How Content Marketing is Changing for Franchise Development

Content marketing is not just writing, it is a lot more complex than ever before and it is changing rapidly

Creating a real, contextual connection with your franchise buyer prospect requires more content and different styles of content than ever before. Listen in as we discuss the challenges and talk about strategies for winning at franchise development today:

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Welcome to what the FRANCHISE, the regular podcast about franchise development, tips and best practices and strategies for growth. My name is Thomas Scott. I’m the CEO and founder of Brand Journalists, and today I’ve got a really interesting topic that I’m very passionate about.

I want to talk about the changing nature of content marketing for franchise development, and what I really, specifically mean is buyer acquisition. How do you reach out with your brand and connect meaningfully with relevant content that’s contextual and creative and interesting with the people that are most likely to buy your franchise?

Content marketing’s not new

The name of our brand, Brand Journalists, we started content marketing for franchise development more than a decade ago, and I’ve been doing it with a lot of really great success for lots and lots of clients. But it has really evolved, and that was one of my big takeaways from this year’s IFA Conference, was that the scope of content that you need to produce to really engage the people who have your brand in their wheelhouse already, the people that are most likely to be good buyers, to have the passions and skills and where with all to do well in your franchise has really changed.

What I mean is, when we started content marketing it was an offshoot of social media where you were really blogging and writing articles. Content really meant words on webpages, for the most part, longer webpages, article format content based on Google’s original Panda update in 2010 which basically said, “People want when they want and they go to a search engine to ask questions.” What they’re asking of the search engine is for a detailed answer. And the answer most often preferred by people is simply an article that’s in the format of a journalism article like something you would read in a magazine or a newspaper, so 1500 word article that explains in detail the answer to whatever the search query is. That’s what most people want when they’re doing research on the internet.

So that gave birth to this idea of content marketing using brand storytelling and it makes a lot of sense. Right? The story as we understand it is the essence of human communication, and the story always stands out. The people we use, stories as humans to make sense of the world around us, to relate to one another and to make decisions in our lives. And everything that we do is boiled down to a story.

When you’re looking on Yelp for a restaurant review to go have dinner with your spouse or some friends, what you’re reading were in reviews and pictures or stories that people have told about their experience at a restaurant. So if you buy into this idea, the power of a well-told story is that you don’t realize you’re being sold to because it’s interesting, and then if you understand storytelling and sales and how they go together, meaning simply that sales is a really a series of conversations that take a story format.

A good franchise prospect wants you to tell them an enthusiastic and positive reinforcing story. So the story is the essence of content marketing. From it’s beginning content marketing was writing, was writing a lot, hiring journalists and former newspaper people to write articles, to blog, to write press releases, to write long format websites that could stop somebody and keep them engaged for 45 minutes.

So they were so excited about the life they could see themselves living as a franchise owner in your system that you would beat out your competition, and that’s been highly effective … It remains a very successful strategy for franchise lead generation and buyer acquisition and development marketing within a franchise system.

But here’s what’s changed. Today we would look at content … If I had to explain it to a client, I would say, “Look, content really is broken into three distinct buckets.” So the traditional form of content marketing which hasn’t decreased in volume, so we still have to produce the same amount of content in written form, on websites and press releases and in blogs and articles because people are still going to the search engine. And they still have an appetite for information. They still are able to be influenced by press releases and things they find on the internet. It’s still written form, so a third of the content that you have to produce now is traditional written content, written in a journalistic format. Not written in a series of bullet points, and not necessarily short.

The goal of content marketing is not to create content you can consume in 30 seconds or less, it’s really to get somebody to slow down and think thoughtfully about what this choice is that they want to make as a franchise owner.

So the next third big chunk of content which has evolved over the last five years is primarily video and increasingly audio. And I think audio, this is where conversing in this format, in the podcast format now which is audio based, is the most underutilized form of franchise development marketing. We just don’t understand the power of audio, and one of the reasons that podcasting and audio format marketing, which would translate into podcasts, also things like XM Radio and remnant marketing on local radio stations. Audio is very powerful. It’s very easy to communicate with. It’s very easy to share.

We do a ton of podcasts for clients where we interview franchisees and create really slick interfaces tied into the CRM so that somebody can be on the website or have already opted in on the website. Then when you’re talking to the salesperson you say, “I’m going to send you a set of links to podcasts with franchisee interviews, and you can listen to them on your way home on your commute.”

So a third of the content today is video and by video I mean not the type of video where you bring a video photographer to your conference and you line all your franchisees up against the wall in logo shirts with a logo background and you make them say nice things about you. That’s very aggressive, kind of forced, artificial video.

