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Thanks to BJ Emerson, co-author of the upcoming McGraw Hill book The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons For Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave for writing about the increasing trend of companies using brand journalism. Here’s an excerpt from his blog article on B2C, Business 2 Community:


By BJ Emerson

As long as humans have been communicating we’ve used stories to relate to each other, make sense of the world around us, and help us make decisions as we go through life. Advancements in technology have us sharing greater amounts of information, and we’re finding ourselves making more decisions based on those stories.

The tasti dlite way

Teh Tasti D-lite Way, a social media book by BJ Emerson and Jim Amos that includes an interview with Brand Journalists’ Thomas Scott

If having great ideas and remarkable testimony enables anyone to have a voice in this new socially empowered world, then the future has much to offer when it comes to corporate storytelling and brand journalism. This rise of “brand journalism” was included among the top 12 trends in public relations for 2012 by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

The role of companies has changed. Being publishers of corporate stories and content that will educate and help shape perception of the brand has moved us away from earned or pitched media to owned media; that real estate on the web that brands own and control. Many corporations looking to hire talent in this area are starting to connect with journalists coming out of the declining print industries.

One of the first interviews we did for The Tasti D-Lite Way was with Thomas Scott, CEO of Brand Journalists, a Nashville, Tennessee–based firm that provides PR, social media, blogging, and organic SEO services for franchise systems. He offers some background on this growing industry:

“Brand journalism involves telling stories about a company that makes readers want to know more, stories that don’t read like marketing or advertising copy. It means having conversations with them—not preaching at them and giving them real and interesting stories they can relate to. People today are so inundated with advertising and marketing speak they now filter out marketing messages. I believe that humans, adults in particular, first judge things as relevant. Before they’ll listen to what you have to communicate, there’s a filter that says either (a) it’s relevant to what I’m interested in or (b) it’s really not relevant and I don’t care. There’s no in between on that. When it comes to being marketed to, consumers have these filters more pronounced than ever. So the only way to cut through the noise is to get yourself in the relevant bucket. You do that by telling stories. The story is the essence of human communication and as long as humans have communicated, we have used stories to make sense of the world around us, help us relate to each other and to help us make decisions.”

As humans we’re wired with a desire to make a real and meaningful connection. This might explain why when someone is telling you a good story, you don’t even realize it. That’s the power of a well-told story. It allows the company or organization to become human. Thomas says, “Being human is about having a real, honest connection with people. There’s a real promise with social media and the conversational and emotional connections with people that can happen there.”

Read the full story at http://www.business2community.com/branding/brand-manager-whats-your-story-0248154#sYp1AA2umEK00h1m.99



Professional Storytelling provides content that potential franchise leads crave

Banner ad infographic from prestigemarketing.ca

Quick, close your eyes and try to recall a business mailing, magazine advertisement or online banner ad that you’ve seen in the last week.

It should be easy — the average person is exposed to several thousand display ads a day. But are you able to recall a single one? It’s hard, isn’t it.

Now, think of the last article you read online.

If you are like most people, it is easy to recall a number of online articles. That’s because a good article uses vivid storytelling that appeals to both emotion and logic. A story about how a business responded to a tornado, and revealed the character of its leadership team, is much more powerful than any banner ad.

Gilad de Vries, a marketing professional, used a similar exercise to make his point in a recent Forbes.com article: It is almost impossible to tell a story in a display ad — and customers have become completely impervious to them. He said that much of the $620 billion a year that corporations spend on online advertising goes into the “brand awareness black hole.”

And he’s right. People have become expert at ignoring traditional display advertising.

That’s why it’s so important for companies to tell honest, factual stories that people will seek out rather than ignore.

How brand storytelling makes a difference

In today’s franchise lead generation market, if you can’t emotionally engage a potential candidate, you can’t get them to opt into the sales process and seriously consider what you have to offer.

Buying a business is a big decision, and to earn the consideration of potential franchise partners, you need to be able to appeal to their heart and mind.

There is a parallel in real estate. Good real estate agents will tell you that you can’t really ‘sell’ a house — the house has to sell itself. What they mean is that you can’t push someone into purchasing a home; the home buyers have to be able to envision themselves living there and the connection buyers make with the house is what drives the decision to buy.

Every time a home buyer walks into a house, they are telling themselves stories: This comfy room is where we’ll play games together as a family; this is where I’ll set hor d’oeuvres when we have house parties; I will put the Christmas tree in front of that window and its lovely drapes. People are buying the next chapter of their lives.

When buyers preview a vacant house, there is nothing to look at except the floor, ceilings and walls. There’s not much of a story to tell. As a result, buyers spend very little time inside the home — as little as 5-10 minutes. Savvy real estate agents hire staging companies to fill these empty shells with stories — comfy couches, stylish furniture and color-coordinated accesories.  According to franchise home stager Showhomes, buyers spend upwards of 45 minutes in staged homes, which sell more quickly and for more money.

That’s the power of a story.

Recruiting franchisees is identical to selling homes. Both involve highly emotional decisions and large commitments of time and money.

How Brand Journalism attracts franchise leads

Cafe2U Mobile Espresso Van Franchise

Cafe2u, Australia’s largest coffee franchise, is expanding rapidly in the US thanks to brand journalism franchise lead generation.

Display ads, banner ads, franchise portal ads and most email campaigns don’t work as well as they once did because today’s potential franchise buyers demand more information than ever before. They want to know who is in charge of your company, what it’s like to be a franchisee, and how it will affect their lives. We’ve essentially lost the first conversation a sales person has with a lead to the internet and we’re not going to get it back.

Brand journalism gives companies a way to tell their stories across multiple platforms and media. And it’s not just about telling stories well — it’s also about telling stories while using the same language as a potential franchisee. Brand journalism is all about providing the content that the audience is already looking for.

Brand Journalism has been a hot marketing topic in 2012, and companies outside of franchising are rushing to adopt some form of brand storytelling. At the popular SXSW conference in Austin, several sessions focused on the new form of marketing. TED talks have mentioned it and just about every PR school in the country is struggling to incorporate it into existing curriculum. Entrepreneur magazine spotlighted Brand Journalism in its 2012 branding issue as the hottest trend in marketing this year.

