Over the last 15 years we have seen several shifts in the conventional wisdom of how franchisors view their franchise opportunity website. As a community, franchisors have moved completely away from a website as an online brochure pitching the franchise opportunity to a website that tells the franchise opportunity brand story.
Each year Franchise Update publishes how a significant number of new franchisees make an investment decision based on information they gather online. Steve Olson, franchising expert and author of Grow to Greatness, once told me that he thought the franchise opportunity website is perhaps the single most important tool in the franchise development arsenal in the history of franchising. I agree with Steve. Here is why.
A well-designed franchise opportunity website excels in the following:
- Lead generation. The website content is optimized to drive its own traffic and engage potential franchise buyers.
- Lead screening. Your target franchise candidate should feel like this content was written specifically for him or her. They should be able to say to themselves, “I am who they are looking for and I have what it takes to win.”
- Lead conversion. Franchise candidates should be able to learn what makes your business unique, profitable, necessary to the customer and sustainable for the long run and decide if your opportunity merits a closer look.
- Lead nurturing. Engaged franchise candidates will keep coming back to learn more about your brand to educate themselves on the opportunity and to mitigate their potential risk through high levels of information gathering.
Over the next few years smart, forward-thinking franchisors will take on an entirely new content strategy for building their franchise opportunity website. You should be asking yourself, “How do I create an authentic franchise opportunity ownership EXPERIENCE?”
You may now be asking, why is an “experience” important? Warning to reader: We are about to get highly technical and eggheady. If you aren’t into science and psychological theory, skip the technical eggheady part and jump to the non-eggheady part. Warning to those who jump: I did include some quality laugh lines to make it more digestible.
The technical eggheady part
Famed psychologist Seymour Epstein coined “dual-process model of perception,” which is insufferable egghead speak to describe the idea that we have two minds: the rational mind and the experiential (emotional) mind.
Authors Joseph Pine and James Gilmore explored the idea of how the duality impacts consumer decision-making in their classic (and God-forsakenly, painfully unreadable book) The Experience Economy. It’s right up there in un-readableness with Stephen R. Covey’s classic book that everyone starts and no one finishes, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Pine and Gilmore attempted to prove the following:
- That the rational and emotive minds are separate and distinct and generated in two separate areas of the brain.
- Information generated by one’s emotional mind makes it into the conscious (awareness) faster than the information generated by the rational mind, creating a “first impression,” which lives on as a positive or negative experience.
- The emotional mind is not connected to the language center of the brain, so an experience enters consciousness without language or descriptors. Put another way, you have a feeling, but often not the words to explain why the feeling exists.
- The rational brain, WHICH DID NOT PROCESS THE EXPERIENCE OR CREATE THE IMPRESSION, seeks to make sense of the experience and create a logical and rational decision on top of, over or around an often undistinguished positive or negative experience or feeling.
- When in conflict, the emotional impression (positive or negative experience) almost always wins. Initial positive or negative experiences almost always trump reason.
Epstein would say the most developed thinkers can toggle between the two and synthesize… the proverbial poet-scholar. However, many cannot consistently bridge the gap.
Here are some quick examples of how the rational-emotive duality theory plays out in real life. You know why it’s good advice to count to 10 when you’re mad? Think about that unfortunate email you once sent because you were too worked up to wait until the next day. The emotional mind made the decision and the rational mind couldn’t keep up with or influence the first decision.
It also explains my frustration when I try to watch Netflix with my wife.
Me: What about this movie?
Wife: No. I don’t like it.
Wife: I dunno.
Me: What about this movie?
Wife: I don’t like that either.
Wife: Just cuz.
This is an abbreviated session of an endless loop of “I don’t like its” until I throw the remote against the wall and stomp upstairs to read a book. Remotes tend to have a short lifespan in my house.
Pine and Gilmore would opine (see what I did there… o-Pine) that your big marketing question should be, “How do I use my website to create a positive and sticky franchise ownership experience?”