What I really mean is a video that is cinematic and documentary style and storytelling in its nature with lots of movement. If you’re trying to communicate with younger buyers and you look on YouTube and see the movie making skills that even the average YouTuber has today, your video has to emulate aesthetically some of that both in LinkedIn format and scale and storytelling. Things like music and stop action and motion within the video itself, it’s people’s expectations for quality of video has changed. It’s not necessarily slick, high-end production value, but cinematic and storytelling that is common to what people use.

So a third of the content you produce is written, blogs, press releases, website content, articles on LinkedIn, all of those things. The next third is a mix of documentary and longer form video and testimonial video and podcasts, audio of various natures whether that’s podcasting in a traditional sense or is it … And then the third, that’s an industry we don’t do well at all. Like most franchise systems haven’t even gotten the first two covered, and they don’t even understand this third bucket.

But it’s really clear to us in our work that this is the next frontier of lead generation is what I would call visual content marketing. And if you spend any time on Facebook and the franchise industry, they’ll run … A majority of people do spend time on Facebook or LinkedIn … You know that what stops people is not written content. It’s not necessarily video content. It’s captivating images and graphics and infographics.

So a lot of the next third of content is how do you tell your brand’s story in a visual story based format that takes the form of pictures, infographics, carousel slide images, videos with text overlay, videos that you can watch without listening to the sound, but hear an interview? Now how do you communicate all of this kind of visual content? So it might be something as simple as a pullout quote. You might have a quote from your founder that you really think is powerful, that you create an infographic on, and that’s what drives a LinkedIn post for one of the weeks you’re doing content marketing that might be a picture of a franchisee doing something fun.

I have three daughters in college and they’re like a lot of kids in that Generation C bucket, very entrepreneurial and very communicative. They will spend of time on their phones. And if I look at what they’re social media feeds look like, if I look at what their Snapchat looks like, if I look at what they’re Instagram look like, more importantly, what are the Instagram accounts that they gravitate towards, there’s a certain style and aesthetic and method of marketing in that type of imagery that’s very common and uniform for that generation. That is when I look at the typical visual marketing for a franchise system, we use stock pictures. We’re just pretty lame to put it bluntly. We do a really awful job of content marketing to start with, and we get into the really relevant stuff that’s catchy. So if you know what Boomerang is, is an app, or Memento is another really good app, they can use our Smartphone.

We’re sending young photographers out on our team, Generation C of millennial photographers on field visits with us when we go to clients, and we’re producing a lot of content just using a Smartphone for that matter which is an unheard of thing. And we’re doing Boomerang loop videos and Memento time lapse images and live image gifts, you might not even know what that is. A live image gift is my little Smartphones today make a series of pictures so you can see the moment around the time when you took the picture. It’s a really short slice, like a second or less. But you can actually create a gift that some movement in it.

So maybe you’re walking up to the front of your store, and the outside store instead of being a static image, has some animation and comes to life in text overlay and things like [inaudible 00:10:20]. But you can make a brand pop in a way that is really full of life. It doesn’t have to be a fun food brand. It can be something as mundane as a carpet cleaning franchise or a commercial cleaning franchise or even an IT business. There’s all types of ways to think about content today.

And the content takes the form, all three of these buckets, go in several places. Obviously your recruiting website is the home base for your brand story. So if you buy into content marketing you also have to buy into, at the same time, that you need to have a home base where you’re living, breathing brand story lives, and that’s typically your recruiting website. And on the website you have a core content, things like a research funnel with all the kind of traditional content that somebody needs to wrap their mind around your business, understand the culture and value proposition, build a proforma, and really visualize themselves as a franchisee. Because that’s what you need to get somebody educated and engaged and teed up for a conversation with a recruiter.

But you also need to have blog content on your website, some way to publish articles whether that’s landing pages, anchor pages, traditional blog articles, just ongoing content. Google expects you to publish new content on a regular basis. That could be something as simple as a series of press releases. It could be the kind of stuff, the content marketing we do for clients where we’re producing written content. It could be pages driven to dominate on SEO searches, but whatever it is, it’s on your website.

Beyond your website you’ll have forms like LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook are really critical. It’s not today as simple as a LinkedIn, putting a post in your newsfeed. Maybe you have a separate editorial calendar where you’re posting articles on the LinkedIn blog platform itself which is very powerful. Like when I can get a recruiter that works with us to post content we create for them on their personal LinkedIn, it’s shocking how much visibility that person gets from that exposure. And if you do it on a regular basis, people begin to become much more aware of your brand, and you built brand at a very inexpensive rate. So using the blog function on LinkedIn to post an actual article on LinkedIn’s blog and platform which is something very few people do, posting stuff in your newsfeed is very important.