For franchise systems that are adopting it, the results are breathtaking: enormous spikes in lead volume and even bigger gains in lead quality. They are getting more engaged leads who are easier to catch on the phone, more people opting into the sales process with a lot less selling on the recruiter’s part, and — most importantly — more sales to more candidates who understand the business and are a good fit.

Ten years ago, internet search, PPC and SEO were the big trends in franchise lead generation. Five years ago it was social media. In 2012 and 2013 we are entering into the brand storytelling and content marketing era.

The engaging stories unearthed through brand journalism overlaps PR, SEO, social media, blogging, website content, franchise portal strategy, paid search and even email campaigns. It’s an all-encompassing way to generate leads.

The stories are engaging because they use journalism-style storytelling. Stories are written to be engaging, transparent, informative and helpful. It doesn’t focus on sales pitches that make people skeptical. Instead, stories stand on their own and give people doing self-directed research about a franchise brand exactly what they are looking for — which isn’t always what your marketing department has been serving up.

Why companies should hire corporate storytellers to focus on franchise lead generation

How well is your brand doing telling its story to your audience of potential franchise candidates? Is your pipeline full of leads, and are you attracting people who really get your brand? Are you able to talk to the majority of leads that fill out your forms?

If not, it’s time to take another look at your overall lead generation strategy. Right now, there are people who are already interested in your brand. Use brand storytelling and you’ll have a better chance of recruiting them.

Brand Journalism is not easy to execute; it takes a special skill set rarely found in franchise marketing departments and almost never seen in development staffs. It takes trained journalists who have the know how to discover and tell stories. It takes outside help from people who know franchising and understand your audience. It also takes expertise in PR and SEO along with social media and web development. It is a lot more than just writing and blogging; it is an integrated approach. Think of it as adding a team member to your development staff whose job is to think from the outside in about how all of your marketing is working and make sure that the content stays current and relative.

Today, companies are embracing the chance to be their own publisher. Rather than rely on others to shape how the public perceives your brand, smart companies are using media they own and control — websites, blogs, social media, PR — to begin publishing stories about themselves that shape public perception. Becoming a publisher is far beyond the traditional role of a PR firm. When done well, it’s a new form of franchise lead generation that works.

Curious to learn more about using brand journalism for franchise lead generation? Start a conversation with us and see if it is a fit.


Focus on healthy products, professional service, first-rate training keep Chem-Dry on top – one of our top picks for anyone thinking about opening a new business

Chem-Dry isn’t just the world’s biggest carpet cleaning franchise, with more than 4,200 units in 47 countries. In our opinion, it’s the best carpet cleaning franchise and one of the best options for someone thinking about opening a new business.

chem-dry franchiseEver used Chem-Dry as a customer? We use it on our personal homes. No fly-by-night types allowed at Chem-Dry. You get sharp, professional cleaners, best-in-class equipment and a proven process that makes your carpet and home cleaner and healthier.

That’s not just our opinion. For 24 straight years, the company made Entrepreneur magazine’s prestigious Franchise 500 list of the top-rated franchises, and this year, once again, we ranked first among all carpet cleaning franchises. The company’s market share is 8 percent, the largest for a single brand in the highly fragmented carpet cleaning industry.

So what makes Chem-Dry the best carpet cleaning franchise? The company has been around for 35 years, and getting to the mountaintop hasn’t been easy — or an accident. It’s the result of hard work, forethought, trial and error and commitment to being better than everyone else and as good as we can be. Here are our reasons to research Chem-Dry:

carpet cleaning franchiseThe Process.Chem-Dry was conceived in the mid-1970s, when the founder, Robert Harris, spilled some salad dressing on his tie during a flight and watched in amazement as a flight attendant cleaned the stain with an intriguing substance: club soda. From that moment, they have been committed to cleaning with carbonated water, a substance with great natural cleaning properties. Their competitors are steam cleaners, who dump massive amounts of hot water onto carpet, then suck it up with high-pressure vacuums. The suction can damage the carpet. Even if it doesn’t, the water can soak the carpet and backing, taking days to dry and creating a fertile environment for mold and mildew. Chem-Dry’s hot carbonated water extraction process uses a fifth of the water, resulting in a quicker, drier, healthier clean.

The Natural.That’s the name of Chem-Dry’s patented cleaning solution, which at base is a very simple liquid — carbon dioxide and water. They call it The Natural for a reason. It’s safe enough to drink (and they do, downing shots of The Natural during their annual conference). It’s free of any harmful chemicals or soaps, which means it won’t aggravate allergies, irritate mucus membranes or pose a risk to children, pets or you. What’s the use of a carpet you can’t roll around on? Robert Harris vowed from the beginning that Chem-Dry would use only environmentally safe products — the “Chem” is short for chemistry, not chemicals — and The Natural is the staple. Even though it’s harmless to animals, it’s murder on dirt. The carbonation acts like artillery at the molecular level, blasting dirt and oil from fiber surfaces like nothing else can.

The People. Carpet cleaners get a bad rap. Individual and mom-and-pop vendors with, shall we say, highly uneven skill and trustworthiness levels jockey for business and usually do jobs the quick and dirty (emphasis on dirty) way. Their vehicles are usually old, cluttered and filthy. Often, the cleaners themselves are … old, cluttered and filthy. Some drink. People who hire Chem-Dry get prompt service from polite, organized professionals in clean vans and crisp uniforms. They hold their employees to strict standards that reflect the Chem-Dry brand, and if they can’t meet those, they’re not working long for Chem-Dry.

The System. Over 35 years and more than 4,200 locations, Chem-Dry has developed and fine-tuned its franchise system to provide excellent training and support for our local owners. A week of intensive, hands-on training — with the most skilled trainers and equipment in the industry — is only the beginning. We like that they have a great Quick Start coach, Charlie Erickson, who assists new franchise owners in their first year; an operations staff that helps keep owners on track beyond that; continuing training opportunities, including an online program for local office staff and technicians; and, of course, a roster of experienced, committed franchisees who are happy to provide advice and insight to new owners.

