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LOCAL MARKETING FOR FRANCHISEES

by Troy Hazard,
last updated 22/03/2010

January 2007 - As a franchisee, how do you drive your business on a local basis? Troy Hazard shares six top tips based on real-life experience

One of the things you soon learn as a franchisee is that marketing isn’t just the franchisor’s concern. The franchisor might put together the TV advertising and the national promotions, but actually driving your customers through the door – and beating off the local opposition – is up to you. That’s why local area marketing is so important.

In recent years, franchise groups all over the world have embraced this term. It’s become one of those buzz terms we use in franchising but, interestingly, many franchisors are still struggling to work out what it really means. ‘Become part of the local community. Give a few bucks to the local sports team, give a local charity some love and show some of the local schools a group hug and you’re done!’

Well, not quite. In fact, if you really want to make a difference, both to your community and to your own business, you’re going to have to work a lot harder – and a lot smarter – than that.

Almost 20 years ago, when I was working with emerging franchises like Subway and Eagle Boys Pizza back in the days when they only had a handful of stores, we had no budget and even less national presence. That meant we had no choice but to find new ways to market the business. I have to admit that at the time we had no idea what we were doing, really. We just figured that if we were to have any chance of getting our brand and our product into the market then we had to think a little laterally. The big question for us was, ‘How can we jump out of the bunker, slap the big bear opposition and then dive for cover with them saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know what that was but it hurt!’ Enter the local area marketing strategy.

At first, we would put together random ideas just to get attention in and around the stores. We’d have people standing on street corners with banners and A-frame posters, hand out a bunch of T-shirts to sports clubs, pull some crazy stunt that might get some media attention. We’d then sit back and say, ‘Yeah, that worked, but we don’t really know why or if we could do it better. I wonder what would happen if it had some sort of structure?’ As we learned a bit more, we came up with the following.

Six Steps To Success

We recognised that the first thing you need to do is understand your customers and define what message you want to send to them. That requires a clear understanding of your franchise’s brand values and culture in order to enhance your image locally rather than fight against the messages being put out nationally. If your franchisor has trained you well and communicates these values properly, you are in a position to pull your local marketing strategy together. There are six key steps to help you do that.

1. The Opportunity Audit Get a team of people together – staff, friends and family – and do a brainstorm session on the things you could do in the local area to build brand awareness. Look to avoid advertising ideas and stick to marketing activity. Your competitors can see you advertise but they can’t necessarily see you market, giving you the opportunity to slap the big bear.

2. Innovate Look for things your competitors won’t be doing in the local market. They’ll be looking to do the simple things, like giving ‘best and fairest player’ awards at the local sports club, or handing out cheques to the local schools at random. What do you think you can do that they would not? And how can you execute some of the simple ideas with stronger presence and meaning in the market?

3. Action Write up your plan of activities and allocate people and execution dates to the plan. Set milestones so you ensure you actually get things done and don’t just talk about them.

4. Evaluate Now that you have done something in the market, be sure to write down how it went - the good, the bad and the ugly. A failure is not a bad thing. It’s only bad if you don’t look for ways to do better next time.

5. Renovate Because you’ve taken the time to evaluate, you are now in a strong position to be able to fix problems and improve good ideas to make them great. Overhaul all of your local area marketing ideas: they can always run smoother, be stronger in the market and have greater impact if you keep refining and renovating the idea. You will find that as your relationship with the community becomes stronger, so too do the activities you are executing.

6. Integrate With strong local area marketing ideas in place, work out how you can integrate them with your advertising campaign and national promotions being run by the franchisor. This way, all of your messaging to your consumer starts to match, which ensures your marketing has greater cumulative impact on your consumer.

What Customers Really Want

That all sounds great in theory but what about in practice? I’ll share some real examples with you in a moment, but first I want to address an issue that all franchisors are familiar with. This is the ‘my area is different’ syndrome.

It’s pretty typical for a franchisee in any system to say, ‘Yes, I hear you but it won’t work for me. It’s different in my area – my customers are not like yours.’ I hear that every day of the week from franchisees in all sorts of systems and you know what? It’s not different for you! I’ve been working with groups around the planet, different countries, cultures, languages and religions, and the common thread for all of them is that their customers are all the same. And they all want the same thing. What?

Well, some years back we set out to find out what customers really wanted from a brand and why. When we did the research on a number of brands and categories, we found out that what customers want boils down to five key things. This was an important finding in the development of a local marketing strategy, on two key levels:

i) If we didn’t know what to say to our customers then it didn’t really matter where it was said, as it would be falling on deaf ears anyway.

ii) But if we did know what to say, then it would be effective for every franchisee in every location. To put a plan in place that could work over a whole group we needed to disprove the perception that ‘my area is different’.

