Franchises are complicated, and that makes their marketing strategies multi-layered and intricate. Whether we’re talking about restaurants, retail stores, service businesses, or any other type of franchise, you've got a tricky balance between central and local.
On one level, you have the central organization that markets to two unique constituencies: the paying customer who buys from the local franchise, and the potential franchisees who might want to invest and open their own location.
Both camps are customers, but their needs are vastly different.
Then, you have the individual branches or franchisees. They, too, market to customers, often with their own flair and style — while still in line with company guidelines.
The marketing relationship between a franchise and its franchisees can sometimes be marred by friction. In such cases, inbound marketing can create a balance between a strong central brand and a localized marketing strategy.
At IMPACT, we’ve worked with several franchises that have implemented inbound marketing to great success.
In this article, we’ll cover the inbound basics, as well as practical applications of this approach for the franchise model, including:
An overview of inbound marketing
How to apply inbound marketing to your franchise business
Let’s get started.
Free Guide: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
Inbound marketing: An overview
Inbound marketing is centered on a simple idea: The internet has changed the way people buy. Today’s customers, no matter what they’re buying, start off by doing online research. According to research from Salesforce, 87% of purchases begin with a question typed into a search engine, usually Google.
Inbound marketing seeks to attract these searchers with content. If your content can bring them to your website, they’re in a good position to learn about your business and become a customer.
At IMPACT, we teach our clients that they should always start by answering buyers’ questions, which will produce content that’s sure to be relevant.
To implement an effective inbound marketing strategy, businesses need to:
Predict what customers are asking (keyword research)
Produce great original content like articles and videos
Optimize that content for search engines (SEO)
Track content performance
Website visitors who come to your website through a search engine can quickly become leads and customers.
These “inbound” visitors have already shown interest in your products or services. When they convert and become a lead, they either speak to a sales rep or enter into an email nurture campaign to keep them engaged with your brand.
This entire inbound process, from the time a person finds your site through a search engine to when that person becomes a customer, can take as little as a few minutes or as long as several years.
Inbound marketing is often a long game of building trust, establishing credibility, and creating a library of content to attract future customers.
Franchises, which are built on trust, can use inbound marketing to a powerful effect.
Inbound marketing for franchises
The franchise model benefits both consumers and franchisees. Consumers have a familiar, respected option when they're looking to make a purchase. Individual franchisees have a ready-built brand that comes with a stable supply chain, an optimized product line, a well-built sales process, and a trusted marketing presence.
The allure of a franchise — that it’s a known, established commodity — doesn’t just attract consumers. It benefits individual franchisees as well.
Whether it’s food service or car repair or banking, franchises do better. According to government data, the success rate for franchises over the first two years in business is 8% higher than independent businesses.
That makes sense. An established brand has many advantages over a new company, including digital marketing.
If you’re a franchised HVAC business, most of the questions your customers ask in Colorado are the same ones they ask in Ohio. Therefore, your “mothership” central franchise should be able to take care of most of your content needs.
The same piece of content (whether it’s an article, a video, or buyers’ guide) can speak to all of those questions, just as a primetime ad for Chipotle promotes all locations at the same time.
How inbound marketing can turn a business into a franchise
Years ago, IMPACT co-owner Marcus Sheridan ran a pool business in Virginia. He used the principles of inbound marketing to attract incredible traffic to his company’s website by answering all the basic questions every pool buyer wants to ask. Before they were ready for the sales process, these buyers wanted to do research, and Marcus’s website was their information source.
Many of these visitors became paying customers, but many didn’t live in the local area. Over time, Marcus’s website became so well-trafficked that his small business became a recognized brand. Marcus recognized that he had a steady stream of leads that he couldn’t sell to.
As a result, his pool company became a franchise business, with locations now across 10 states.
What does their marketing plan look like?
The “central office” produces content that attracts pool buyers from anywhere in the country. This is the broad, trust-building content that potential customers are searching for. “What does a fiberglass pool cost?” “What in-ground filtration system works best?” This is well-established content from a highly trafficked website, so it’s more likely to rank near the top of search results. Such content ensures brand consistency and a steady flow of quality leads.