The Research. Chem-Dry doesn’t sit still. That’s literally true; Chem-Dry is moving some of its operations to Nashville this year to try to expand its franchise base east of the Mississippi. But it’s figuratively true, too. Our research and development department is unparalleled in the industry, constantly looking for ways to make our best-in-class products and services even better. Cham-Dry has its own in-house chemist, Ed Durrant, who helps develop the patented cleaning products;  product development manager, Roger Andersen, is developing new equipment that combines the power of highest-capacity machines with better portability. Anybody inclined to think Chem-Dry is ready to kick back and coast doesn’t know Chem-Dry.

We think if you are considering a cleaning or carpet cleaning franchise, Chem-Dry is a best bet. Check out the company’s website at chemdryfranchise.com and download the free franchise information report to learn more.

How Brand Journalism Style Storytelling Transformed a Spa Franchise

Steven Smith, CEO and founder of Planet Beach, a popular spa franchise with 300 locations, sagged in his chair when he read the January, 2010 edition of Entrepreneur Magazine. The magazine, which publishes an annual list of the top franchise systems and reports on trends in the franchise industry, listed ‘tanning franchises’ in its list of what’s not hot for 2010.

The problem?

Planet Beach started out as a tanning franchise and quickly grew into a vibrant and prosperous franchise system. In 2004, Smith had the vision and foresight to change the business model and switch the system from a focus on tanning to automated day spa services – push-button spa treatments performed in private rooms.

The new model, which he calls the Contempo Spa, started a movement in the day spa industry. Automated day spas, which customers pay monthly memberships to join much like a health club, became popular. Customers loved that they could visit the spa for one low monthly fee as often as they wanted. The model took off and the franchise grew while the tanning industry began to diminish.

Entrepreneur Magazine is considered the bible for most business owners and it carries and amazing amount of influence for franchise systems. In the world of franchising, public perception of a brand does more to determine what brands grow and which ones struggle. The January 2010 trends article proclaimed that tanning franchises were out and listed Planet Beach as a tanning franchise.

For Smith, this was problematic. Franchise leads for new locations dropped way off and customer perception of the brand focused more on the tanning heritage of the brand vs the innovative day spa franchise it had become.

The solution?

Planet Beach engaged Brand Journalists to redesign its franchise development website, launch an aggressive business blogging effort, launch social media for franchise development and begin national PR to create buzz and build brand awareness.

A Planet Beach Spa Service

The goal: change public perception of Planet Beach from a tanning franchise to a growing and popular day spa franchise and begin generating higher quality engaged leads for franchise development.

Results: In January 2011, one year later, Entrepreneur Magazine listed as What’s Hot in Franchising for 2011: Day Spa Franchises. The magazine listed Planet Beach as a best bet in this growing segment. INC magazine followed suit shortly thereafter. Ask people who work in the franchise industry, and they’ll tell you that Planet Beach is a forward thinking franchise system with good numbers that caters to a really attractive niche.

Throughout 2010, Planet Beach’s new franchise development website, www.myplanetbeachfranchise.com, gained larger and larger numbers of visitors. Pulled from aggressive blogging and organic SEO monitoring with social media mentions, leads began coming in again and sales began to take off.

In 2012, Brand Journalists added a downloadable brand story document that potential franchise candidates could download in return for filling out a lead form. The document, called a franchise report, was a success and lead flow doubled from 2011 to 2012.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, company website leads made up almost 70% of closed franchises, out performing all other advertising sources. Leads were better educated, more engaged and willing to respond to recruiter phone calls and emails. The number of closed franchise sales increased sharply from 2010 to 2011, despite the difficult economy and scarcity of business lending.

To learn more about Planet Beach’s Spa Franchise, visit www.myplanetbeachfranchise.com.

Want to learn if this approach will work for your franchise brand? Start a conversation with us to see if we can make things happen for your franchise system.

Entrepreneur Magazine featured Nashville’s Brand Journalists in its March, 2012 issue and singled out Thomas Scott as one of the leading corporate storytellers in the US:

Brand Storytelling Becomes a Booming Business

Whether they realize it or not, many companies don’t have an accurate sense of how they are presenting themselves to the public. To help make the message clear, sometimes an outside perspective is in order.

Telling a Story

When former journalist Thomas Scott started blogging about his home-staging business in 2007, he discovered that his industry-related content radically improved how business prospects perceived his company’s brand. Scott realized there was an untapped market for providing other businesses with content that’s well-written and entertaining, while helping consumers relate to them on a personal level.

Thomas Scott, R, with Jack Monson from Engage121 at a book signing during the IFA conference

Soon after, he launched Brand Journalists, a Nashville, Tenn.-based firm that specializes in corporate storytelling. Scott says that because today’s consumers don’t like being “sold” with heavy-handed marketing messages, successful branding is more about crafting interesting and consumer-relevant narratives. “The marketing materials and the logo don’t become the brand,” he says. “It’s the company’s story and how it’s expressed.”

Brand Journalists offers blog and web content, ghostwriting services and reporting on the human stories that make companies relatable for consumers. For example, for an insurance broker, Scott’s team blogs about issues related to city life, such as what to do if the tub in the apartment upstairs overflows through your ceiling. “If you try to sell renter’s insurance as an agent, people tune out,” he says. “But when you talk about the coffee they drink and neighborhoods they like, and how important it is to have renter’s insurance as part of that story, it connects with people.”

Brand Journalists saw its income double in 2011, an achievement Scott expects to repeat in 2012.

Here’s the full story: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223127


How Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning used brand storytelling and organic search to generate more than six times the leads, triple close rates.


Bill Knight, VP of Franchise Development (L) and Dan Tarintin, Chem-Dry’s CEO

Bill Knight, formerly of Lenny’s Subs, TCBY and Ruby Tuesday’s, joined Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning as vice president of franchise development in 2009, in the depths of the recession.

Franchise growth had stalled in 2008, and the company hired Bill to kick it back to life. He immediately took the established steps franchise pros use to boost lead generation: He redesigned the company’s franchise website, launched portal advertising, networked with brokers and took out full-page ads inEntrepreneur magazine — steps straight from the roundtables of the IFA conference.

Leads and sales increased incrementally, but nowhere near as much as Bill had wanted. By 2011, Chem-Dry — with almost 3,500 units worldwide — was generating only about 350 leads per month. The system’s close rates were typical of franchise systems: 0.7 percent overall, 0.4 percent for portal leads. Bill wanted much more.

