In an age where content is king, franchises risk selling themselves short by not having a blog. But jumping on the blog bandwagon for the sake of it can be even more costly
It’s no surprise that the number of businesses with their own blog has spiked in recent years. The meteoric rise of Google and its preference for content-rich websites has seen companies of all sizes going hell for leather to get themselves to the top of page one – and blogs are proving integral to their efforts.
Suffice to say, merely having a presence online is far from the USP it would have been ten or 15 years ago. “It’s no good anymore to have a static website,” says Richard Dancy, marketing manager at Barking Mad, the dog care franchise. “You need to have regularly updated, relevant content.”
As Dancy explains, Barking Mad introduced a blog to its website in 2012 “to give our potential customers, franchisees and host families a reason to find us, be interested in us and interact with us.” It includes content that appeals to dog owners on the one hand and prospective franchisees on the other. “It has to be a mix of different topics appealing to our different markets,” says Darcy.
Initially, Dancy wrote all of the Barking Mad blog posts himself but he now delegates that responsibility to a few other people, while retaining oversight of the content that goes on the blog. And the company will soon be taking things one step further; while the blog is currently managed at Barking Mad HQ and acts as a voice for the whole business, every franchisee is to have their own blog as part of a revamped Barking Mad website. “In effect, we will end up having 70 blogs,” says Dancy. “They will include content that’s not only relevant to customers, host families and potential franchisees, but that’s also relevant to their local area.”
Blogging will be mandatory but Dancy says this won’t have much of a bearing on Barking Mad’s franchisees, the majority of whom have already got some experience under their belts. “Most of them are doing it anyway because they’ve had news pages for a long time,” he says.
It’s evident that Barking Mad has a very clear idea of who it’s trying to target with its blog. However, actually reaching these people entails no end of time, effort and sometimes money. “You need to make sure that what you’re saying is being seen by people and, for it to be seen, it needs to be shared and put in the right places,” says Dancy. “There are various different things that you can do but I don’t think you can just assume that people are going to find you without putting in some effort and perhaps paying for it.”
Clearly, rushing headlong into starting a blog is not the wisest of moves. It’s crucial to invest some time building up an understanding of one’s industry and potential customers before putting pen to paper. “You can’t necessarily put out content that you think your customers want to read,” says Mark Masters, managing director of The ID Group, the content marketing consultancy. “You need to see what’s happening within your business and your industry. Essentially, you need to ask ‘What is the thing that makes us different?’”
Kumon, the education franchise, is certainly feeling the benefits of a slow and steady approach. The company launched its blog in 2012 but kept it hidden as it sought to establish the types of content that would hit the mark with parents and prospective franchisees. The blog was afforded a more prominent position when the Kumon website was redesigned and relaunched in 2013, by which it time it had already amassed a generous amount of content. “It is a great way to share our values and lift the lid on Kumon so that any potential customers can get a better idea of what it is we do and what it is that we stand for,” says Rachael Evans, communications manager for Kumon.
The Kumon blog is separated into three sections. While success stories carries tales of students’ achievements and testimonials from parents, Kumon’s community news page includes articles from franchisees about their experiences as a Kumon instructor. It also publishes a number of articles for parents that offer invaluable advice on anything from independent learning to the value of reading. “When anyone asks about how Kumon works – and are really considering the proposition as a parent or as a potential franchisee – we would always advise them to have a look at the blog,” says Evans. “We can say how great it is to be a Kumon franchisee until we are blue in the face but actually hearing it from the people who are doing the job is so much more powerful for somebody considering that as a proposition.”
With 10% of traffic on the Kumon website coming directly through the blog – attracting between 10,000 and 12,000 people every month – it’s safe to say the company’s content strategy, which favours quality over quantity, is paying off. “On platforms like Twitter, the feeds move very quickly and you are asking people to take on a snapshot of information,” says Evans. “With a blog, you really want people to take a couple of minutes looking at the page, so two to three times a week is more than enough to bring people back, to spark their interest and to keep them engaged with the content.”
Blogs evidently play a slightly different role in the franchise sector than they do in the wider business community. As the examples above have demonstrated, franchise businesses need to target two very distinct audiences: customers and franchisees. Offering insight into the benefits of franchising is therefore just as important as promoting one’s brand to potential customers. “In the franchise industry, it’s about educating people who are new to it and letting them know what their options are,” says Kasia Baldwin, franchise marketing manager at Driver Hire, the transport and logistics recruitment company. “We are really helping them start their due diligence process.”
Yet, in spite of these subtle differences, assuming the role of an educator is something that all businesses – franchises included – should aspire to when writing a blog. If anything, it will help elevate them to a position where they’re regarded as far more than a mere commercial entity whose sole interest is turning a healthy profit. “You have to take the role to educate your audience because if you can educate others, they can see the value in what you do and look at you as a knowledgable resource,” says Masters. “If you do stuff that’s of interest and people think ‘they know what they’re on about’, it positions you differently in their minds.”
In other words, you can’t put a price on knowledge. “In this day and age when people are doing further research online, if you’ve got a blog that’s relevant to them, it may portray you as an expert in that field,” says Baldwin. “Sometimes it helps you come across as a bit more transparent and open to discussion as well.”
A blog can therefore work wonders for any franchise but, to really feel the benefit, it has to be treated as an essential and ongoing component of the business. “If you’re not going to use it as a way to continue a dialogue, to create interest and information, don’t do it,” says Masters. “But if you’ve got something to say and you can do it with authenticity, you can do it with your own voice and you can do it with humour, then it’s worth doing.