Marketing is a challenging profession. Consumer demands and buying behaviors are constantly changing and have become more complex than ever. As marketers, we need to be able to cost-effectively target the right prospects or customers and reach them with the right relevant message, at the right time, on the right channel or device, and with the right product or service to help influence their purchase decision. There’s a lot of noise and competitors in many of our industries that makes it challenging to break through the clutter. The proliferation of new technologies, marketing channels, platforms and tactics is rapidly evolving and one small tweak to a Google or Facebook algorithm sends marketers frantically trying to pivot to adjust campaigns and strategies.
In franchise marketing, layer on additional complexities in terms of having to execute marketing nationally, locally for franchisees, gaining buy-in, and building trust through transparency. Now, many of the challenges that have kept restaurant and quick-service restaurant marketing executives up at night have been further elevated into the spotlight with the nightmarish onset of COVID-19. These problems aren’t new in the franchising world, but Post-COVID they’ve become more critical as many brands have had to cut resources/staff and navigate through decreases to national ad fund and local franchisee marketing budgets. It’s more important than ever to judiciously and cost-effectively be marketing smarter not harder on behalf of your brand and its locations.
In this article I’ll identify four key marketing challenges restaurant and quick-service brands are facing in the new COVID-19 world and look at the best strategic solutions through a technology and local-data focused lens.
1. Marketing Is Not Benefitting All Locations Equally from an ROI Perspective
Buying media with ad fund budgets to support each brand location equally has not been a reality at scale. Individual budgets, optimizations and reporting per location has translated to more FTEs and huge costs. However, when your locations attempt to buy media with their small local budgets it’s too expensive, data is fragmented and we all have nightmares of locations “going rogue.” This could in fact be the biggest franchise marketing problem and now with COVID-19 it’s been exacerbated.
Being faced with fewer marketing resources and shrinking national ad fund budgets, the tempting thing to do might be to cut corners. To be efficient, most brands build national digital marketing campaigns that are geo-targeted to DMAs and local markets around their stores. Don’t fall into this trap. Under this type of management structure, Google, Bing, and Facebook will use broad programmatic optimizations to guide the spend, eventually steering most, if not all, dollars towards more densely populated geographies that will generate the most impressions, clicks, conversions, or other KPIs.
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Good for you as a marketer on a tighter budget? Yes. Good for ALL your locations? No. All franchise locations in a quick-service restaurant system won’t benefit equally and certainly won’t achieve an ROI commensurate with their individual store’s contribution into the national advertising fund pool. Stores are already operating on limited hours, reduced staffing, and on tighter marketing budgets to stay open and afloat. You need to be able to drive traffic and revenue to all locations, or risk the chance of some having to close. You don’t want owners grabbing torches and pitchforks asking, “how are my ad fund dollars actually helping my business”?
No pressure, right? While it may seem like a daunting task to cost-effectively set up 100s or 1,000s of campaigns for all your locations using individual budgets, this will allow you to measure ROI at the location level while capturing precious local first-party data that can be used to better optimize campaigns. By leveraging a sophisticated technology-based multi-location marketing platform you can take advantage of the brand’s big budget national buying power and cost-effectively execute marketing campaigns using individual location budgets with efficacy. With full ROI transparency you can restore trust and ensure every franchise location can benefit from the precious limited marketing dollars available.
2. Franchisees Are Not Adopting Local Digital Marketing Programs
Low adoption of digital marketing programs by franchisees is a huge challenge. Lack of a flexible marketing solution to meet everyone’s needs is a big contributing factor. Pre-COVID, it looked something like this for brand marketers:
- Meet with and vet local or in some cases national vendors
- Develop, customize and make available multiple creative assets per location and marketing channel.
- Create training videos and webinars to educate and answer questions from franchisees
Despite all these efforts, you might get a 20 percent adoption rate. Post-COVID there’s now a chance to pivot and improve. Franchisees who may have previously oversaw operations from a distance and relied on regional or local managers are now more actively engaged in their business and closely looking at how marketing is impacting sales on a limited budget. They now may want more control over their local marketing in an attempt to move the needle for their business. However, a huge barrier is that if they’ve already not embraced local digital marketing, are they going to do so now if they’re apt to spend less on marketing due to reduced sales? The solution to overcome that may simply be providing more transparency and full individual location reporting on how campaigns are benefiting each quick-service restaurant location, not the brand as a whole, so that the ROI to them is clear. There are key KPIs that every franchisee should monitor, and their local digital marketing performance metrics should be fully incorporated and rolled up into these reports.
So how do you increase franchisee local digital marketing adoption and get buy-in?
- Show them ROI at the local level through location level reporting so they know their marketing dollars are working for their business.
- Give them options in terms of customization and messaging to personally connect with their local customers and promote hyperlocal products, services, or promos implemented as a result of the pandemic
- Allow them to be able to easily set their own local budgets, run dates and turn things on or off as needed during these highly volatile times
When it comes to franchisee adoption of digital marketing programs, it’s important to make it easy for them to do. Effective and cohesive location-level marketing requires streamlined communication between everyone in the system. As the central team charged with supporting brand locations with digital marketing, you need a way to easily communicate plans and programs to those that need to know. Using multi-location marketing technology and a central platform for all locations can help you overcome that challenge.
