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Five local marketing tips in a time of crisis

Five local marketing tips in a time of crisis

A franchise field guide to local marketing during this unprecedented period.

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Words by Justin Mink.

For thousands of small business owners, putting dinner on the table tonight currently takes precedence over long-term planning. Other franchise brands and their partners find themselves in a more fortunate position; businesses “in the right place at the right time” like home care and essential home services are actually thriving in this new world.

Regardless of where your franchise falls along that spectrum, the guidance provided by leadership right now will make a material difference for years to come in a post-COVID world. As society signals a readiness to get back to work, it’s the duty of brand leaders to uncover current areas of opportunity and provide franchisees with actionable steps to capitalize on the moment.

“The guidance provided by leadership right now will make a material difference for years to come”

This next phase of franchising’s response to COVID-19 requires brand teams to craft strategies designed to steer owners down newly paved roads towards long-term success. At this crucial inflection point, the big question franchisors now must solve is: ‘How can we support and uplift our franchisees now and into the future?’

Focus on the community

One such opportunity lies in the realm of local marketing. As federal, state, and local governments struggle to communicate consistent guidance, consumers lack reliable channels of information about local businesses that are open right now (let alone into the future).

Customers are also developing new patterns and behaviors – both healthy new habits, and not-so-much. Past rituals, like stopping for a latte on the morning commute, are being actively disrupted. These same folks are likely developing a taste for their Mr. Coffee machine – as well as an appreciation of credit card statements featuring the disappearance of umpteen “Starbucks” line-items. On top of it all, with people quarantined and bored, online usage is up as much as 70 per cent, according to some figures, while ad spend is down as cautious businesses look to control expenses.

The right place at the right time

So how can a local business owner take advantage of these market conditions and turn them into an unexpected boon for business? Right now, a business owner’s ability to engage customers and capture attention costs pennies on the dollar. History shows that in a post-recession economy, the minute doors re-open for business, so too do the marketing floodgates. As a result, pricing for advertising skyrockets.

“Right now, a business owner’s ability to engage customers and capture attention costs pennies on the dollar”

This sudden deluge can turn even the most compelling messages into noise lost in a sea of marketing sound. The ability to spend wisely now (increasing “share of voice”) while capturing near-exclusive attention (gaining “share of mind”) can ultimately help grow long-term market share – especially when weighed against paying a future premium to participate in an advertising bombardment. Here are some marketing recommendations that franchise teams can provide to their systems with confidence:

1: PIVOT TO SOCIAL AND VIDEO

Unless your business category is currently in high demand, like home care, essential home services, and facilities maintenance, paid search alone is unlikely to generate demonstrable ROI in the current environment.

Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is driven by intent, and is only as good as the market demand it channels towards your business. With usage of social media platforms like Facebook up by 50 per cent, social and streaming video are ideal channels to generate demand while also communicating with and engaging current customers.

PPC will always be a crucial component of a diverse ad strategy, as an increase in social presence – and the demand that engagement generates – always correlates with spikes in branded search. But now is the time to lean in to social.

2: ENGAGE, COMMUNICATE, AND REMIND

Speaking of social media, if you are open for business or have plans to open, let your community know.

If there are changes to your business that impact customers like curbside pickup, new safety procedures, online classes, etc., shout it from the digital rooftops!

While the competition sits silently by, forward-thinking franchisees are near-lone voices reassuring communities eager for good news and enthusiastic about supporting local businesses. Also, think back to our Starbucks example. If you operate a fitness studio, your members may now have pieced together new home-gyms. In addition to keeping them engaged with online classes, proactively remind them why they value the in-studio experience. Whether it’s the camaraderie with a community of fellow members, motivation, competition, infectious energy – keep that connection strong by continually surfacing the value you provide to top-of-mind.

“Now is the time to capture the attention of highly targeted audiences”

Your current memberships may be on a freeze, but guess what – so are your competitors. Now is the time to capture the attention of highly targeted audiences and compel them to switch to your brand.

3: RUN SPECIALS NOW THAT PAY OFF LATER

Between March 12 and April 15, Peloton’s stock skyrocketed a whopping 84 per cent. At a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, a $2500 stationary bike is not a purchase that the average person can seriously consider…right?

Peloton decided to punch (or pedal) back, with near-ubiquitous YouTube ads offering 90-day free trial classes, three-year no-interest financing, and zero-money down. What had been considered an “aspirational” product – remember the infamous Christmas ad with the model riding her Peloton in what looked like the glass-enclosed patio at Steve Jobs’ vacation home? – became suddenly attainable at $58 a month.

In the same vein, a restaurant can offer a 20 per cent discount on the purchase of a gift card, which results in cash flow now, and operating cost later.

Using the example of our fitness studio, franchisees can offer premium in-studio experiences when they reopen with today’s purchase of online subscriptions.

4: STAY A STEP AHEAD

What was a differentiator for your brand yesterday is a customer expectation today. In the immediate wake of COVID-19, messages like “We are open for business” and “Here’s how we are ensuring your safety and convenience” were enough to sustain a business.

In the intervening weeks, customers now expect, for example, a QSR to offer curbside pickup and delivery options. Points of differentiation just weeks ago have quickly been commoditized.

While I don’t suggest dumping past planning in the trash, brand teams should be rethinking, reconfiguring, and communicating revised 2020 marketing calendars to help franchisees stay out in front of consumer expectations, continually highlighting the unique competitive strengths of the brand.

5: PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Even when times are good, franchisees expect corporate marketing efforts, and the brand or ad Funds they contribute to, to provide brand “air coverage” while they put incremental skin into the game via performance marketing channels.

Preach patience. The fruits of your franchisees’ efforts will pay off in multiples when your competitors are engaged in a fierce, expensive dogfight for attention. Waiting to join that fight will entail massive opportunity costs, rather than going all-in now and reaping the rewards later.

“For those with both vision and the luxury of rainy-day reserves, there has never been a better time to go big on advertising”

The unfortunate reality is that, for many business owners, years of steady growth has been demolished in a blink of an eye. But here’s the good news: for those with both vision and the luxury of rainy-day reserves, there has never been a better time to go big on advertising.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Mink, CFE, is the senior vice president of sales, franchise brands, at Scorpion. Previous roles include chief marketing officer at New Frontier Data, cofounder and vice president of strategy at Music Audience Exchange, director of national & franchise brands at ReachLocal, and brand marketing lead at USA TODAY.

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