The individual local franchisees produce content for the local community that speaks to customers at the local level while staying in line with the franchise’s branding.
Working together, they’re able to provide all the information their target audience is trying to find. With the right information, those visitors can become leads and customers.
Inbound marketing strategy: Email marketing
As you build your database, engage with your audience through email marketing. When you do so, should it be from the central franchise business or from the local office? This depends. Often the two entities will each have their own contact lists and their own email strategies.
Most likely, the franchise itself will send out product updates and similar communication, while the local office will handle promotions.
It’s best if these efforts are coordinated, though. Flooding your prospects’ email inboxes with too many offers with conflicting messages is confusing and annoying.
In general, email marketing should be helpful, or promotional, but not salesy. Remember to think like a customer. What kind of emails do you want in your inbox?
If your emails offer helpful, educational content, you will continue to build trust and establish relationships with your audience.
Or, you could offer discounts or other promotions that link the corporate message with local chapters. For example, the central location will announce a new product launch with an email — and the local branch could offer an in-store demo with a separate email.
You can use marketing automation software to send the right emails to the right prospects at the right time.
Social media marketing
From LinkedIn to Snapchat, there are social media networks to suit every person and every brand. Your needs will be unique, as will your approach.
Just as with email marketing, your social media efforts should be coordinated and complementary.
Customers are more likely to follow a national brand, but they are buying from a local franchisee. Any social media marketing should keep that relationship in mind.
Local franchisees can introduce themselves to their nearby audience, showing the people behind the service. Or they might post about local news and events. For example, if there’s a big game for a local sports team, the franchisees in that city might offer promotions tied to the event (“Grab a pizza from Domino’s to watch the Falcons on Sunday”).
Your inbound marketing website
For businesses operating in the franchise model, websites can be tricky. You need a consistent experience for your customer whether they are dealing with the central office or a local franchise.
This means your written and visual content must be standardized.
One thing is for certain: Every franchisee needs its own website — even if that’s a subdomain on the main site.
For example, see how River Pools does it. With 20 franchise locations in more than 10 states, the business needs to maintain a consistent experience from one location to another while offering some unique content to each market.
On the homepage, note the “Locations” tab in the navigation.
From there, you can access websites for each separate franchise location — but they all look identical to each other.
Whatever your approach, to succeed with inbound marketing you’ll need certain website basics.
Your website will sit at the crux of your inbound marketing efforts, and it will need to check three boxes to do so:
Can you publish a blog?
Can you interlink between blog articles or use a tag system to organize content?
Can you use CTAs and a landing page to capture leads?
If your website can do these three things, you’re probably good to get started with inbound marketing.
But remember, your website is for your customers, not for you. As you produce content, focus on their problems and challenges. Speak their language.
The other side of franchise marketing
There is another way to apply the inbound marketing principles to the franchise model.
The investors who are considering becoming franchisees are customers too. In a way, they are an intermediary customer for the brand, buying the name from the franchise owner, and distributing the products or services to the end-use customer.
These potential franchisees should be marketed to as well.
While they’re less likely to use Google to investigate their investment options, they still need educational content to help them make an informed decision. A franchise business should commit to housing this type of content on its website so that these customers have access to the information they need.
The first step to inbound success is getting buy-in
Whether you have 10 locations or 10,000, inbound marketing can be a way to attract customers and provide a seamless, engaging experience.
But you need everyone on board.
It’s not going to run smoothly if everyone doesn't believe in the methodology. Research shows that inbound marketing delivers more leads than traditional outbound marketing. According to data from HubSpot, leads from inbound cost 61% less than leads from outbound.
The goal of your marketing should be to improve the overall success of the franchise by increasing the reach in the communities of each location.
The best way is for the franchise to educate its franchisees. We suggest developing webinars or other learning opportunities for your franchisees.
It's important to be receptive to their feedback. If one franchisee has an issue or concern, others might as well. Provide them with the necessary tools and education to get them up and running.
Inbound marketing will help your franchise attract, educate, and delight potential and current customers. The sooner you start, the sooner you can begin seeing results.