3. Uncertainty on Where to Focus Marketing Dollars & Strategy (National vs. Local)
The phrases "Buy Local” or “Go Local” have been around for a while and have been becoming a popular local consumer trend. Consumers are looking to spend their limited hard earned money with small businesses in their own neighborhood to support their local economy. In a post COVID-19 world, this trend has now become the new norm for a couple different reasons. Many small businesses have suffered during the pandemic, having to rely on EIDL and PPP loans to stay open or afloat, including franchises. Consumers who want to support their favorite local business establishments and keep them open have increasingly decided to “buy local” during the pandemic. Another reason is that consumers aren’t traveling as much and very far, often only to the grocery store or to grab takeout food from a local restaurant, if not having it delivered.
Consumers have a growing sense of localism and COVID-19 has taken that to another level. It's now a must to be able to execute digital marketing effectively at the hyperlocal community level. Failing to do so is at your peril. The regional, DMA, or even city level is no longer good enough. You need to target individual local customers with personally relevant and meaningful messages, with products they’re looking for from your local locations, and across all channels. To target the right customers and build lookalike audiences to attract the best potential new customers, you need to turn to new technology and transition your thinking away from national data to focusing on local first party consumer and location data.
In the realm of our new COVID-19 world, each and every local community also has different rules and regulations on what it takes to be open, how you can service your customers, and even what can be served. As you make decisions on opening and reopening stores as a franchise brand, you need to leverage local data to guide you in the decision-making process. Once stores are open, you also need to be able to set up sophisticated local marketing campaigns using a martech platform that’s flexible enough to meet the full spectrum of needs your franchise system and locations have in every community you serve.
The ultimate solution to achieving this national and more predominantly local balance and keeping costs down in the process will connect national and local marketing on a single platform. And in doing so, it will reduce the time and costs needed to successfully run local marketing campaigns required to make individual locations more successful.
4. Marketing Programs That Meet the Demands of the Franchisor and Franchisees
There is an obvious need for the franchise brand to ensure that marketing materials are uniform, brand compliant, and locations are sending out the right brand messages. However, this must be balanced with allowing the franchisee to inject their own personality and expertise on local customer preferences into their marketing too. With every location experiencing unique COVID challenges in their market in terms of re-opening, limiting menus, dine-in or delivery, not having a full arsenal of services (e.g. drive-thrus), it’s imperative that there’s a level of customization and flexibility provided to allow each store to optimize how they market to their specific local customers. Also, they need to be able to leverage local first party data on their customers vs. overly broad national or 3rd party data. Not only can this help increase local sales and the efficacy of local marketing by spending limited dollars only where they’re having an impact, but empowering the franchisee with a degree of control over their own marketing will help them to remain engaged, motivated, and adopt your programs. It will allow your franchise to lessen tensions by creating a collaborative environment.
It’s all about executional flexibility. Some franchisees want to provide input into their marketing and to be able to do local marketing on their own, while others want and expect the brand to handle it for them. As a modern franchise brand marketer, you need a martech platform solution and tools that can accommodate both demands.
What’s the Best Solution for Your Multi-location Restaurant or Quick-Service Restaurant Brand?
For a franchise digital marketing program to be feasible cost-wise and operationally to remedy any or all of the 4 problems above, it needs to be powered by technology and leverage local data. Every franchise out there has unique challenges and areas of focus along with budgetary and resource constraints. Some have in-house teams or can afford to hire agencies to execute this level of marketing. Many successful yet cost-conscious franchises and multi-location brands are now utilizing sophisticated multi-location marketing platforms to manage marketing activities centrally on behalf of brand locations. Brands are able to centrally deliver custom landing page experiences per location with DevHub, manage location listings in search with Yext, and manage digital advertising across all channels on behalf of all locations using martech from companies like Hyperlocology, among others. Depending on the needs of your brand, any of these solutions can be a great fit for you.
What was once a distant dream for many brands and marketers, has now become a reality. By utilizing a brand directed, yet locally perfected multi-location martech solution, every franchise location can be more successful while helping build the brand nationally from the community up.
Jeffrey Lentz is owner & CEO of Elevated Franchise Marketing, which provides consulting and marketing services to franchisees, franchisors, and franchise suppliers. A franchise marketing executive, consultant, and business owner with 20 years of experience across quick-service restaurant, retail, fintech and automotive industries, he has held marketing leadership roles across five franchise organizations with a focus on franchise development, consumer, b2b, product, field, and local store marketing. After getting his start at Cousins Subs, he spent 10 years at Batteries Plus Bulbs where he led franchise development marketing efforts over a period of rapid growth that saw the company open 250 stores in 5 years. At Lendio he served as Sr. Director/VP Marketing and built direct marketing and partner marketing strategies to grow their franchise start-up. He has made multiple appearances on national TV show Fox & Friends and is a contributor to industry trade publications and media outlets. He holds a B.A. Degree in Communications and Marketing from Marquette University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.