“We were doing everything the best franchise companies were doing,” Knight said. “Problem was, it wasn’t enough to hit our growth numbers. With close rates at or below 1 percent, our franchise recruiters were swamped with calls and sales activity but were not able to focus on getting quality people across the finish line.”

Today? Different story.

Chem-Dry’s franchise development website generated only 25 a month in 2011. In 2012, it generated an average of 159 leads per month. The close rate on those leads tripled, from 1 to 3 percent. Chem-Dry expects to close 70-100 deals this year, generating more than $1 Million in franchise fees. The vast majority of closes this year are coming from the company website.

So how did Bill turn things around?

He read Game-Changing Trends for Franchise Sales by Joe Mathews and Thomas Scott of Franchise Performance Group, who wrote that the economic collapse and Internet have led franchise candidates to demand more information about franchise brands before they are ready to speak with a franchise representative.

The article argues franchise systems that don’t tell robust stories about themselves were losing qualified franchise candidates to brands that used compelling narratives, franchisee and customer interviews and data about investment costs and returns to lure more engaged franchise leads. The old way of selling — give potential franchisees snippets of information to whet their appetites and—hoping they will answer the phone was obsolete.  Franchise candidates now researched franchises on their own via the Internet, and the absence of information compelled them not to learn more about the “stingy with information” franchisors but to look elsewhere.

In 2012, Bill hired Franchise Performance Group to develop a new, content-heavy, story-rich franchise development site,chemdryfranchise.com, which includes a blog with detailed customer interviews, franchisee Q&As and stories about Chem-Dry’s successes. The content is written by FPG’s team of veteran journalists, who are skilled at crafting narratives, answering important questions, ferreting out compelling details and getting to the heart of a story. By filling out a franchise form, candidates can download a detailed franchise report. Chem-Dry publishes weekly blog and PR content specifically designed to drive lead generation.

We asked Bill to share his thoughts on the new strategy.

What were you doing before to generate leads? What was and wasn’t working?

We had this well-rounded, multi-channel approach to lead generation, and we did all the things that you’ve heard are bestpractices by attending IFA and Franchise Update conferences.

We did advertisements in Entrepreneur magazine, which works well but is expensive. We used franchise portals, which I see as a billboard and an opportunity to use good SEO to match up with the franchise site. We have been part of broker networks, which has worked pretty well in the past. We wanted to leave no stone uncovered.

One thing I’d always been disappointed in is the organic leads that came from our franchise development website. When I started with Chem-Dry three years ago, the franchise opportunity was advertised through a single page at chemdry.com. I bought chemdryfranchise.com, and we moved that page to a website that was created to generate conversions for people interested in starting a business.

Our previous franchise website was typical of ‘industry standard’ franchise websites. It looked great and had typical pages with lots of bullets and some videos. We had great traffic — about 2,400 visitors a month — but it never converted the way we thought it should. Less than 1 percent of the visitors converted to sales leads and we only closed 1% of those.

Why did you decide to change lead generation strategies?

I read what Joe Mathews and Thomas Scott wrote about lead generation in today’s world and the way that well-written content can engage people though brand storytelling. The website that FPG created for us is well laid out. There’s a research funnel that is pretty linear and tells the story of what Chem-Dry is, how it’s different, the value proposition, how the investment fits together, and includes franchise testimonials and customer testimonials that allow candidates to gather info — and when they’re ready to engage, they can engage.

It has a lot more pages than a typical franchise website and each one answers a common question someone doing self-directed research would typically have.

One of most brilliant things we do is give people a way to opt into our process by downloading a franchise information report. Rather than fill out a ‘request for information’ form, we ask them if they want to download our full report, something similar to an executive summary. The price for the report is your contact information and I think it’s a great way to ask people to raise their hands and opt-in to our sales process.

I believe that FPG’s strategy of earning opt-ins by giving a candidate something really helpful and valuable is the right way to go. We are transparent with out information and we are clear on the site what you get in return for giving us your information.

Providing rich content through brand storytelling, social media, franchise blogs and online PR perfectly dovetails with Google’s new algorithm that ranks pages according to whether they offer engaging content and whether the site publishes new content on a regular basis. Getting good organic search results isn’t as much about link building or link sharing — it’s about having good content that people search for. We do a great job of building in keywords that people are using to get to our site and our organic traffic has grown month over month since we launched.

A franchise website isn’t something you build and walk away from – it’s our “daily newspaper” and it takes real work to keep it fresh and engaging on a regular basis. This is a new area of lead generation for franchise companies and it really pays off.

How has the new website and content strategy performed?

The most overwhelming performance measure that we’ve seen is that our content strategy works. We went from 25 leads a month before the site launched in March to 159 leads in June and will have a larger number in July, despite it being the slow time of the year. It isn’t just that the lead count is higher; it is that we have much higher quality and engaged leads coming from our website. Many come via organic searches to both our consumer and franchise websites. People that fill out forms and download our report are spending a ton of time on the website and coming back multiple times.

We see a big difference in contact rates, too. For portal leads, we only get 11% on the phone and into a first call. For website leads, the number is much higher – 30% get to the first call and we communicate via email and text with a larger number. The trust level from our internal leads is just much higher and there is a huge difference in engagement.

We’ve also had a big change in our lead pipeline. The majority of the active candidates in our pipeline now come from our website. Before, we would have 15-20% of our pipeline from our company website. Now we have as much as 70%. It’s starting to change the complexion of the deals we close. We’ve always had good referrals, but our out-of-network new franchisee leads have lagged in the past, but we’re starting to see our pipeline be filled with these leads. And we’re seeing that leads from the website are outperforming anything else that we’re doing in terms of closing deals.

Now chemdryfranchise.com is converting 5 percent of visitors into leads and our close rate for the website is almost 3%. We expect to close up to 70-100 deals this year and most are a direct result of the website and brand storytelling — that’s over $1 Million worth of franchise fees. It’s been a good marketing investment.

How would you explain the value of brand storytelling?

Most franchise pros are still stuck with this idea: I’m going to tease people into engaging our brand, give them just enough information to pick up the phone or fill out a form or accept a call from us.

