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Franchise Marketing – Who Does What?

Franchise Marketing Responsibilities – Franchisor & Franchisee

franchise marketing targetMost franchisors collect a marketing fee, but what are they doing with it?  What SHOULD they be doing with it? This article is based on my 30 years of experience in franchising.

Think of franchise marketing as growing in concentric circles, each circle getting thicker and more valuable as the franchise group grows. Very few young franchisors (zors) can provide everything that new franchisees (zees) need – the marketing grows as the funds grow.  (Get a free download – my Franchise Marketing Checklist with all the marketing possibilities at the side of this article.) But let’s start at the beginning:

Doing It Right

Here’s the best plan for a new franchisor:  you build a successful business with at least a couple of other units (or people) up and running using your excellent systems; you build a positive cash flow and you go out and borrow a million bucks (or even a half million), hire a great ad agency to brand your company and set up your three-year marketing plan (complete with website, branding, social media, and graphics); and you begin duplicating your success via franchising.

Doing It Anyway

However, with money being pretty tight, many young companies can’t find financial backing for  their expansion into franchising. So they’re bootstrapping. And most new franchisors aren’t as knowledgeable about marketing as they are about starting up and running their company. Hiring an agency would have taken money away from operations and expansion so they did just enough marketing to become successful to the point where they could justify franchising.

At that point their basic marketing probably consisted of a name and logo, some graphics and ads, a website (not the best), and a Facebook page.  When their business was finally making good money, they could have spent it for an ad agency to strategize their branding and create a solid marketing plan, but instead it went to hire a franchise developer to get them ready for franchising.

Their franchise developer had them spend the rest of their money for trademarking their name and logo and setting up their franchise marketing plan.  And their franchise marketing required a better website – one that would showcase the business so that they could entice franchise candidates to buy the franchise. So their latest marketing expenditures still weren’t about their actual products and services.

Year 2 – 3

Typically a young franchisor will manage to sell 4-6 franchises in the first couple of years. When those new franchisees get up and running, their biggest demands will be for more and better marketing, but the dollars aren’t there yet for either the zor or the zee. Hopefully they can hang on. However, according to several studies, about 50% of all new franchisors have failed by the end of their 4th year.  But let’s assume that they had good financial forecasting and financing and they make it!

The Rest of the Story – What Smart Franchisors Should Provide

If they are clever, as soon as they can afford it good franchisors will fulfill their franchisees’ needs with marketing that gets their new zees started faster and growing steadily.  Here’s what smart franchisors should provide as soon as they can: (And lest there be riots at franchise headquarters, remember that this is an optimal list, not an instant requirement.)

Customer demographics. Using their actual customer statistics from corporate units, the company must determine the demographics of the ideal customer so that both franchisor and franchisees aim all marketing directly at that group. It helps if an actual persona is developed so that franchisees clearly understand the customer they are seeking with their marketing.

Unique Selling Proposition.  Sometimes called a positioning statement, a USP states the one most important meaningful difference between your brand and your competitors. Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of homogeneous competitors, you can’t target your sales efforts successfully. Read more about USP’s here.

franchise marketing persona

Lisa, the Persona

Branding.  Branding comes FIRST; unless a zor has hired an excellent agency to determine their brand positioning and strategy, all future advertising may miss the mark.

Brand strategy is about emotions – finding and fulfilling the emotional needs of their customers – the needs that no other brand can fulfill as well.  Many companies completely ignore branding because they don’t understand why they need it.

Example: A company sells elder care – nurse’s aides and helpers that go to visit the elderly in their homes.  They have correctly identified their ideal customer as a 58-year-old woman named Lisa who is seeking care for her 85-year-old mother.  Without branding, the website and flyers might be lists of services and prices. But a branding expert will toss that out in favor of ads showing loving young people having a lovely time with their smiling senior friends. The expert will teach the company that what they are really selling is peace of mind as well as freedom from guilt. Their customers want to feel that they have taken loving care of their parents or grandparents, not just bought a quick visit from a stranger, so the website and marketing should be all about caring.  Click here for more about branding.

NOTE TO FRANCHISORS:  If you don’t push hard in your training classes with your very clear branding message and persona, your franchisees are going to choose marketing methods that appeal to THEM, not to your ideal customer. (You’ve probably found that out already?) Our first Jack In The Box franchisees were irate at the “ridiculous” JIB marketing until they understood that the marketing was aimed at 16-22-year-old males.

