franchisor and franchisees into alignment. Where top marketing executives at franchise brands desire uniformity, compliance, and system-wide data points, franchisees desire simplicity, proven marketing ROI, and individualized planning for their market. But franchisors and franchisees can agree on a need for quantifiable results that serve both sets of needs.
DAVID: It isn't uncommon for a franchisee to try something new and determine that it was either a success or failure based solely on their own sales result. It's important to have some comparison point. Flat sales in the face of a new marketing effort could feel like a failure. However, if similar stores without this investment slid backward in sales, it would point to a positive impact that would otherwise be unseen. Learning what works requires sharing information across a wider base of stores.
CMOO: We've all heard this narrative time and again. "We tried that and it didn't work!" The desire for a magic tactic is as compelling to some as the quest for Atlantis. But absent a strategy, throwing money at tactics will (at best) not be sustainable.
Franchisees tend to approach local marketing with an expectation of guaranteed results, which becomes a challenge in itself.
The proliferation of online channels and providers that offer a variety of tools and programs such as directory listing management, online review management, digital advertising, SEO services, SEM, social media marketing, outdoor, radio, and TV make the universe for local marketing exceptionally complex, especially when there are multiple relationships needing oversight and management - and the aggregation and interpretation of data can add to this complexity. So to know what success looks like, the need for measurement and data points system-wide becomes even more critical.
DAVID: Not everyone consumes media in the same way. It's important to remain open to different options for local marketing. There isn't a magic bullet. On one hand you shouldn't declare traditional media dead too soon, but on the other hand you shouldn't wait too long to try new digital channels. This also applies to messaging. It is important to understand if the messaging resonates with consumers or if you are simply telling the story you want to tell, even if it isn't important to the consumer.
DAVID: The best way to gain alignment is complete transparency and open dialogue. We have a group of franchisees I meet with monthly to understand their views and ideas. During these meetings, I'm able to share results from tests across multiple brands. The franchisees are able to bring their ideas, and we can provide a large group against which to test the ideas. When we do this, all franchisees have an opportunity to participate in the test and, regardless of participation, results are shared with all franchisees. It gives us the chance to test different hypotheses. Something that a single franchisee has tried can be tested on a larger scale, and we've learned a lot doing this. The three misperceptions all have one thing in common: they occur when a franchisee doesn't have a forum to discuss and test ideas with a larger group. I think our collaborative approach goes a long way to solve that.
CMOO: That's end of the rainbow for the promise of scalable local marketing initiatives for many marketers... to develop the right combination of strategy, scale, and execution that will ultimately resonate with consumers to take an action. Getting new franchisees to ramp up, mid-level performers to the next level, and top performers growing is a matter of correcting misperceptions and setting expectations early on.
Finding success in this fractured, noisy marketplace takes leadership and guts to get it right. When every stakeholder feels they have a say and share in the outcomes, good brand things happen.
Philip St. Jacques is president of St. Jacques Marketing. Find out more at stjacques.com. If you would like to be included in upcoming issues of CMO Outlook, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-708-9467.
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