That old model of throwing out a little bit of cheese and waiting for a nibble has completely changed through the recession and increased the demand for information. I think brand storytelling fills the void between what a brand typically provides in terms of research material and what they need to provide.

It’s a good chance to provide a clear, concise value proposition about the brand, and it can make the job of researching easier for a person who is trying to get into business with us. If we don’t give them the information they want, chances are they’ll go to someone else who gives them what they need.


Are you ahead of the curve on franchise sales lead generation?

Without a doubt. We made a big investment in this strategy, and I think we’ve made this investment before a lot of other organizations. Lead generation is the number one topic that always comes up at Franchise Update and IFA conferences — “What are you doing to get more leads? Better leads?” We have a great brand and a great story to tell. It’s emotionally engaging. Certainly from a financial standpoint it’s engaging. It’s a 35-year-old story of a great brand with amazing growth potential, the largest in its industry. Why not tell that story? We definitely feel we’re out in front of the curve. So many franchisors are fishing from the same pond — you have to be doing something that others aren’t doing.

What should you be doing, and in what order?

Bring someone in from the outside to develop your story: What is your story? What is your value proposition? I find it odd that a lot of times when you talk to people and start digging into their brand, a lot of folks can’t articulate their story and what the value proposition is. Designing your franchise website should start with the content and story before the design starts. We fit our design around the scope of content we needed, not the other way around.

You’re asking people to make one of the top three decisions in life — buying a house; having a child; starting a business. What is it that makes this brand special, and why would someone want to engage it? Having a skilled storyteller with fresh eyes is critical. A franchise candidate has fresh eyes and the longer you work within a brand, the harder it becomes to step into their shoes.

I’d start with your core brand story, then reevaluate your website. Move on to a detailed and interesting to read report and follow up with a journalistic-style blogging, online PR and social media strategy, all grounded in SEO.

Here’s the important thing: you should do these before launching other forms of lead generation, such as portals, emails and advertising. If you focus on your home base and get it working, your conversion and close rates jump from all lead sources since so many people do self-directed research. It isn’t an either/or. You need multiple forms of lead generation but you’ll strike out if you don’t pay attention to the quality and scope of your home base first.

How important do you think brand storytelling will be for successful franchise sales lead generation?

Thinking about it from a strategy perspective, having well-written content and a very engaging storytelling website is going to be the ante to being in the game. Without it, you are less effective in the rest of your effort — from the engagement level, to catching someone when they are ready to move forward, to your ability to close. I think being out in front of this is important and I can’t imagine that other franchise companies won’t adopt this in the year ahead.

A lot of times in franchise sales and development, the people who don’t get this tend to be the ones who objectify people and don’t ask the questions, “How would I shop for a business?” and “How would I want to be interacted with?” “I don’t want to be pestered by some slick salesman who’s not asking questions about me.” They’re not asking the questions about why people are eager to get into business for themselves, where the pain is in their lives, and where we can help find the solution to that pain. They take out the human element and want to play the sales game on their own terms, and that’s not how it works. If you treat people like people and understand how they buy and how they research, this is a no-brainer.

Curious to learn more about how changing your franchise sales lead generation strategy can create a breakthrough in your business? Contact us to start a conversation.

Google wants you to publish more content about your franchise opportunity if you want to rank highly for key terms

Everyone hates spam.

Spam doesn’t just clog your inbox; it clutters up your Google search results.

Google has declared war on what it calls “webspam” — websites that rank highly for specific terms but don’t have the content people are really looking for. Think of the Internet as a river, and webspam as the tires and discarded refrigerator blocking the flow and ruining your view. It’s annoying, even dishonest.

Last year, Google began the attack on webspam with its Panda algorithm update, which removed content farms and rewarded sites that published well-written, original content. This year, Google rolled out its latest spam-killer: Google Penguin, which further penalizes sites that manipulate search methods solely to rank higher in search results.

Penguin penalizes websites that use extensive link building as the primary source of SEO by lowering how they rank. Companies traditionally have hired SEO firms specifically to build links. But users have said that much of the content that ranks highly is not what they are looking for and is poor quality, and Google has responded by dramatically altering the search algorithms.

Google is hammering webspam because it undermines the company’s mission: to deliver relevant results. Google determines a site’s relevance by monitoring the billions of daily searches by millions of users and registering what sites they visit, how many pages they view, how long they stay and what content users share on social networks; until recently, it also tracked how many other sites linked to each site. The longer users stay, and the more pages they view, the more engaged they are.

In short, Google doesn’t want you to hire a SEO company to manipulate the search engine; it wants you to redesign the scope of your website and publish better written and more relevant content for readers.

How does this affect my franchise opportunity website?

1. Quality content matters. In the post-Penguin landscape, franchisors should think hard about the universe of questions franchisee candidates are most likely to ask when researching a brand. If you’re a barbecue franchisor, you might ask, “How do I start a barbecue (or BBQ) business?,” “How much does a BBQ franchise cost?” or “What are the most popular BBQ menu items?”

Google rewards companies that publish rich, informative content — pages and blog articles — that answers pertinent questions, keeps users engaged and prompts them to share it on social networks.

If you’ve invested in link building, black hat SEO tactics and encourage content providers to generate content that matches what users are looking for. To rank, franchise opportunity sites need original, well-written, meaty content for Google to crawl and index.

If you are still thinking of your franchise opportunity website as an online brochure with a handful of pages and just a few paragraphs and bullets on each page, expect your ability to earn organic search leads to diminish over the next year. More detailed and expansive content written specifically for people searching for subjects related to your opportunity is no the ante into the lead generation game.

2. Engagement matters. It’s not enough just to rank. To win and keep a top spot, sites have to be “sticky” — visitors have to want to stay there. Users remain on typical websites for an average of 33 seconds. The average for most franchise opportunity sites is 90 seconds to two minutes. Induce users to “stick” for more than two minutes, and your ranking will rise.

You can get people to stay through pages with content written in article formats, as in newspapers and magazines, with embedded photos and videos. Navigation should be simple and logical; visitors should be able to get to any page with, at most, two or three clicks. You should include clear calls to action to navigate to a new page. Interested users — and if they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t be on your site, would they? — will stay and read. Web pages don’t have to be short and consist of text in bullets. Pages with detailed, relevant content will draw more viewers and keep them there for longer.

