What does the future of franchise marketing look like

With 2018 just a few weeks away, Paul Stafford gets out his crystal ball and predicts what's up ahead for advertising in the franchise sector

What does the future of franchise marketing look like

Marketing communications have evolved at a furious pace in recent years and the next 12 months will further change how brands connect with their audiences. Of course, finding franchisees is a different animal to finding customers but looking at potential marketing trends in 2018 provides insight into how people find out about – and react to – new ideas and opportunities.

So while franchisors might not see Siri as a franchise sales channel just yet, understanding the marketing concepts that prospects are exposed to is no less important now than it was when newspapers and magazines were the cornerstone of driving franchise enquiries. Here are some of the areas expected to shine next year.

Content will continue to diversify

In relative terms, we’ve barely just begun the age of blogging but the written word alone has long since ceased to be sufficient for the rapidly spinning wheel of content. Great visuals are at the centre of content marketing, whether that’s simple images, infographics, video or design itself. Yet, for many franchisors, visuals continue to be an afterthought and not a focus. There are still franchise sites out there without pictures on them, let alone videos – as crazy as that seems.

That’s concerning because the next generation of marketing channels is set to take off in 2018 and beyond and franchising risks falling further behind wider trends. The rise and rise of voice-controlled digital assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant is inevitably leading to new styles of audio marketing. From Hellmann’s and Johnnie Walker to Buzzfeed and Disney, big brands are already supplying the content we’re asking our devices for.

That’s just the start. Self-driving vehicles will no doubt surround us with marketing messages and as more appliances join the much-vaunted Internet of Things, the way in which companies reach their target markets is set to shift rapidly in coming years. AI is already allowing highly personalised advertising and that kind of technology will filter down to mid-size and then smaller companies too – automated chat functions on websites are an increasingly common example. And VR and augmented reality are poised to become more mainstream which, while expensive for now, will offer serious opportunities to ambitious franchisors – imagine providing candidates with a direct virtual experience of life as a franchisee.

Video will still be king – but live video has its eyes on the throne

By 2019, video is predicted to account for a remarkable 80% of all consumer internet traffic. Video is said to generate up to 1,200% more audience interaction than text and images alone and 45% of people say they watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos each week. That’s nearly half of your prospective franchisees and the numbers continue to rise. Yes, you hate having photos taken, let alone appearing on camera – but your audience demands it, so it’s time to get over this discomfort.

The good news is that shorter is better when it comes to pre-recording: analysis of over 100 million Facebook videos by Buzzsumo, the website tracking social-media content, showed that the strongest audience engagement came from clips that are 60 to 90 seconds long – although sub-30-second videos had the lowest engagement levels of all. It also showed the intro text in a video post should be kept as short as possible to encourage viewers to “dive into the video”.

The bad news if you’re camera-shy is that live video – broadcasting as you go on social media – is seen as being hugely significant over the next 12 months. A survey by Livestream, the video-streaming platform, revealed 80% of consumers saying they’d rather watch a live video than read a blog post. To a lover of the written word, that’s a little depressing. But, as a marketer, it’s an eye-opening statistic. Live video is engaging and highly interactive, so it’s no surprise that it’s increasingly in demand.

Live video is barely used in UK franchising at the moment, so there’s a big opportunity to get ahead of your competition and differentiate your franchise. You could show off your events, host a Q&A, have franchisees showcase a slice of their day or any number of other things to bring your business to life. And being less than perfect on camera can be a big plus – when you’re not a mega-brand with a production team, you’re much more personal and authentic, which is exactly what your audience is looking for.

Real voices will become more vital

Fake news, fake ads, fake social-media accounts: it’s no surprise we have less faith in what we see and hear than we used to. In its latest influential Global Trust in Advertising report, research firm Nielsen showed that the two most trusted forms of advertising are ‘recommendations from people I know’ – which are trusted by 78% of people – and ‘consumer opinions posted online’ – trusted by 60%. Meanwhile online and mobile ads were the least trusted, which were both trusted by well under 30%.

As consumers and buyers want to hear the opinion of others like them and not rely on the seller’s opinion, harnessing user-generated content has become powerful marketing fuel. Any regular on Instagram sees it all the time: Coca-Cola produced one of the best examples in recent years simply by writing names on the sides of their cans and bottles.
For franchisors, this is a very positive sign because they have one of the best user-generated-content production teams imaginable: their franchisees. Case studies, videos, testimonials, exhibitions, imagery, awards, quotes – make the people enjoying your franchise’s benefits more prominent in your content and you’ll pique more genuine interest in it.

Franchisors often say that franchisees won’t listen to them but will take the same message on board if it’s delivered by a third party. Remember that axiom in your marketing: let your franchisees speak for themselves and they’ll speak for you.

Social-media costs will soar
Successive algorithm changes by social-media behemoths have driven down organic engagement – and driven up profits. It’s now estimated that on Facebook, an average of 4% of your fans see one of your posts – unless you boost or sponsor it. It’s no different on LinkedIn, where one franchisee with over 15,000 followers recently told me that his beloved long-form articles stopped reaching even triple figures in readership. Instead it’s now all about sharing within your post.
If you already have a large and engaged audience then these changes might matter less but if you’re trying to build up a following and attract more customers or good prospects, you’re going to need a budget. Unsurprisingly, research has shown social advertising costs are rising as more and more brands spend their marketing budget on such channels. The days of organic audience reach look numbered, so plan carefully when forming your strategy.

Paul Stafford
Paul Stafford