Want to grow in 2013? Pay attention to these important trends:
For many franchisors, 2012 was not an easy year to recruit franchisees and 2013 will not be a breakthrough year for many franchisors either.
Economic uncertainty, a stagnant economy and tight credit will create an environment where franchisors are going to rely on same store or same franchisee year-over-year increases rather than opening a significant number of new units to drive royalty revenue north of current levels. 2013 will be another bloody year for those franchisors committed to mediocrity. Only operationally excellent brands with strong franchisee validation will see performance gains.
Companies boasting strong unit economics and solid validation have a story to tell and a willing audience of interested would-be franchisees ready to listen. The trick for 2013 is connecting the two. The way prospective franchisees and franchisors connect will continue to evolve in 2013 according to 7 distinct patterns.
Here are the 7 trends to watch:
1. Out with “Lead Generation” and in with “Buyer Generation.” Ask a smart franchisor “How many leads does it take to generate one franchisee?” and they will answer “One…the right one.” The traditional focus on generating large numbers of ‘leads’ for salespeople to sift through is giving way to a focus on what it really takes to engage and recruit the person most likely to buy a franchise. What questions and concerns do they have? What types of information are they seeking? Where do they go online to learn about what you have? Smart franchisors are building content-rich websites and designing content-driven campaigns designed to attract and engage the person most likely to buy rather than trying to be all things to all people.
In our study of franchise buyer behavior on websites, we found that the average franchise buyer spends 50 minutes on a company’s franchise website, looks at 33 pages and spends an average of 90 seconds reading copy on each page. This data completely contradicts yesterday’s wisdom of being stingy with information. Stingy websites may generate more leads, BUT LESS BUYERS.
The lesson for 2013: people who will buy your franchise have an appetite for 50-60 minutes of information. If you don’t give it to them, they move on to other sources and you lose your chance to convert them into a sale. Content marketing for your franchise development efforts is no longer optional, it’s the price to play the game and it takes skill to create an online environment that really engages buyers and breaks down barriers to conversation.
2. Targeted Searches and Online Engagement – Google has issued 21 upgrades to its search algorithm in the past year all focused on one goal: helping people find relevant and recent content during online searches. Smart franchisors have adapted.
They understand all the various ways candidates will search for them online and take proactive steps to own the first search page for each key question or key search phrase.
Google is giving priority to those smart franchise brands that have deeper and more structured content on websites and who publish articles that relate to what people are searching for. Google’s goal is to find and rank content people want to read (not just skim). If you have more robust content on your franchise opportunity site, you’ll be rewarded not just by higher rankings, but with higher franchise candidate engagement. Most smart franchisors will be redesigning their websites in 2013 and 2014 with more content, a deeper franchise opportunity research funnel, more video, integrated franchise blogs and a well-crafted and relevant story.
3. Reinventing Franchise Opportunity Websites: Over the past few years, franchise brands have generally built the same type of website: a 7-9 page franchise website with commonly-named pages. Look at several sites and you’ll see the same pages across the top navigation: About Us, FAQ, Investment, Our Process, Why Us, Contact Us, Next Steps. Each page fits on a single computer screen and has a single paragraph with a handful of bullets and a photograph.
These sites, mostly designed and built on the advice of web designers who have never worked a lead or sold a franchise, focus on getting franchise candidates to submit forms.
Designers of these types of sites are short-sighted for they do not look further down the franchise sales pipeline and determine how engaged these leads are, how likely are they to return calls, and most importantly, how likely are they to invest in a franchise?
They set up environments where franchise salespeople or lead screeners are chasing those who fill out a form and trying to convince them why they should talk with the franchise salesperson.
Smart franchisors do not chase leads.
They give candidates the preliminary information they need, contact them as soon as possible on same day the candidate’s information is received, and make it easy for franchise candidates to reach out to them.
Smart franchisors understand franchise candidates have two separate thresholds of information that need to be successfully crossed if a candidate is to invest in a franchise.
The first threshold is the information a candidate needs BEFORE THEY ARE WILLING TO TALK TO A FRANCHISE REPRESENTATIVE. The second threshold is the information a candidate needs before they are willing to stroke a check.
The threshold of information needed to earn a conversation on both fronts is INCREASING.
Many franchisors are still laboring under the delusion, “I will whet their appetite with some information, BUT IF THEY WANT THE REAL STORY, THEY HAVE TO TALK TO US.” Those are the franchisors who find themselves stuck in the beginning of the funnel, being screened out by franchise candidates who block their calls and delete their voicemails.
Remember, when a franchise candidate fills out a form, they are requesting “more information” not “more conversation.”
Here is the thought process Franchise Performance Group uses to design franchise opportunity websites and author content:
- What candidates are most likely to invest in a franchise and succeed?
- What are these candidates most concerned about? What questions would they need answered BEFORE they are ready to speak with a franchise representative?
- How do we effectively communicate the following:
- What makes this business unique?
- What makes it profitable?
- What will keep the business profitable and sustainable for the long haul?
- What would it be like for the franchise candidate to own a franchise?