3. Your home page doesn’t matter like it used to. Google users are typically looking for the answer to specific questions. If you’re frequently publishing content on your franchise site, you’ll see that a large percentage of traffic enters through internal pages, not the home page. That’s a sign that the content matches what people are searching for. Optimizing your homepage for large numbers of individual terms isn’t a good practice anymore – at most a website’s home can be a relevant result for 4-5 terms. Real estate on your website is inexpensive so it pays to add more pages and optimize each for specific terms.

That’s why the most important lesson from Penguin is: Hire writers to help you tell your story and design your franchise opportunity website so you can publish many more pages. It’s critical now to create content Google recognizes and rewards because Google is where the franchise leads are going to research franchise opportunities. That trend is only going to grow in 2013.

Rethink the design and site structure of your website, too. Do you have a blog? A funnel of pages that help an interested candidate do research? How about organic landing pages targeting keywords that people interested in your business might search for?

Implication: Google’s Penguin update is the latest in a series of updates that will continue to change the way franchise systems can generate internet leads. They key tool a franchise system has is its website and for the foreseeable future, the quality and scope of content is more important than the design of your site. If you haven’t reworked your franchise opportunity website – or if you still lack one altogether – this is a good time to take a new look.

Someone right now is searching for something you sell. Does your franchise site have what they are searching for?

Want feedback on your current website? Start a conversation with us about what lead generation opportunities you might be missing.

by Rachel Childers, Platform Magazine, University of Alabama

Thanks to search engines and social media there has been a shift in the way people find and receive information. People actively seek what they want. Since media is saturated with advertising and marketing copy, many people no longer respond to messages that scream “I’m selling you something.”

Instead, consumers want authenticity and transparency. People want to feel like they identify with a brand. They want to know about the sheep that were sheered for their sweater. They desire to know how the inventor of the product they love dreamed it up. They yearn for details in the company’s story. This is where brand journalism comes in.

“It’s all about the stories we tell people. Stories allow us to relate to each other,” said Thomas Scott, CEO of Brand Journalists. “A company’s story is its brand.”

Scott, who describes himself as a corporate storyteller, does just that every day. He is the CEO of a hybrid PR firm that focuses on producing content in the form of stories for franchises all over the U.S.

“Brand journalism is a strategic way of producing content,” Scott said.

It goes beyond just putting content out there. It allows a company to tell what is special and unique about it, and it effectively uses search engine optimization.

“A company needs positive reinforcement online,” Scott said. He said it’s human nature for a person to assume a company is bad when a search yields little to no content. Even if the company is the best in the world, the public will have a negative perspective if its online content is lacking.

“With brand journalism, companies have the opportunity to be their own publisher,” Scott said.

Boeing took advantage of this opportunity in April 2010. Communications Director Todd Blecher said that Boeing’s move toward brand journalism was the result of wanting to improve its website.

“We realized we had the opportunity to put content out there,” Blecher said.

By using the skills of the former journalists on staff, Boeing added brand journalism to its overall communication plan.

Just as Scott’s firm does for franchises, Boeing was able to produce content that would drive people to its website. This made it easier for journalists, potential customers and potential investors to find it.

However, Boeing had to learn which stories their audience wanted, and which ones they didn’t.

Blecher said that stories about aerospace and aviation, what he calls the “hardware,” tend to be more successful on the Boeing website due to audience expectation. For example, the story of a K-9 bomb team member didn’t work well on the website. Blecher said that it would have been better accepted on Facebook because that is what the social media audience desires.

“You have to know your audience and know your tools,” Blecher said.

In this case, Boeing’s tool was brand journalism. It was a successful addition to the other tools that Blecher uses every day; however, Blecher said that brand journalism might not be able to be effectively used by every company. Companies need to evaluate whether or not they can culturally incorporate brand journalism in their communication plan, and they need to determine who will produce the content.

He said that culturally, companies need to be attuned to discovering stories that interest their audience and finding out how this content can be interesting.

“They need to get beyond buying language,” Blecher said. “If you can’t have subtlety of application, then you probably shouldn’t do it.”

He also suggested using current employees to produce the content.

“You want people wearing the same badge,” Blecher said. He noted that the product produced by someone already invested in your company versus the product produced by a freelance writer will be very different.

Scott said that any company can benefit from brand journalism. He mentioned that somewhere there is someone looking for your product, and brand journalism makes it easier for them to find it.

Brand journalism offers a way for companies to produce their story. It uses journalism skills mixed with a dash of creativity and imagination to go beyond selling and into storytelling. Brand journalism can be used among a variety of industries from airplanes to fast food and more. This tool is changing how companies communicate and places the power into the companies’ hand when it comes to their brands.

Advice for Students

For students interested in brand journalism, both Blecher and Scott have some advice. First and foremost, they agreed that journalism skills are a must.

“Learn the journalism side before you learn the brand side,” Blecher said.

He said that a student interested in brand journalism should not only learn how to write, but they should learn how to shoot video, as well. They also need do both from the audience’s perspective. Lastly, students need to consistently practice these skills.

Scott recommended that along with journalism classes students should take Southern literature classes. Scott suggested students read authors like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

“Southern literature has the best storytelling tradition,” he said.

He also mentioned it would be beneficial for students to take feature writing classes and become accustomed to writing descriptively. He said that one employee at his company writes descriptively on a fourth or fifth grade level using very basic words and no jargon, which is a very difficult task.

Another thing he suggested was having a personal blog. He said that when a student has a blog where they write about something they are passionate about, it really sets them apart. He said one of the firm’s employees, who started as an intern, had a blog about food that led to a full-time position writing for a smoothie franchise.

Finally he said having a professional Twitter account and internships at firms who focus on content writing were important.

Why yesterday’s successful lead generation strategy is tomorrow’s failure

At its annual Sales and Leadership Conference, Franchise Update reported a milestone development that could forever change the way franchisors generate leads.

For the first time in the history of the Franchise Update’s report, the top lead sources for new franchisees were referrals with the “internet” right behind it.  Organic search — people using the web to search for information themselves — topped the list of internet referral sources.

