Use Brand Storytelling To Boost Leads

Stories are the basis of human communication and decision-making. We use stories to relate to one another and make sense of the world around us. At the root of the massive changes to Google's search algorithms in the past three years has been a push to help people find the stories they are searching for when they type in a search query.

When prospects begin to do online research, they type in questions or key phrases to get at the stories that help them understand the franchise brand and how the model works. They want to understand the history of the company, how the brand came to be, where the brand is going and who is leading the charge. They want to hear stories about who the customer is, and why customers choose this brand.

As we showed in our article The New Lead Generation Winning Formula, franchise buyers don't respond well to skimpy or flashy franchise opportunity websites that overtly hype the brand. Buying a franchise is a huge risk for many franchise candidates; it's a major life change and an emotionally charged decision. The typical franchise buyer spent nearly an hour on our client's franchise opportunity website before they filled out a contact form. Then they spent 2 to 3 months researching the business before deciding to move forward and sign an agreement.

Websites that resemble online sales brochures or traditional advertising copy completely miss the mark, lacking what franchise buyers need to move forward in the process.

Brand storytelling -- the craft of using trained journalists and business reporters to dive deep and expand the scope of your franchise brand's story -- is creating breakthroughs for brands that use it.

First, let's start by defining the difference between copywriting and brand journalism. Marco's Pizza, the fastest-growing pizza chain in the U.S., is our client. We designed their franchise opportunity website and publish regular blog posts on the site about their brand. If you were a franchise buyer, which would you find more engaging:

  1. A brochure with the headline "Own Your Slice of the American Dream with Marco's Pizza. There is Still Plenty of Dough to be Made in the $40 billion pizza industry."
  2. A story about Pat Giammarco, founder of Marco's, who was so concerned with the mix of tomatoes he used in his sauce that he commissioned a grower to develop a proprietary hybrid tomato that combined the best elements of three different tomatoes into one. Marco's pizza sauce is now made from this hybrid tomato created and grown just for the pizza chain. Furthermore, Marco's is so concerned about the texture and taste profile of their pizza, the flour they use in their fresh dough is made from high-protein wheat that grows in the northern plains of Minnesota and is harvested only in the spring.

Which do you find more believable? Which draws you in? Which information do you trust? Which calls to you, saying, "I want to learn more."

The truth is, there really is still plenty of dough to be made in the $40 billion pizza industry. But the first headline sounds too clichéd to be credible.

When we took on Menchie's frozen yogurt concept as a client, a marketing firm had suggested we use the headline, "Success is only a swirl away" on their franchise opportunity website. Does this prompt someone to action? Does this inspire a sense of urgency? Did you say to yourself, "I had better get cracking because success is only one swirl away!"?

Brand storytelling is radically different and uncomfortably counterintuitive for anyone who has worked in the trenches of franchise development or traditional copywriting. At first glance, brand storytelling is shocking in its length and scope. You might think people really want only the quick headlines and that they don't care about the details. You might worry that you're giving away too much of the story, thus taking the phone out of your franchise salesperson's hands. You might be thinking, "I just want to whet their appetite and then make them talk to me if they want the rest of the story."

The skimpy brochure-style franchise opportunity websites that we replace regularly convert 1% to 1.5% of their unique visitors to leads (meaning they leave their contact information). When we replace them with article-format sites composed of 20 to 30 pages of brand journalism-style content, these websites convert 4% to 5% of unique visitors, while maintaining the same or better lead-to-close ratios. The bottom line is that deal flow increases. For instance, when we reinvented Chem-Dry's franchise opportunity website to a brand journalism-style, article-format website in 2012, Chem-Dry increased the number of franchisees they recruited from their website from 10 in 2011 to 70 in 2012, increasing franchise fee revenues by $1 million.

Making this shift means not only overhauling your website, but everything written as well: PPC ads, online search results, landing pages, research funnels, email drip campaigns, portal ad copy, online sales brochure copy (such as Captivate or Process Peak), and just about anything else a prospect might encounter.

Brand storytelling is the root and foundation of content marketing. If you attended Franchise Update's Leadership & Development Conference last fall, year or read their Annual Franchise Development Report, you saw that sales resulting from SEO skyrocketed. Peeling back the layers, the companies in the survey reporting such high results were mostly using brand storytelling, article-format websites, and journalism-style content marketing.

Joe Mathews is a founding partner of Franchise Performance Group, which specializes in franchisee recruitment, sales, and performance.
Thomas Scott, senior consultant at FPG, is a franchise lead generation specialist and an expert in creating franchise websites, blogging, SEO, social media, and PR campaigns to recruit qualified franchisees. Contact FPG at 615-628-8461 or joe@franchiseperformancegroup.com.

Published: February 18th, 2014

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