The non-eggheady part
A franchise ownership experience is designed to answer the questions, “What would it be like…” or “What would it take…”
- To be a franchisee of this system?
- To work with the customers?
- To work with the employees I would hire?
- To be led by the brand’s leadership?
Creating a brand experience takes into an account visuals and the written word to create accurate and positive “gut experiences” for the target franchise candidate. Smart website developers will carefully craft such an experience using every kind of sensory input. Except smell. Nobody is that good.
The first way to create a brand experience is through the website’s “writer’s voice.” At FPG, we’ve identified two distinctly different writer’s voices prevalent on all franchisor’s franchise opportunity websites
- Copywriting: These sites are often created by marketing or PR firms who have never recruited a franchisee before. They pitch the franchise as if they were pitching the franchisor’s products or services, without seeming to understand the differences between the consumer and investor and failing to realize that franchise candidates simply don’t want to be pitched. Sophisticated franchisors understand that consumer marketing and franchisee recruitment marketing are different animals. Not only are franchise buyers completely unimpressed with what copywriters believe to be cute and clever slogans, they often believe these slogans are a smokescreen to mask poor results. By pitching, copywriters often repel franchise buyers — the complete opposite of the desired result. That’s why at FPG, we say, “Cute doesn’t cut it.”
Here are several real examples of how franchisors confuse “cute” with “cringey” (special thanks to my 18-year old son Casey Mathews for showing me how cool kids now use “cringe” as an adjective):
- “Clean up with carpet cleaning”
- “Own a custom T-shirt business that fits you like a T”
- “Own your slice of of the $40 billion pizza pie!”
- “Reel in customers with real seafood2. Business journalism: The journalism approach starts with the basic assumption that “this business is not right for everyone.” These sites seek to make a compelling business case as to what makes a franchise unique, profitable, necessary to the customer, necessary to the franchisees, sustainable for the long haul, and a wise and meaningful use of cash, time and energy for the right people.
This is the approach FPG takes. We believe if the franchise is already a valuable investment, their story needs to be told, not sold. And there is already a built-in audience who wants what the franchisor has to offer.
Additionally, the “voice” of the website should match the voice of the target franchisee. They should hear themselves in the voice of the site. For example, Arby’s is looking for sophisticated, experienced foodservice operators who are looking for their next high-growth vehicle. These owners understand P and L, generally possess an executive-level understanding of finance and an expert-level understanding of operations, are strong strategic thinkers, and are already often managing hundreds of employees and generating many millions of dollars in sales. FPG designed Arby’s franchise website, which houses the information and speaks the language of a sophisticated, business-savvy C-level executive.
Another franchisor, Camp Bow Wow, one of the pioneers in the dog daycare and resort space, is also a steep investment ($400,000-$700,000) which attracts more sophisticated operators. However, unlike Arby’s, whose franchise candidates are most influenced by numbers, Camp Bow Wow is a passion play for people who want to make money and help dogs. Theirs is a highly informal culture, appealing to down-to-earth people who like the idea of wearing jeans to work and aren’t afraid of getting dog hair and saliva all over them. The writer’s voice reflects the informal folksiness of the culture. Click here to see how the brand speaks to its target franchisee.
Consider your website as your first conversation with a franchise candidate
Over the last 10 years, franchisors starting seeing their “reach rates” (the ability to get buyers on the phone) drop from 90% to 50% or less. Therefore, at the front end of the process, franchise buyers are favoring anonymous, self-directed investigation over one-on-one conversation with a franchisee recruiter. Years ago, when I finally understood the game had changed, I communicated this to our team and clients this way: “We have been fired as gatekeeper of the franchisor’s story and lost our first conversation with the franchise buyer to the franchise opportunity website.”
Right now, most potential franchise buyers are making a decision whether or not to speak to you based on the positive or negative experience created by the quality and thoughtfulness of the content found on your website.
There’s an old joke in franchising: “Did you hear about the franchise salesperson who was also an attorney? He killed all his own deals.” A poorly constructed website kills deals. Right now, your website is either teeing you up or tearing you down. There is no neutral place.