This has never happened before.

Referrals and organic search results are the lead sources to watch.  Not advertising, not portals, not brokers.

To examine why this and the possible implications, let’s look back to the September 2008 stock market crash and global financial collapse. People most of us didn’t know, couldn’t influence and weren’t accountable to us, such as fund managers and mortgage brokers dealing in subprime mortgages, wiped out as much as 50 percent of our net worth through questionable, sometimes unethical business practices. How did these events alter how we make investment decisions today?

Taken at a recent Franchise Update Sales and Leadership conference

Or look at the job approval rating of Congress, according to Gallup: 13 percent, the lowest point in the poll’s history. Or consider the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, which — regardless of your positions on them — reflect deep dissatisfaction with government and big business.

What do all these seemingly unrelated events all have in common?

A breakdown in integrity and trust.

We’ve moved into an era where trust and integrity are of paramount value. We’ve moved away from accepting “situational ethics,” in which all behavior is OK as long as the end justifies the means. We champion the people and institutions we trust and loudly condemn those we don’t.  Trust is something a company has to earn; no longer is it freely given.

The public’s skepticism of institutions is affecting franchise recruitment. As experienced franchise experts, we’ve seen a consistent and steady decline in a franchisor’s ability to reach candidates who requested more information.  Candidates are suspicious of anything that sounds like hype or a sales pitch. People have become increasingly skilled at avoiding franchise salespeople and filtering out anything that looks or sounds like a sales message, and they recoil at filling out forms.

This shift has had a profound effect on franchise expansion in 2011. Across the franchise industry, salespeople are having trouble connecting with candidates at the front end and closing the leads they do contact.

At the Franchise Performance Group, we believe we are in a new economy, The Trust and Relationship Economy.

In this new economy, franchise candidates will choose when they want to contact a franchisor based on specific, unique brand information they’ve found on their own. In other words, they will want to contact you only when they have satisfied their appetite for information about your brand and have obtained answers to common questions.

Lead generation, just like a franchise recruiting process, has to be consistent with the way people buy.

Lead generation sources that build trust, such as online content franchisee candidates find through organic search and referrals, are emerging as the most productive source for highly engaged leads and successful closes. We predict that paid advertising and information sources that franchisors control (franchise portals, print advertising and pay-per-click) will provide fewer and less engaged leads.  And the “engagement gap” will continue to widen over time.

Say you’re thinking about starting a business. Which scenario would make you trust the franchisor most?

  • You navigate through a cluttered franchise portal and, finding only a couple of brands that pique your interest, click on their names and find only a single page of information — with no link to learn more, no phone number, no email address. The only option is to fill out a form that says “request more information” and disclose your phone number and email address. Within minutes of filling out the form, a franchise salesperson calls you even although you are not ready to talk because you want a chance to read more information.  Or a franchise broker calls, although you don’t remember giving the portal permission to share your contact information.
  • You start investigating the possibility of opening a franchise which sells a product you love. When you go to the company website, there is a tab titled “franchise information.” When you click on the tab, you get a few sparsely worded pages with generic information about how you can “take control of your life” and “be your own boss.” You are curious, but to learn more, you have to fill out a form and talk to a franchise representative.
  • You type the search term “How to start a BBQ restaurant” into Google and come up with several articles about a barbecue restaurant franchise that’s expanding from 12 to more than 50 locations and has excellent reviews. You enter their franchise website through a blog article titled “How to start a BBQ restaurant” and realize they have targeted your city for expansion and have a location available.
  • You look on a franchise company’s website and find a written interview and video of a franchise owner with a professional background similar to yours. The owner has found great success as a franchisee and seems genuine, sincere and happy with his work.  His remarks clearly are spontaneous and unscripted, and the interview doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of franchise ownership or ring false.

The first two scenarios reflect “old school” lead generation tactics designed to tease candidates and force them to give out their personal contact information in return for basic details about the franchise. Is that the way to build trust? Do most candidates return calls and emails or simply check out and disappear? And why is this?

The next two reflect the new, Trust and Relationship reality of today’s economy. Leads from these sources are far more likely to enter the franchisor’s process with a high level of trust and engagement.

People trust companies that are open, transparent, and forthcoming with information. People avoid companies that are heavy-handed, controlling, and secretive.

Here is the direction Franchise Performance Group predicts lead generation will head:

Smart franchisors will move away from lead generation vehicles that generate the most names and toward maintaining the highest visibility with the lead generation vehicles franchise candidates are most likely to trust.

The implications:

Companies will spend more money on content strategies that drive franchise sales results. Franchisors will start to pull back on portals, traditional PR, pay-per-click ads, print advertising and some may resist paying high broker fees. Franchisors will reroute more of their resources to content-heavy websites, blogs, online PR and social networks, and they’ll focus on creating engaging content strategically optimized to improve organic search position. Franchisors such as VooDoo BBQ & Grill in New Orleans — a company that’s using sophisticated and intelligent online content strategies — are growing by leaps and bounds. There is no substitute for highly visible content that candidates can trust.

Companies will take responsibility for broadcasting their story. Rather than rely on traditional PR firms, media outlets, and the public’s imagination to shape what customers and franchise candidates think, companies will begin publishing consistent streams of positive content on their franchise websites, business blogs and on social networks.

Vendors that specialize separately in SEO, website development, PR, and copywriting will lose business to tech-savvy companies offering integrated services under one roof. Managing and integrating the work of multiple firms is complex and expensive. From now on, “content strategy” or “brand journalism” firms that do PR, manage social media, create content for franchise websites and manage organic SEO will dominate. These firms can development content for franchise development websites that help build franchise candidates’ trust.

Companies will rely more on organic SEO and business blogging. Organically searched reservoirs of well-written, easy-to-locate, and meaningful content will become more valuable than traditional PR and broadcast media “here today, gone tomorrow” placements for finding good franchisees. Unlike a newspaper, which reaches the masses today but line sa birdcage tomorrow, online content can be targeted to your specific needs of your target franchisee and produce leads indefinitely. Franchise websites built around a blog of regularly changing, consistently interesting, and well-written content are going to see much higher ranking on Google thanks to recent changes to its search algorithm (read about Google Panda). Targeting more key phrases means many more blog articles and web pages and that means every page is now a potential home page. Sixty percent of your franchise web traffic will skip the home page all together. Expect to see more writers and marketing firms getting into strategic organic optimization and expect this to alter how we generate leads and create emotional engagement.

