Marketing your franchise concept to entrepreneurs can be incredibly challenging. You’ve put a tremendous amount of work into creating a product or service for your end customers and a system to support your franchisees. You’re confident that almost any qualified candidate can achieve success with your concept, but how do you go about creating a strategy to find them?
New franchisors spend most of their time obsessing about their end customers – how to communicate their product or service’s benefits to customers, how to prove those claims, and how to turn new customers into lifelong customers. When considering franchise marketing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking strictly in terms of lead generation. While leads are the ultimate goal of franchise marketing, it is most useful to begin by thinking of prospective franchisees in much the same way you think about your end customers.
Know your target
Many new franchisors mistakenly believe that any and all entrepreneurs are potential prospects. This kind of thinking can lead to costly tactics that result in very few, poor quality leads. For instance, an owner/operator concept with an initial investment of $50K may buy $20K worth of ad space in a golf magazine believing that the affluent readers of that magazine are interested in his or her concept. In this case, that $20K could have been better spent on trade shows, digital advertising, or PR. Conversely, a $1.5 million-investment restaurant concept may have great success in the same magazine.
Put simply, you cannot market to everyone. Limited budgets and increasing competition mean that franchisors must focus their efforts on the audience most likely to be interested in their concept. Invest in market research to guide your marketing decisions. A marketing agency will be able to help you conduct this research, and will likely be able to help you identify your target prospect, as well.
When identifying your target prospect, try to be as specific as possible. Consider demographics a foundation. Try to uncover your target prospect’s media consumption habits, hobbies, and motivations. These key pieces of information will make planning your marketing tactics much easier. If your target is a 45-year-old married father concerned with building a business he can pass down to his children, your tactics will be much different than if you were marketing to a multi-concept investor.
Regardless of your target, it is important to continue to refine your target profile. Your initial marketing efforts will reveal data you can use to improve future tactics. Collecting accurate data on the effectiveness of your marketing efforts will help you become more accurate and efficient. If your initial profile is accurate, these changes will likely be small refinements. However, don’t be afraid to make larger changes if you are seeing little success.
Likewise, your target prospect may change over time. Prospects who initially respond strongly to messaging focused on financial return may grow more interested in understanding the emotional attraction of your concept. External economic, social, a personal factors can fundamentally change the motivators for franchise ownership. Periodic research and analysis of prospects coming into your system will help you stay on top of these changes.
Leverage this knowledge to create a unique value proposition for your target prospect. Match what your concept can credibly provide to your target prospect’s motivators, needs, and desires. Supplement that with three to five proof points or ‘reasons to believe.’ For our multi-concept investor, the value proposition may sound something like, “Restaurant X provides an excellent ROI in a growing restaurant segment.” Supporting that statement, proof points may include: X% same store sales growth, $X billion dollar segment, and award-winning cuisine.
Franchise prospects have hundreds of choices. Even focusing on one or two industries still leaves them with numerous possible concepts to choose from. The truth is that nearly all franchisors are trying to differentiate on the same few dimensions: financial return, superior product or service, and superior franchisor support. While you may truly exceed your competitors in one or more of these dimensions, most of your high-level messages in traditional print and digital channels will fade into the chorus of other brands saying the same thing.
However, each brand and model possesses unique features that make it compelling for prospects. The best way to differentiate your brand is to focus on telling your prospects the true story of the brand. People enjoy stories and tend to remember them better than other forms of communication.
If your concept relies on a truly unique product or service model, walk your customers through the process that created it. Explain your motivation as a franchisor in developing the concept and why you believe it is a sound model. Your prospects should get to know your brand and culture, understand the mission of the franchise, and see themselves as future franchisees.
Take care to ensure your story is truthful and accurate. Prospects can sniff out sales language and exaggeration. Instead, consider this your opportunity to present the facts. Savvy prospects don’t want to be sold. They want to be given enough information to make an informed decision. While much of the discovery will come later in the buying process, an authentic brand story is among your best assets in attracting and converting franchise prospects.
This strategy is crucially important throughout your franchise marketing and sales. While many consider franchise sales a B2B endeavor, the reality is more complicated. Prospects should be regarded as potential customers, employees, brand ambassadors, marketers, and franchisees. For many, purchasing a business is a life-changing decision. As the franchisor, you bear the responsibility for ensuring that the prospects you are signing have the ability to succeed in your franchise system. Unlike B2B or B2C marketing, an unhappy, unsuccessful, or uncooperative customer will be inside your organization after the transaction.
Be relentless about customer experience
It may sound strange to call an investment in operations ‘marketing,’ but the truth is that happy customers are your number one marketing tool for both franchise sales and customer sales. Happy customers spread positive word of mouth, which increases sales. In turn, franchise prospects see a successful concept and want in.
While you may not be formally spending marketing dollars, investing in the customer experience in your corporate stores should be considered a marketing investment, especially early in your franchise development. Ensure that any brick-and-mortar locations meet your brand standards, and that staff are executing their training flawlessly. In fact, you may consider working in your first corporate store personally to make sure the business is operating as well as possible.
Well-executed stores lead to more well-executed stores, and help to build consistency throughout your system. Customers are seeking a consistent, quality experience every time they interact with your brand. In the digital age, negative customer sentiment at even one or two stores can permanently damage your brand and franchise sales. Conversely, positive sentiment can create a virtuous cycle wherein your customer are spreading awareness of your brand and generate franchise leads without your input.
A focus on customer experience can also help safeguard against the threat of competitors. While a rival may be able to beat you on speed, price, or quality, customers will often choose the business which provides them the best experience. Naturally, this means providing your corporate locations and first franchisees with training and ongoing coaching to help them provide the level of excellence your customers are seeking.
Ultimately, every aspect of your franchise business contributes to the marketing of your concept to prospects. These potential franchisees consider your consumer brand, customer experience, business model, support model, culture, and much more when making the decision to invest in your system. The unfortunate truth is that a negative impression of even one of these dimensions can stall your marketing efforts.
The true ‘golden rule’ of franchise marketing is not an arcane secret. There is no silver bullet. It’s simple – build a great franchise system. Now, that is an extremely complex and difficult task. It will require significant investments of your time, money, and passion. Likewise, a great system will always be evolving and shifting to meet the challenges of new technology, customer needs, and franchisee requests. While a great system won’t actually sell itself, it will become the driver of the most effective marketing strategy you could possibly employ.
About the author
Jake High is Marketing Manager for Franchise Development for Self Esteem Brands, parent company of Anytime Fitness and Waxing The City