Image Development. Armed with the brand strategy and customer demographics, a franchisor should now hire a graphic designer to develop the company’s logo, colors, and graphics, including business cards and stationery. If the company is location-based, this is the time to hire a commercial interior designer to design the site’s “look” and layout aimed at the correct customer demographic. The company should build a corporate unit using the new design to test it. They will use it as their franchisee training site as well as a showcase for franchise sales.

Website.  A top design, interactive, with a template for every franchisee is the responsibility of every zor.  A great website is vital, and the graphic designer and web designer should work together on the appearance of the site. There are some solutions for providing websites for franchisors without reinventing the wheel — one of the people attending the IFX franchise conference in San Diego was Jeff Williams of SpaceCraft, who works with Dan Martin of IFX to offer zor/zee websites with a number of branded templates and a minimum amount of hassle, and you can add Dan’s valuable intranet solutions as well. 

To keep the website high up on the search engines, there needs to be a blog, and providing content should be a responsibility of both franchisor and franchisees, managed by the franchisor. 

Want to see company websites that look just right? I’ve enjoyed taking a look at Iron Tribe Fitness and Firehouse Subs. They know their customers – you’ll see that instantly when you go to their webs. They have great stories, a good cause, and consistent marketing, plus tweeting and posting on Facebook to increase community.

Marketing plans.  A company-wide plan with ads, specials, etc. laid out far in advance will unify the efforts toward branding.  If a company is smart, they’ll design a 3-month grand opening plan and a first year marketing plan at the very least. New franchisees are overwhelmed with responsibilities, so a zor that hands them the plan and helps them carry it out will win – the sales take off faster, and the zee will get into the habit of consistent marketing.  Then every year (or for shorter intervals if preferable), each franchisee should receive that year’s plan and be required to implement it.

Database.  Zors need to launch an excellent customer database program to collect as much information about customers as possible, including addresses and email addresses. Both corporate and the zees should keep the list as clean as possible. The database needs to have the ability to be segmented into almost any combination for “narrowcasting” – the ability to send out very targeted messages.

Email Marketing and Text Message MarketingWhether corporate initiates the emails or text messages or whether the zee does it, this is one of the most effective marketing methods IF it is well-managed rather than annoying.  Click here for more about text message marketing.

Social media.  Zors need to establish the framework for all social media. At an IFX franchise conference today in San Diego, the experts in the franchise arena emphasized that a franchisor should control ALL social media as part of controlling the brand. Every zor should have a written social media policy that disallows any franchisee-run domains or use of the brand on any site without corporate approval. Business pages on all appropriate social media channels should be set up and maintained from the corporate headquarters.  Franchisees will agree with this policy when they realize that rogue Facebook and other social media pages from distant cities are stealing their local friends and customers and totally confusing their consumers. 

Customer demographics determine which channels to choose – Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and YouTube are generally crucial. If the company is B2B, LinkedIn is valuable. The company should conduct training on how much interaction from franchisees they will allow on these sites as well as how to work with Four Square and other local store marketing apps. Tight monitoring and controlling of the Yelp account must fall to corporate as well. Pay Per Click options need to be considered if they fit with the customer demographics being sought.  .

Advertising Graphics.  Zors should either provide ready-made flyers, postcards, doorhangers, and other printed pieces or provide the camera-ready artwork for them. Gift cards should be designed and produced. Well-designed ads for franchisee usage are a must to maintain the quality image of the brand, and the units may need point of purchase materials, menus, table tents, etc. as well. There should be a corporate account with Val-Pak and other mailing houses with the graphics  provided by corporate.

franchise marketing PR

PR at its best

Public Relations.  The zor needs a story – it’s part of the branding – and someone needs to write that story. Much of the PR will go directly to the social media side, but depending on customer demographics, building the brand may also need to include traditional media channels – newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. The zor should provide a standard grand opening press release template as well as directions for writing them in the future.Great stories about the zees and their customers can get attention if they’re well written, and if franchisees don’t have time to write, corporate needs to do it. Remember that no matter what the typical customer demographics are for the products and services, the demographics of the FRANCHISE buyer must fit into the mix of corporate marketing, too.  Traditional marketing methods like PR and paid advertising will reach additional potential zees as well as a wider group of customers.

