Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing

Should digital marketing be consistent across a franchisee’s portfolio of locations or brands?

Not necessarily.

By Jay Friedman

There are often “truths” we believe to be universal, but then we learn they are not. In marketing we’re taught to build a brand, have consistent messaging across media channels and use frequency to drive the message home. The franchising model, however, makes this more complex.

The responsibility for the parent brand lies at the corporate level, and there is likely an ad committee made up of franchisees that helps provide the sense of urgency in marketing that franchisees require. But this only focuses on the parent brand. Franchisees invest significant time and money into building their business and it’s natural for a franchisee to want something to show for their efforts outside of the corporate brand. For example, a brand of their own. 

However, a franchisee should think twice before pursuing a separate brand identity. While it is common practice in automotive, it is seen to a lesser degree in real estate and, occasionally, in some medical franchises. But restaurant, retail, c-store, hotel, cleaning and most others don’t typically build separate brands to differentiate among franchises. There is good reason for this. 

Consumers don’t know if they’re going to Joe’s burger franchise or Jane’s, Joe’s hotel chain or Jane’s, and that’s a good thing because consumers can and will only process a certain amount of information before making a decision. If within one hotel chain there are sub-brands and within another there are not, the brands without a sub-brand are more likely to succeed because the sub-brand requires a consumer to make two assessments of trust rather than one.

Within the more common, non-sub-branded franchisee brands, we can divide franchisees into two types: one that owns multiple locations within the same brand, and one that owns multiple franchises across different brands. As we explore how franchisees can differentiate themselves, we’ll look at both types of franchisees and the value of consistency within their marketing. In order to determine this, there are a few things that should be considered.

The Message

A franchise’s messaging should always align with the brand first. No matter how tempting it is to feel like corporate is missing something in its marketing, presenting a secondary message actually reduces the effectiveness of the first, and the second won’t get any traction either. 

Think of two fictional mom-and-pop restaurants, one being Joe’s Burgers, and the other being Jane’s Burgers, Tacos, Pizza & More. The next time a consumer wants a burger they’re more likely to include Joe’s in their consideration set and not Jane’s. The problem for Jane is that the next time a consumer wants pizza they’re not likely to consider her restaurant, either. Not standing for any one thing often means standing for nothing.

Bringing this to the franchisee level, the temptation to sub-brand is natural but typically harmful. A consumer is more likely to trust a straight McDonald’s over a Joe’s McDonald’s because the consumer is left to decipher on their own what’s different about Joe’s McDonald’s, and Joe is unlikely to have enough money to create a meaningful, lasting sub-brand. Instead, franchisees should use targeting to make sure the messaging that’s being marketed reaches those most likely to buy from the location. 

Target Narrowly

This is where a franchisee should get aggressive and specific. Mobile targeting can be geographically targeted to ensure the messaging only is delivered to people within the target area at the right time. While out-of-home offers the same geographic precision, mobile offers the ability to target a specific audience and avoid waste. 

There are caveats to this, of course. Large-purchase items, for example, catering for restaurants or events for hotels, are not the best to be narrowly targeted geographically. Instead, using keywords in search marketing will ensure the message is received. However, “narrow” is the key here.

One, or Many?

The above applies for same-brand franchises. For multiple brands within a franchise or franchise group, the above applies even more! The power of the parent brand should be leveraged, not fought against. Building a sub-brand like Joe’s restaurants that have locations across three restaurant brands is even more out of context for a consumer than trying to build a sub-brand within one parent brand. Neither is advisable.

Buying into a franchise is a great investment strategy because the brand has significantly more power than any one franchisee would typically be able to build or convey. The downside to this is that as franchisees we need to let the brand do its job and accept that we are the marketing tail of the animal. 

The money we spend, even for mega-franchises, will not reverse or even relevantly change the course of a brand’s messaging. Instead, work within the brand framework, and use targeting to get the best return.

Jay Friedman is COO of Goodway Group.


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