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For years, Franchisors have sought to increase the visibility of their franchise opportunity to potential buyers solely through a variety of outbound marketing tactics. Many of these tactics such as portal advertising, direct mail and trade shows continue to provide respectable ROIs for franchisors. However, franchise brands that grow at an exponential rate have come to learn something that most haven’t yet realized; the most effective marketing strategy no longer involves only working hard to reach out to buyers – it’s about waiting for buyers to come to you! 

As paradoxical as this sounds, I’ll attempt to provide some logic to help explain this gargantuan shift in franchise marketing effectiveness in recent years (with some real statistics from reputable sources along the way so you know I’m not completely full of it.”) The first cause of this shift is the explosion of available data and content, and the ease of use for us as consumers in obtaining it. We are now used to having control over information, from delineating what message we choose to receive, and when we choose to receive it.  We have the luxury of being able to trust ourselves more in our buyer decision making process, as the resources for us to feel comfortable in making a decision are now abundant.

 “90% of Decision Makers won’t respond to cold calls.” (HBR)

The second root cause of this shift is an increase in consumer distrust of corporate advertising. Buyers have evolved to be cautious of anyone, or in this case, any company that says, “hey, you, we have the best product / service / brand! Come check us out!” This message is very difficult to deliver in a compelling way via outbound marketing tactics like print ads, digital banner ads, e-mail blasts and trade show exhibitions. The now typical response to that message is something more like, “They are probably lying. Where’s the proof? This is not for me. Next.” 
 “71% of all B2B buyer desicisons start with a generic online search.” (Google)

Think of it in this scenario. You’re at a franchise networking event and you’re looking to bolster your franchise marketing team, whether it’s new vendors to potentially outsource, or maybe even a new senior marketing hire to help you generate more better quality leads. A franchise marketing professional, let’s call him Bob, catches wind of your intentions, and hones in on you; “Hi, how’s it going? I’m Bob and I’m without doubt the best marketer in franchising. Really, I’m the best. I’m terrific. Ask anyone.” (Sorry, I had to!) Now most of us would be dismissing  Bob as an option and instead b-lining it for the bar, bathroom or whatever excuse we could come up with first right. By simply broadcasting that “he is the best” without any proof or supporting content, Bob’s strategy in trying to get hired was a failure.



Try this scenario: At the same event you walk in the entrance and past a trade show banner with a logo for a company that seems to market and sell franchises (let’s call it Franchise Marketing Dudes – FMD) . On that banner is just a testimonial from another franchise brand that seems to have had success with FMD, with a link to the FMD website. It’s not compelling content, but not repulsive either. You continue on your way. You talk another franchise executive and mention what you’re doing at the event, you talk about your needs. He mentions the “Franchise Marketing Dudes” actually helped him exceed his goals by X %. That’s interesting right? So much so that while you’re waiting in line for your next drink, you whip your phone out and go back to that website you saw on the banner ad earlier. You watch a video on how FMD works, read case-studies on how they helped other brands, and read a couple of blog posts on some issues they have had to overcome in the franchise industry. An hour later, you speak with another franchise executive who says “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of FMD. I’m hoping I can speak with them tonight too about my growth strategies!” And finally, during the awards section of the evening, you see FMD on stage receiving the award for “best franchise website design” and “best lead generation strategy of 2016.” The next day your signing an agreement with FMD and send a check, excited and ready to roll with your newly enlisted franchise marketing help.

In scenario one, Bob’s strategy was to pay his attendance fee, show up at the event and jam his message down his targets throat without any proof or way for you to research or verify his claim that he was the best option for you. In scenario two, FMD was able to understand the changed nature of the buyer decision making process, and prepare accordingly, allowing them to close the deal. How did they do this? They addressed the buyers need to be able to take control of the decision making process. By having their advertisement (banner ad),  and a link for the lead to do their own research via their website which had been adequately prepared with a significant amount of content including videos and an updated blog, they attempted to address that key component of the decision making process. Also, their choice in messaging was key. They didn’t bark at their audience with “look how good we are”. They allowed 3rd parties to say “look how good they are!” This of course is a terribly basic example, but a simple way to give context to these two fundamental shifts in buying behavior.  

 “75% of all buyers now use social media to find information on vendors.” (IDC)
So how does this translate into creating a successful franchise lead generation strategy? Again, it means that you need to put equal effort into reaching out to buyers, and getting buyers to come to you! This means that outbound marketing tactics like portal advertising, print ads and the likes are still relevant, and needed in your efforts. But to achieve significant franchise growth, you will almost certainly need to develop inbound marketing tactics to create a more holistic approach to attracting buyers. Just a few such tactics could include a strong social media presence and online participation; regular uploads to your blog on your franchise website that allow readers to learn about your growth, products/services and team in a more personal way; publish a youtube channel with various videos allowing viewers to learn more about the franchisees personal stories; Promote a detailed franchise report available for download on your website so that your leads can do more of their own research before reaching out to you; ensure you have the relevant consumer review channels (yelp, google reviews etc) so that your leads can gather unbiased reviews on your product or service. 
Once you have your inbound marketing channels and tactics decided upon, with the evolution of buyer behavior in mind, you’ll need to be thoughtful about messaging. Again, the message of “look how good we are!” typically doesn’t yield the results you’re looking for. Using firm numbers like industry size, average unit volume, year-over-year sales increases and other economics relating to your franchise performance (as long as it’s represented in your item 19 of your FDD) is often a good strategy. Or using consumer reviews, or franchisee testimonials that speak to the strengths of your franchise work well too. 

So while the more successful franchise brands are often focused on sitting back and letting the leads come to them, the fact is that it’s significantly more work than it sounds. But the return on investment, in our experience, is always there.