Top 10 Marketing Take Aways from the 2011 IFA Conference

This was a busy year at the 2011 International Franchise Association conference in Las Vegas. Much like the last two years, almost every session I attended drifted to social media; it didn’t matter if we were in a room full of operations staffers, franchise attorneys or salespeople; social media is still dominating the conversation in franchising.

2011 IFA Conference - Attendees Spill outside for the Social Media Sessions

Here are my Top 10 marketing and social media take-aways from this year’s IFA conference, the 51st for the venerable association:

1. Social media marketing is finally becoming integrated with the rest the marketing efforts. No longer off by itself, social media is now seen as equal to print, pr, and other advertising functions. Social media is here to stay and simple marketing such as print ads now morph into social media and social media now swings back into traditional advertising. There are no clear lines and lots of overlap. It’s only going to get muddier as the franchise industry learns to leverage new technologies in 2011.

2. Social media can be used to help sell franchises. From producing optimized blogs aimed at making it easier for potential franchisees to research your brand to using paid facebook advertising to attract visitors to regional franchise seminars, companies are learning to use social media platforms as a tool to generate traffic. It may not work the way you would think, but savvy companies are making it work.

3. The business blog – a blog integrated into your consumer or franchise development website – is one of the most important parts of your social media plan. People who want what you have to sell are looking for you online and having an integrated blog on your website both gives you tools to create your own social community and put content in front of your target audience. Of all the things social media related, the blog offers the biggest bang for the buck spent on marketing.

4. PR is back – PR was on the rise this year and if you are not using PR to tell your story on a national level, you are missing the chance to build brand and get your story out. PR is changing and old-school traditional PR doesn’t work as well as story-based online brand building. Forget new store releases and think national trend stories that position your brand in a unique spot.

5. Local PR generates results -PR is divided into two services: national PR for your brand and local PR for your franchisees. Local media like to write about local companies and unless releases come from and are about your franchisees most journalists won’t write about you. Local PR is an important way for franchisees to build brand on a local level. Small publications have fewer reporters and are more likely to bite on a story if it is about a local business.

6. Google Places is perhaps the most important social network for influencing customers. When customers, especially customers who want to buy what you have to sell, look for something on Google, they see business listings for each of the businesses in an area. Each listing, called a Place Page, has user reviews from real customers, owner-uploaded content and a variety of consumer information. Because it leverages user reviews and buzz postings, Google Places has become the modern day equivalent of the thumbs-up or thumbs-down in the Roman coliseum. The good news is that franchisees can manage this content and can leverage good reviews to dramatically increase store traffic and online leads. The bad news: few companies have bothered to claim pages and train franchisees on best practices.

7. Keywords Count and SEO is changing. Forget hiring SEO firms to do expensive ‘on-site’ search engine optimization for your website. Using online tools, companies are doing internal keyword research themselves and are beginning to generate content in the form of blog posts, facebook posts, linkedin statuses and online press releases that use keywords tied to the buying process. Not just brand awareness keywords such as your company name but a whole range of keywords relating to research, comparison shopping, user reviews and pricing.

8. Social Media is a lot more than facebook – It might be more accurate to say ‘being on facebook is a mistake.’ Facebook is a popular platform but it was clear from the companies that could point to actual sales results that the real breakthroughs were coming from other tactics and tools. Blogs, Google Places, SEO, Social Loyalty programs and linkedin articles were producing far more business than facebook. If you want to get social media results, don’t start with facebook; start with your blog.

9. Social loyalty programs taking shape – The idea of social loyalty, rewarding your customers for positive digital activity that builds brand awareness and generates referrals, is beginning to take shape. Integrated point of sale systems, leveraged coupons, referral coupons and social media only promotions tied into customer cards and custom facebook tabs are all coming together into well thought out systems that may dramatically alter how local franchisees tap into social media’s word of mouth on steroids nature. Stay tuned as this field emerges in 2011.

10. Content Truly is the Currency of the Internet – social media is essentially people talking to each other and if you plan to drive conversations about your company, you’ll need good content. In company after company, franchisors expressed frustration that they didn’t know how to create content in the volume needed today and franchisees expressed frustration that there was little help at the local level. It takes far more content to get good results than most companies realize and few firms know how to tell the right stories or understand how to implement them. Companies with good content can reshape public opinion and generate leads; companies without content diminish. Publish or Perish is the marketing mantra today. The newly emerging field of Brand Journalism – companies that merge a PR firm with a marketing firm and create content streams – is something to watch in 2011.

What were your take aways from the 51st IFA Conference?

(Source: brandjournalists.com)