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Ask the Experts: Trends in franchise advertising

By Patti Laine

Q: What trends do you see today in advertising and marketing?

Patti says:
Spending on online advertising has increased over the past few years. This change has been driven by consumer habits. Everybody, from millennials to baby boomers, devours information in ways that could not even be imagined in the past. This is not to say traditional media are dead, but much of their impact and power have been usurped by social, digital and mobile media.

The notion of ad clutter has been redefined. It used to be that in an average day, we could be ‘served’ more than 3,500 messages, through multiple channels. Today, while all of the same channels still exist, there are even more ways for marketers to reach us, on our computers, tablets and phones, in our games and newsfeeds.

Consumers research brands on their websites, but then use social media to learn what other people think about those brands. As such, it is important to listen to comments and feedback on social media and engage in meaningful dialogue.

Tim Hortons, for example, used social media to collect consumer feedback after introducing its dark roast coffee. After the initial response was negative, the franchisor not only improved the coffee, but also created a video spot highlighting customers’ comments to show they had been heard and acted upon. It was a great way to prove Tim Hortons cares.

Q: How can franchisees best take advantage of these trends?

Patti says:
You must know your customers as intimately as possible, especially how they use social media, if you are going to deliver content that is relevant and meaningful to them. Franchisees can face many different consumer audiences, so the real trick is in finding the ‘sweet spot’ for talking to them in a familiar voice.

Fortunately, digital and social media allow you to narrow your messages to the finest point, through geographical, behavioural and time-of-day targeting, each of which provides an opportunity to deliver a different message to a different audience.

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The purpose of marketing, then, is to convert consumers from online attention and engagement to in-person sales. The beauty of online advertising, compared to other media, is the ease of testing, measuring and course-correcting messages ‘on the fly’ to improve their impact. There is the opportunity not only to speak, but also to listen and engage.

All of this work requires ongoing attention, dedicated resources and specialized skills for managing and moderating digital/social communities. You cannot simply ‘set it and forget it’ with online efforts; it can be very damaging to your brand if your audience does not sense you are genuinely listening to and caring about what they have to say.

Q: What else do franchise systems need to do to remain relevant?

Patti says:
Maintaining relevance, from a franchise system standpoint, is more far-reaching than simply marketing and advertising. It involves staying ahead of—or at least at pace with—what your customers want and what is already available to them in the marketplace. This is true across all categories, from food service to retail.

Consistency is key across a franchise system. With a singular brand voice, consistent offering, high quality, value and delivery mechanism, your loyal customers will become ambassadors of your brand. And each franchisee contributes to this overall definition of the brand.

If your communications are intended to drive consumers into your stores, then your message and delivery must be seamless.

Patti Laine is director of marketing for MTY Group, a Canadian franchisor for multiple food-service brands. For more information, contact her via e-mail at pattil@mtygroup.com.

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