Think of your website as a franchisee recruiter and lead qualifier
Skillful recruiters outperform marginal recruiters by 200% or more with the same leads. I’m of the opinion that skillful recruiters don’t necessarily create the difference by manufacturing 200% more deals than marginal recruiters. Mostly, marginal recruiters blow up deals that would have occurred had the lead gone to someone else with greater skills. A marginal website is like a marginal recruiter. They are both actively and aggressively self-sabotaging your potential deal flow. And both should be upgraded.
However, when a franchisor understands they have a poor recruiter, they generally take swifter action to correct it than they do when they know they have ineffective content, although their site is more than paid for by one incremental deal.
Be smart with your content
A franchise recruitment website should:
- Educate potential franchisees on what makes the business unique, profitable, necessary to the customer, and sustainable for the long haul.
- Address what it takes to win as a franchisee so franchise candidates can access whether or not they have and are willing to do what it takes.
- Make it EASY for qualified franchise candidates to recognize themselves as qualified and unqualified candidates to do the same.
- Identify and dispel any misperceptions or incorrect preconceived notions that exist. To help them experience the brand and opportunity in its true form.
- Break down any barriers to communication and encourage qualified franchise candidates to leave their contact information to hold one conversation with the franchisee recruiter.
The end game of the website is not to sell a franchise. It’s to encourage qualified franchise candidates to hold one conversation with the franchisee recruiter.
It’s the recruiter’s job to recruit. The website tees up the conversation by creating positive brand impressions, alleviating fears, handling initial objections and solving problems. Here is a video of an Arby’s franchisee validating the positive strategic changes the franchisor is making as they turn around the brand. FPG left in some ambient customer noise to give the viewer an experience of a busy restaurant while at the same time validating the franchisor’s leadership team and overall strategic direction. If you were a franchise candidate researching a turnaround brand, what is the one question that would always burn in your mind? “Is what they are doing working?”
Here is a second example. Camp Bow Wow is a passion business. It attracts smart businesspeople who love, love, love dogs and consider them like children. If you were a total dog person and looking to invest in a business, one of your top concerns would be, “Can I find help responsible employees who share my customers’ passion about their dogs?” Here is a short video of a Camp Bow Wow employee, which addresses those concerns. Notice the employee’s feeling of purpose, worthiness and willingness to sacrifice and make a difference. Additionally, FPG left some ambient dog noise in the background to give the candidate an experience of what Camp Bow Wow would feel like if they owned it. We wanted to create a “being there” experience. To the right candidate, barking dogs sound like a string quartet.
Experienced franchisee recruiters know that franchisee validation makes or breaks the franchisee recruitment process. Franchisee validation works best when franchise candidates experience two outcomes:
- They meet franchisees they would say are just like them.
- They meet franchisees achieving what the candidate wants to achieve.
Most franchisee validation occurs at the back end of the recruitment process. However, franchisee testimonial content is some of the most influential and engaging content you can use, both on your website and as lead nurturing content recruiters can drip to their active candidates without burning their franchisees’ time. Here is a good example of franchisee testimonial content Togo’s uses to appeal to owner operators, those looking to start family businesses, and to attract immigrant entrepreneurs. Large, multi-branded restaurant operators may not relate to Rose, but that’s not who invests in Togo’s.
Be smart with your website design
To optimize your ranking in Google, experts seem to agree the minimum number of words is 300 per page. To put this in perspective, that’s less than one page of content in Microsoft Office Word. While 300 words may be the minimum threshold of what is optimal for Google, it is more important to give an optimal answer for whatever topic is being discussed on that particular web page. It’s incumbent on the content creators to say what needs to be said, using infographics, pictures and videos to illustrate points and make it easy to digest across multiple platforms while MINIMIZING the amount of times a franchise candidate has to click to access the information they want.