Our research helped us achieve both. Here’s what we ended up with – what every customer wants:

Service Consumers everywhere want good service. That’s a given.

Quality They want a quality product. If it’s not quality they will simply return it and expect a refund or replacement – all the time knowing that they are not likely to return.

Relationship They want a relationship with the brand that lets them know that the brand will do what it says it is going to do for them and that it will keep its promises. With a relationship comes trust, with trust comes a bond, and with a bond comes their belief of the things you are telling them. That creates an easier path to make a sale.

Ease They want the transaction to be easy. Today’s consumers are time poor and become easily frustrated when faced with transactions that consume their time unnecessarily.

Value Most of all, they want value. Contrary to popular belief, value does not mean getting the product cheaper. It’s not about money – if the core drivers of service, quality, relationship and ease are present in the transaction, then the consumer will have the perception of value. It’s that simple.

Making It Work In The Real World

So that’s the theory of how you put together a local marketing campaign and what you need to say to make it work in any area. How does it all work in real life?

I’m going to use a case study from an Eagle Boys Pizza outlet I used to own some years back. Eagle Boys is a huge and very successful pizza chain in Australia and also had about 60 outlets in New Zealand for a number for years until they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse by the owners of the Pizza Hut brand in New Zealand.

We bought our own Eagle Boys store when pizza was strong in the market, there was no threat of a ‘pizza war’ and margins were good. Life was good, profits were good and we all sang in the streets.

Then the crunch came. Five dirty words, ‘two for one pizza deal’. And we were in a hole. We were getting belted by our competitors. They were sending three flyers into letterboxes to every one of ours and they were on the TV every other day with a better deal, a cheaper deal, or a new deal. We could not compete – not on advertising, anyway. But what we did work out was that our competitors were working on volume and volume alone. They had no real tie to the communities they served and cared less about them. And there lay our opportunity, the hole in their armour. We attacked. We applied the six steps.

We got the team together and did an opportunity audit on the surrounding area to work out who we could get close to in the community and how we could leverage the brand into pockets of people that our competitors would not see. And we worked out what we could do that our competitors either could not, or would not, think about.

We approached:

  • The local university, with the offer of free pizza in the student rec. club on a Friday night. Students are loyal – and big – pizza eaters.
  • The local car yards, with the offer of free soft drink if they ordered pizza for their sales meetings.
  • The local sports club. We didn’t just do feel-good sponsorship with a name on the shirt – we tied it to a real benefit for both parties by giving the sports club sponsorship revenue each time a member spent money in our store (they marketed our product to their database, too).
  • The local hairdressers. We gave them free product to hand out on a Saturday afternoon to their clients. Mmm, that’s good, pizza tonight?
  • The local real estate agents got to offer free pizza for everyone that moves into the neighbourhood. No-one can cook when they’ve just moved in, so why not get into the habit of ordering pizza from us?

The list went on and on, and the results started to show in our sales. That didn’t mean we stopped. We kept looking for new opportunities and innovative ways to implement them. Most of all, we were committed to actioning the ideas. We were sending the store manager into the field for a half a day a week to do nothing other than to talk to other business people and community groups about how we could partner on activities. Our question was, ‘What can we do for you to help you out and how can you help us get more people into the store? It was as easy as that.

The key here was momentum. We kept the action going until we had the manager out in the field for one full day a week executing meetings with people on the implementation of local store marketing activity, cross-promotional ideas and community awareness events. We’d sit down each Friday and evaluate the activities we had going in the field, update the ones that were not so good and capture the information from those that were. And then we’d start the process all over again looking for new and improved opportunities to market the business.

Now the best part about that was that because our competitors could not see us advertising, they figured we were sleeping. But all the time we were chipping away at their market share without them knowing it – we were jumping out of the bunker and slapping the bear!

You Can Do It Too

I can almost hear you saying, ‘Yes, I can see how that would work for a pizza shop… but my business is different. I can’t see how that would work for my franchise.’ But it will.

Think: if customers all want the same thing in a transaction then it’s no different whether you are selling food, books or doing business-to-business transactions. And if that’s the case then, no matter what you are selling, provided you utilise the five key drivers of service, quality, relationship, ease and value, then it is not different for you. You too can apply the simple principles of local area marketing - you just need to think a little laterally and then apply the ideas.

Local area marketing is not rocket science, but it does require some thought and commitment for it to work. Get it wrong and learn from the experience. Get it right and all the other franchisees in your system will want to know how. And it will work for them too.

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