Companies will develop their own content-heavy franchise opportunity websites. Gone are the days where a franchise website is a six-to-eight-page online brochure. Today, a franchise opportunity website is a brand’s home base, the anchor for all its other online content.  By now a franchisor’s franchise opportunity website should have evolved from something static to an “online news source” with multiple paths of new and updated news and information.  Because more candidates are keeping their distance from the franchisor’s representatives, the franchise opportunity website needs to provide more detail and be more engaging than ever before. And for franchise candidates who are noodling around the opportunity but just aren’t ready to commit, franchisors should keep them coming back by offering information and content which keeps them informed while encouraging them to take the chance. That’s where the franchise development blog comes in. In addition, some franchisors publish comprehensive, downloadable franchise opportunity e-books or more detailed executive summaries that demonstrate precisely how the franchise makes money and is sustainable in the long run. Small business IT consulting franchise CMIT Solutions, Inc. recently implemented this strategy paired with a content-heavy website, and the conversion rate increased dramatically.

Companies will use social media as a web traffic generator. Last year, the franchisor scuttlebutt about social media was, “Social media don’t generate leads.” This year, franchisors correctly changed their tune. Now many say, “Our social media strategy is not generating leads.” We predict more franchisors will begin to use social media platforms to drive traffic from Facebook and LinkedIn, the two important platforms for lead generation, to their franchise opportunity websites through news and topical conversation, where franchisors can do a more complete job of telling their stories. This will involve content creation, ongoing engagement and custom Facebook tabs with such things as downloadable documents. Our early results for clients who implement such a strategy show well-executed social media strategy will represent 15 to 25 percent of the overall traffic to a franchisor’s franchise opportunity website and contribute up to 20 percent of their deal flow.

Franchise systems will let their competition generate leads for them. When you maintain high visibility online offering robust content on your industry, you’ll find that franchise candidates evaluating other franchise systems in your category can easily find your website and be persuaded to shift gears and evaluate your opportunity also. Comparative shopping has become a standard part of online research of franchise brands; companies that have optimized, well-written content will stand out to candidates already researching competitive brands. The brand with the most engaging and visible content wins. It’s not who creates the interest that matters, it’s who recruits the franchisee! It’s not how the process begins that matters, it’s how it ends. And the franchise systems with the visible, credible, and engaging content will have the most happy endings.

Franchisors will have to cultivate referrals. How much money and targeted effort goes specifically to generating referrals from franchisees? According to Franchise Update, franchisee referrals were the second-most effective source for finding new franchisees.  Franchisee referrals are also one of the best sources for top performers. Here’s what we’ve learned about franchisee referrals: Paying referral fees, while necessary and a good idea, is not what drives referrals. Franchisors earn referrals by forging excellent franchisee relationships and producing excellent financial returns. And franchisors who’ve earned the right need to consistently ask for referrals. All the time. Surprisingly few franchisors have consistent outreach programs to solicit referrals from franchisees and even fewer spend marketing dollars on generating these leads despite their obvious value.

Action Steps

Take a fresh look at where you are spending your precious advertising dollars. Are you maximizing your efforts with the lead generation sources franchise candidates can trust?  Is your lead generation strategy consistent with the new way franchise candidates find and invest in businesses?

Don’t assume that spending more on the same forms of lead generation will get you closer to your recruitment goals. Take a step back and analyze how you are doing and how you fare against your direct competitors.

Publishing good content for franchise development not only jump-starts high quality internal lead generation, it also affects all of your other franchise lead generation. It helps with brokers, helps engage customers and can have a large impact on paid advertising. You might be surprised at how poorly you fare and how damaging your lack of quality content is to your expansion plans.

FPG Blog Readers are Eligible for a Free Consultation with a Lead Generation Expert.

FPG has teamed up with Thomas Scott from Brand Journalists to evaluate the current effectiveness of your organic SEO, Website content, PR, and social media strategy.

Thomas is expert at creating engaging online content and knows how to position brands so they build trust with potential candidates, earning  leads that are more likely to buy. His tactics are producing some of the best lead generation results in the industry today.

Before you split up your budget for 2012, get some feedback on what you are currently doing, see what is working and, most importantly, see how you fare in direct comparison to your main competitors.

Learn how for the price of a traditional PR firm or an SEO campaign, FPG and Thomas Scott can create a content strategy designed to:

  • Maximize your organic SEO and online visibility with well-written and engaging content
  • Tell a compelling story that breaks through the filters and noise
  • Leverage the best elements of your positive franchisee validation to influence leads
  • Drive quality traffic to your franchise opportunity website
  • Manage and improve your online reputation so researchers find positive reinforcement about your brand
  • Improve franchisee and customer referrals
  • Develop content designed to both generate new leads and keep existing leads engaged in your process.

To schedule an evaluation of your current lead generation, contact Thomas Scott attscott@brandjournalists.com or 615-483-4923.

See these trends reflected in your lead generation? Share your perspective by commenting on our blog

Author Ray Bradbury at his home in Los Angeles

I’m a writer and a lover of science fiction.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the passing of Ray Bradbury this week. NPR broadcast a poem that really resonated with me:

I send my rockets forth between my ears, hoping an inch of will is worth a pound of years, aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall: We’ve reached Alpha Centauri. We’re tall, oh God, we’re tall – Ray Bradbury.

Much of our work at Brand Journalists is telling stories about driven entrepreneurs in the franchise industry. Our clients are a diverse bunch but they all have one thing in common: like Ray Bradbury, they launch rockets in their mind and as a result, achieve great things in life. Willpower and imagination are cornerstones of great business leaders and Bradbury understood this. Achievements take a leap of faith.

Science fiction makes it easier for people to take leaps of imagination. In an alternate reality where anything is possible, a larger number of people can see the possibilities without fear of failure or a quick dismissal of the outcome.

RIP Ray Bradbury – you will be missed!

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