Planet Fitness, Great Clips, Ace Hardware… you can imagine the sense of achievement the leadership of these famous franchises must enjoy in making it to the top of lists like Entrepreneur’s 500. Behind the scenes of success, all competitive franchisors and franchisees have had to manage a major shift — one that centers on customers and their radically altered consumer journeys.
Research online, buy offline. Always-on laptops and constant companion smartphones are where fingers do the walking now, before feet cross the franchise threshold. Statistics tell the story of a public that searches online prior to the 90% of purchases they still make in physical stores.
And while opportunity abounds, “being there” for the customers wherever they are in their journey has presented unique challenges for franchises. Who manages which stage of the journey? Franchisor or franchisee? Getting it right means meeting new shopping habits head-on, and re-establishing clear sight-lines and guidelines for all contributors to the franchise’s ultimate success.
Seeing the Shift
Whoever your franchise’s customers are, demographically, we can tell you one thing: they aren’t buying the same way they were ten, or even five years ago. For one thing, they used to decide to buy at your business as they browsed shelves or a menu. Now, 82% of smartphone users consult their devices before making an in-store purchase. Thank you, digital marketing!
Traditionally, online marketing wasn’t something that franchisees had to think much about. And that was sort of a good thing because everyone knew their lane.
- Franchisors handled national or regional marketing through broadcast, print, and other media. They also handled digital marketing — which, within recent recall, consisted mainly of a website, social media accounts, and paid search.
- Franchisees managed the local beat with coupons, flyers, direct mail, and other community and word-of-mouth marketing efforts.
Then people started shopping differently and traditional lanes began merging. Customers started using online directories to get information. They started using online listings for discovering local businesses “near me” on a map. They started reading online reviews to make choices. They started browsing online inventories or menus in advance. They started using cell phones to make reservations, click to call you, or to get a digital voice assistant like Siri or Alexa to give them directions to the nearest and best local option.
Suddenly, what used to be a “worldwide” resource — the internet — began to be a local resource, too. And a really powerful one. People were finding, choosing, and building relationships online not just with the national brand, but with local shops, services and restaurants, often making choices in advance and showing up merely to purchase the products or services they want.
Stats State the Case
Consider how these statistics are impacting every franchise:
- 76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. – Google
- 88% of shoppers regularly or occasionally browse products online before purchasing them in a store. – Adweek
- 45% of brick-and-mortar sales in 2018 started with an online review — a 15% year-over-year increase from 2017. – Bazaarvoice
- According to Google, “near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% in the past two years, and we’ve seen a 900% growth in mobile search for “___near me today/tonight.” – Google
- Search interest in ”open now” has increased 300% in the past two years. – Google
These are huge changes — and not ones the franchise model was entirely ready for.
There used to be a clear geographic split between a franchise’s corporate awareness marketing and franchisee local sales marketing that was easy to understand. But the above statistics tell new tales. Now there is an immediacy and urgency to the way customers search and shop that’s blurring old lines.
Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks
Even a memorable jingle like this one goes nowhere unless the franchisor/franchisee partnership is solid. How do customers know a brand like Ace stands by its slogan when they see a national TV campaign like this one which strives to distinguish the franchise from understaffed big box home improvement stores?
Customers feel the nation-wide promise come true as soon as they walk into an Ace location:
- Place located where the internet said it was? Check!
- Abundance of staff? Check!
- Friendly? Check!
- Online purchase ready for pickup? Check!
- Trust earned? Check!
A brand promo only works when all sides are equally committed to making each location of the business visible, accessible, and trusted. This joint effort applies to every aspect of how the business is marketed. From leadership to door greeter, everyone has a role to play. It’s defining those roles that can make or break the brand in the new consumer environment.
We’ll be exploring the nuts and bolts of building ideal partnerships in future installments of this series. Up next is The Unique World of Franchise Marketing. Keep an eye out for it on the blog at the end of the month!