I would tend to link articles and produce some of the visual content. Perhaps you have, and it’s the nature of the newsfeed on LinkedIn, an article that has an entry to stack. I could put an infographic up that says, “Look I’m podcasting in audio format. Content marketing has increased 200% in the last two years, and here’s why.” And have an infographic in the post and then link to a piece of information that backs up the claim. That’s an interesting thing to read.

So if you’re thinking about your concept, if you’re in a frozen dessert brand and there’s been a trend that affects your brand, or if you’re a specialty coffee shop, or you want to talk about the number of square feet that an office cleaning business has potential to do, there’s a lot of ways to use numbers and stats to create something interesting and visual that will stop people and get them to pay attention to you.

Same with podcasts. On Facebook and LinkedIn and Instagram where we spend a lot less time thinking about traditional engagement, things like likes and comments and posts and members and shares on Facebook, and we think of more of those platforms as an advertising channel, so we do a lot of marketing around using things as ads, Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, email ads, Instagram ads. And we create visual content that would stand on its own and be interesting to look at, but also is tied more towards the type of targeting that we’re running, and we use the creative to really target people and get them to concentrate on a specific franchise opportunity.

Here’s the deal after all that. So there’s three buckets of content we’ve talked a little bit about wherein this is Gary Vaynerchuk talked to the IFA, the keynote speaker. This is a very complex demographic and psychographic world we’re in, and success in advertising on these networks often that are really inexpensive to advertising on which reach millions of people revolves around your ability to, one, target very effectively. So no matter who you’re writing content for, creating content for, creating design for, you have to be really clear on who you’re trying to recruit, and be super specific. Because the more relative you can make it and the more contextual you can make your marketing, the more successful it will be.

And when people get frustrated with Facebook marketing which is ridiculous because that’s one of the best things going in the franchise we’re creating today, it’s often because they don’t stick with it long enough, they don’t understand how to work the leads, or they just don’t understand how to target it effectively. And very few people do in our industry so relatively new frontier for us to go on.

But we really believe that pushing through content and thinking about the demographics and the psychographics and the interesting behaviors and the persona marketing, and other programmatic pieces to content marketing, and tying all that back to your website, is the key to growing in the next five years in franchise development. And companies that understand these concepts and either use vendors like us or figure out how to do some of this on their own, and orchestrate it in a graded approach to, “How do I create visibility for this franchisee that I want to recruit?” are going to be much more successful.

We’re certainly seeing a lot of success with the clients we work with, and that we believe that it’s the future, and we got a lot of reinforcement this year from the IFA on that. So I think the challenge is the targeting, and second challenge is going to be simply that you have to create a just ton of content, like way, way more than we’re traditionally used to marketing.

These are not the kind of … The days are gone where you can put a small amount of content up and let it sit for months or years. You really have to have an editorial calendar for content, and you have to produce hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of content over a time, and be able to roll them out much more aggressively. So that’s the other piece, I think, that dooms a lot of content marketers is they underestimate the sheer volume it takes to get pieces going and to avoid ad fatigue and to be relevant.

Gary Vaynerchuk talked about if he had a retail store, say it was a coffee shop, that he would advertise in one mile radius just on Facebook and Instagram, and he would be really aggressive and spend a lot of money on that. But he would have hundreds of pieces of content and they would be very short run and they would overlap. And he’d have a strategy where every time somebody looked in their feed and they lived in that one mile radius, they would see a different picture, video, image, infographic podcast, whatever it was. But it was a constant stream of new content. It wasn’t the same thing over and over and over and over and over.

So I think that’s the challenge today with content marketing is there’s an opportunity to generate a lot more and a lot less. We certainly saw that with Code Ninjas, the keynote speaker for the marketing session at the IFA who added over 200 units in 2-1/2 years, the majority of through Facebook marketing and generating hundreds of leads a week off of Facebook. It works. It’s not for the faint of heart. It requires different skills on our salespeople and recruiters and thinking about marketing budgets, but we believe it’s worth the effort.

So those are our thoughts on the changing nature of content before our franchise development, and it’s a brave new world, and we’re full of excitement for what’s ahead. And if you’re curious about how any of this works, feel free to reach out and start a conversation with us, and please subscribe to our podcast. It’s available on iTunes, on our website, brandjournalists.com, or on our Buzzsprout page.