Media Buying.  A central media buyer or an agency to make the buys will save time and money for the group. Zees are babes in the woods at this, and they are bombarded with media salespeople trying to sell them space. It’s easier for them to say, “I’ll take your material and send it to our buyer.” When the zee feels ready to spend the money, the buyer should direct and execute the buy. This works very well with local advertising co-ops, keeping any one franchisee from choosing unfairly.

Sales Training. A smart corporate office constantly motivates, renews and updates sales techniques like adding an iPad for sales efficiency, updating PowerPoint presentations, and giving salespeople the tools and scripts they need. They also need to give training as to how to hire and compensate salespeople, if applicable. Web-based video training is a big plus.

Loyalty Program. If the company is making frequent sales to customers, a loyalty card and program should be initiated.

Cause Marketing.  It has been proven that 83% of the population has a more positive image of companies associated with a cause and 76% have a greater trust in those companies associated with a cause. It works and can be a win for both sides IF if is done right. Franchisees are bombarded with requests for contributions. Corporate needs to train franchisees how to select and manage local cause marketing. If the corporation wants to champion a particular cause on a national basis, it needs to be part of their story so that everyone who buys the franchise can get behind it (like Firehouse Subs).

Gift Cards and Certificates. When there are multiple units and owners, a gift program needs to be centrally set up and managed, but it definitely generates additional dollars. 

Responsibilities of the Franchisees

Franchisees are responsible for developing the brand in their territories, getting involved in the community to build brand awareness and increase customer loyalty. They should be required to join their local franchisee marketing co-op if there is one.

To do a good job with local marketing they will need training and specific programs to get them out of their offices/stores/restaurants and into their communities.

Networking. Training, role playing, and a specific program for networking will get franchisees comfortable about joining associations and attending functions that fit their customer demographics.

Customer Database. The franchisee needs to collect as much information as possible about every customer and/or potential customer. They must update and clean the list to keep it valuable and current. 

franchise marketing blogger

If you’re a travel franchise, the  zees and their customers blog about trips

Website.  Zees need to keep their pages current and provide content for the blog. 

Email marketing and text message marketing. The zee can send out personalized messages, or the zor can send out company-wide messages, but it needs to be well-planned and coordinated to get maximum open rates without annoying customers. 

Sales and Referrals. The franchisee needs to know how to hire, train, and compensate competent salespeople, and have a solid referral program with rewards in place. 

Speaking and Seminars. Many businesses can get in front of potential customers through the use of free seminars and speaking engagements. Top quality PowerPoint presentations should be provided by corporate, and the franchisee needs to be required to present a certain number of seminars if that is the main sales vehicle. As the franchisee gains speaking skill, he/she should offer to speak to established groups such as Rotary and other associations on a wider group of related subjects to introduce the franchise products to a broader base.  

Example:  When I was with FranNet, I found my clients by giving a free seminar called “How to Find the Right Franchise for You.” Then I started getting invited to speak on related subjects:  at Rotary I spoke about finding funding for business growth; at entrepreneur trade shows I talked about startup operational issues.

Mailings and other local advertising. If applicable to the business, zees should be provided with mailing materials so that they will initiate mailings and doorhanging on a regular basis. They are responsible for running ads in community newspapers and newsletters as needed using graphics provided by the zor.   

Social Media. Franchisees have the obligation to understand and contribute to the social media efforts of the company. In addition, if the franchises are location-based, Four Square and Yelp (and many more  new apps all the time) are most likely to come into play, and they both take consistent attention. A personal Facebook page and participation on LinkedIn may be needed. 

Public Relations. Franchisees are in a better position to relay funny stories and happenings involving their businesses into PR than corporate is.  Zees need to watch for fun photos and amusing stories and submit them to local newspapers as well as to the zor for additional coverage (and for use in the social media).  Stories involving the zee and community service are excellent as well. The zor can encourage participation by rewarding it or giving it quite a bit of positive attention.  

Cause Marketing. If the company has a corporate cause, then it should have a plan for franchisees to carry through locally. If each franchisee needs to choose their own cause then they need to be taught how to select the one that will be right for their business. They need to understand it’s not about buying T-shirts and setting up a booth; it’s about customer demographics, motivating employees, complying with local laws, and building additional sales because of the added exposure.


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  1. Gloria says:

    Excellent article about the various components of good marketing, that combine the activities most businesses will benefit from, not just franchises.

  2. Carol Ryan says:

    I’ve known Cheri Carroll professionally for a long time. I can tell you this much…if she says to do something…just do it. No need to ask any questions. She is one of the best secret weapons in franchising today. CR

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