However, a franchisor needs to design a site that takes into consideration that with every click, a franchisor assumes risk and potentially diminishes results. FPG’s solution to this design challenge is to give candidates easy access to whatever information they want and always invite them to contact the franchisor without having to click. Here is a snippet from Taco John’s franchise opportunity website:
How do I measure results?
In my opinion, the traditional website stats generated by Google Analytics are nice but just don’t tell the real story. Here is the real story.
Each year, Franchise Update publishes stats that show in any given year in the United States, about 30,000 new franchises open, a number that includes existing franchisees who expand. FRANdata CEO Darrell Johnson estimates (and my experience validates this) about 45%-55% are opened by new franchisees. Therefore, franchisors are all competing for the same basic 14,000-17,000 franchise buyers.
The only thing that really matters is, “How many of those 14,000-17,000 heard my story?” and “How many are active in my pipeline right now?”
Why do I say this? A typical FPG lead generation client will receive 2,000 to 9,000 visits each month to their site. Let’s be conservative and say a typical franchisor receives 2,000 visitors per month, or 24,000 visitors for the year. Let’s assume 1,000 of the 3,000+ franchisors in the United States can achieve this same level of traffic. That equates to 24 million visitors per year! Keep in mind, in the United States only 14,000-17,000 of those 24 million will become franchise buyers. If you focus your energies only on serving the needs of the buyers, you can quickly see how meaningless statistics are such as site traffic, bounce rates and other traditional ways to measure what the 23,983,000 are doing. A big part of me looks at the 23+ million and says, “Who cares!”
About 90% of web traffic will be on your site 3 minutes or less. While some might worry about how to keep visitors on the site longer, at FPG we don’t see this as a problem. The law of averages dictates 85%-90% of the traffic will be among the faceless millions who simply are not franchise buyers and therefore won’t connect to the content. We pay closer attention to what happens to the 10% who spend more than 3 minutes on the site. How many of these, most of whom are hearing your story for the first time, are connecting to it and desiring to learn more?
As we study the data, 15% to 25% of visitors who are spending more than 3 minutes should be leaving contact information. Out of those leaving contact information, 40%-50% should be qualified and engaged in your process.
Once the lead is engaged in your process, the website content has done its job and the recruiter must now apply their skills and earn their money.
In summary, your franchise development website is one of the most important tools in your franchisee recruitment toolbox. It has four primary functions: Lead generation, lead screening, lead conversion and lead nurturing. Franchisee recruitment has officially moved away from “recruitment as a series of conversations” to “content that earns a conversation.” Right now, your website is either teeing up conversations or creating barriers. There are huge dividends for franchisors who get it right and major penalties for those who miss the mark.
Do you need help telling your brand story to your target franchise candidate in an engaging way?
Contact Joe Mathews, CEO of FPG, at 860.309.1484 or Joe@FranchisePerformanceGroup.com
Read FPG’s free 50-page eBook on franchisee recruitment strategy, How to Create a Franchise Sales Breakthrough. Guaranteed.
About Franchise Performance Group (FPG)
FPG is a leading consulting firm specializing in helping franchisors create a breakthrough in franchisee recruitment results. We offer a full range of services, including:
- Cutting-edge franchise buyer lead generation (franchise sales website design, brand storytelling content strategies)
- Franchise sales process design
- Franchise sales force assessment, training, ongoing coaching and skill development
- Outsourced franchise sales
- SBA financing
- Strategic consulting to improve the value proposition of the business
About Joe Mathews
Joe Mathews, founder of Franchise Performance Group, has more than 30 years of experience with such national chains as Subway, Blimpie, MotoPhoto and Entrepreneur’s Source. He is a regular presenter at IFA conferences, and has served as an instructor with the ICFE (Institute of Certified Franchise Executives). Joe specializes in franchisee recruitment, franchise sales and franchisee performance. He is author/co-author of four books: Street Smart Franchising Franchise Sales Tipping Point, Developing Peak Performing Franchisees and How to Create a Franchise Sales Breakthrough. Guaranteed.