Then we start mapping out all the questions a franchise buyer is likely to have before they opt in and during the first conversation with a salesperson. We then organize the answers into an “easy to read and navigate” website which tells a compelling brand story, has multiple short forms on every page and we use a downloadable ‘report’ so a candidate gets something substantial in return for completing a form.
4. Out with “Bullets” and “Headlines” in with Brand Stories: Stories are the essence of communication and as long as there have been people, we’ve used stories to relate to each other, better understand the world around us and make better decisions. Brand storytelling was the big marketing trend in 2012 outside the franchise industry and the few adopters saw sizable performance gains over traditional marketing messaging.
Traditional franchise lead generation focused on benefits-selling; single pages with a couple of paragraphs and bullet points that focused on the features of a franchise system. Smart companies are learning that brand storytelling – the practice of weaving together information into a narrative that reads like a story like a magazine article – works much better and is much more effective at engaging franchise leads.
Brand stories don’t live in silos, either. Smart franchisors are connecting all of their online content so that breadcrumbs all lead back to the franchise website. This is true of email campaigns, portal ad pages, PPC landing pages, organic search content, social media posts and just about any other online content.
Expect to see franchise brands engage in brand storytelling to help generate franchise leads in 2013.
5. Resurgence of Google Adwords and PPC advertising aimed at THE MIDDLE OF THE SALES FUNNEL: ask around the franchise industry and you’ll hear lots of horror stories about how PPC marketing cost a ton and didn’t produce a result. As franchise buyers have changed the way they do self-directed research, PPC advertising is again playing a crucial role in recruiting franchise buyers.
When we track organic and paid search results for actual franchise buyers, we’ve seen a trend develop in 2012: people who buy franchises are using organic search terms that either relate to the brand name or the category of business the franchise is in.
They are not using unrelated terms or terms that stray outside the category of business. For instance, a carpet cleaning franchise client gets sales via PPC ads from people using the brand name of the company or the category of business: carpet cleaning franchise, carpet cleaning franchises, carpet cleaning franchise for sale. These candidates enter the process with a good idea or more educated about the type of business they are looking for. They are most likely further down the decision-making funnel than someone who googles the term, “franchise information,” or “franchises.”
For our clients, we find that generic terms such as “low investment franchise” or “home based franchise” may generate “click throughs” or “leads” but we do not find that these terms generate buyers.
Furthermore, when a company launches a content website that ranks highly for the same industry terms AND launches a targeted PPC campaign, conversions increase by 20-30%, generating both more leads and more buyers. Having multiple mentions on the first page of Google for the terms buyers use makes a measurable difference.
The implications are that targeted PPC should be part of your spend in 2013. It should also be managed by the same person who manages your website and manages your lead generation. The lesson: website content and PPC campaigns are connected. Hiring someone to manage PPC campaigns who isn’t involved in your overall organic lead generation won’t produce a good result but having someone who understands what it takes to convert and engage a buyer will. Spends might not be large – from $2,000 a month or less – but reach buyers at the point where buyers at their point of interest, which is always the goal of marketing.
6. The return of Franchise Portals. Many franchisors report a “love-hate” relationship with franchise portals. After several years of decline, a few franchise portals have rethought how they approach marketing and are showing signs of promise. Franchise Update, at its annual leadership and development conference noted in its annual survey that portals showed an increase in contributing to closes.
We always recommend working with certain portals as part of the overall mix for franchise lead generation. Some portals we work with, notably Franchisesolutions, Franchise.com, Franchise Gator and Franchiseopportunities, have been open to linking to our franchise websites and work hard to track lead data so we both know where leads come from.
Our clients pay for WEB TRAFFIC and not CONTACT INFORMATION. We look at portals as a sort of “pay per click” advertising; a way to generate higher quality traffic to our content websites. They may get leads directly from the portals but they also get buyers who clickthrough to the company franchise website.
While our strategy works great for our clients because we have armed them with robust franchise opportunity websites which tell the brand story well.
Linking a skimpy online 1000 word portal description with a skimpy website doesn’t work, which is why franchisors often report closing 1 in 350 portal leads.
7. Radio advertising picks up steam. One of the popular lead generation forms from 2012 was satelite radio. Franchise buyers, stuck in a car during drive-time, could learn about franchise opportunities during commercial breaks.
XM radio is expensive – running from $8-20,000 a month but is working for the franchisors whose budget allows. It doesn’t produce a killing, but often comes close to covering the total cost. It is a big spend and not recommended for small or entry-level franchisors.
As franchisors start jumping on the XM bandwagon, we expect some dilution of results, but for now we are pleasantly surprised with some of the results we have been hearing. Also expect companies to experiment with local talk radio advertising as an effective way to tell your story in target markets. Radio, like franchise blogging, is a great way to get a complex message across.
Whatever your budget is for 2013, make sure to take a step back and critically look at your efforts. Are you really giving franchise buyers what they want or is your marketing creating roadblocks? Is your marketing in silos or is it interconnected so candidates can easily drill down no matter what lead source they come from? Take a good look at your franchise website. Does it really tell your story well and answers in detail all of the questions a franchise buyer will have?
There are buyers in the market and our prediction is they will gravitate to brands that do a better job of storytelling and make the information more accessible.
Have a Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2013!