Local Digital Marketing: Creating an exceptional customer journey

After 2½ years of disruption and the accelerated adoption of automation that ensued, franchise brands are adjusting operations with a renewed (and in some cases, a new) appreciation for local digital marketing that goes far beyond followers and likes. 

“Right now, it’s all about the customer experience every time they interact with the brand,” says Donna Josephson, CMO of Shipley Do-Nuts. “Social media has grown and is always changing, so brands must keep up to interact with their existing customers and attract new ones. No matter what, building relationships and trust with our consumers is the root of any marketing campaign.”

This means meeting the changing needs of customers when, where, and how they expect it. Consumers don’t distinguish between digital and brick-and-mortar as much as in the past. This also makes the franchisor-franchisee partnership more crucial than ever for delivering the brand promise, from the first touchpoint to the last mile of each encounter. 

When franchisors use local multi-channel marketing programs to empower their frontline owners to support a consistently branded and executed customer journey, it drives results for both, according to local marketing tech firm BrandMuscle’s “The State of Local Marketing Report 2021–2022.” 

“An exceptional customer journey requires an exceptional local experience,” notes the report, which was compiled by analyzing responses from more than 2,400 local partners and 13 large national brands. Succeeding at this requires support in the form of funds, assets, and tools to make marketing decisions easy and accessible so partners can drive awareness and traffic to their locations.

Centralized localization

Finding authentic ways to flex a customer-centric local marketing muscle at every stage of the customer journey is keeping marketing pros like Brooke Mallick, Big Blue Swim School’s CMO, on her toes and open-minded to continually test and learn. It’s a busy time for the brand, which continues to open new locations across the country every month and projects 240 pools sold by the end of 2022.

“Our local marketing playbook has come a long way from where we were pre-pandemic, led by how social media has changed in that time,” says Mallick. Before joining Big Blue in 2019, she spent more than 6 years with PepsiCo, doing marketing for brand giants Gatorade and Quaker Oats. 

Big Blue uses a centralized, data-driven approach to drive both creative and tactics for each local pool, such as organic social media postings and tools to manage review responses, all designed to ensure brand consistency.

“I’m laser-focused with my team on how our brand comes to life on social media and local marketing,” says Mallick. “Each touchpoint is an opportunity to build awareness in a new community. Since social platforms are where we’re frequently discovered, showing up the right way on social media is a critical part of building that consistent brand message.”

By using real-time data from Big Blue’s proprietary CRM system, Mallick’s analytically inclined marketing team can “quickly pressure test what is working and what isn’t in each individual market and build more local customization as needed,” she says.

“We make sure that everyone has a seat at the table along the customer journey to do what they do best. This means central marketing drives planning and execution on the vast majority of the marketing programs, while we look to our franchise partners as the experts on their community and the ones responsible for grassroots marketing and a great customer experience in their location to drive conversion.”

Five Star solution

While personalization and brand affinity are key to performance on any channel, they require in-depth customer intelligence and brand strategy, says Ben Fox, head of customer experience at Five Star Franchising. Five Star’s fast-growing portfolio of seven home service brands consists of Five Star Bath Solutions, Gotcha Covered, Mosquito Shield, 1-800-Packouts, 1-800-Textiles, Joe Homebuyer, and Bio-One.

Fox also is president of ProNexis, a lead development and growth platform for the home services industry. Five Star uses ProNexis to centralize messaging through voice, text, and chat and relies on the central marketing team to manage social media across all its brands. Part of Five Star, the platform is also used by other home service brands such as ChemDry, Mr. Handyman, and Senior Helpers.

“Disciplines like conversion rate optimization and digital psychology and persuasion will be invaluable,” says Fox. “Customers identify with people, not companies. We’re working to continue to develop our brands’ human personas/avatars and portray them. Spreading that across every interaction on every channel is key and we feel it requires a centralized approach.”

Testing and learning

Shipley Do-Nuts, with more than 330 restaurants across 10 states, is undergoing a martech transformation to support its rapid growth, which includes plans to more than double in size over the next 5 years. 

Guiding the way is franchise marketing veteran Donna Josephson, who joined Shipley as CMO in 2021, bringing a wealth of experience that included CMO roles at Corner Bakery, Fazoli’s, and McAlister’s Deli.

After more than 85 years of serving up gourmet donuts made fresh daily, Shipley is now busy mapping out a marketing future that allows the company to be nimble and to quickly react to change. Among recent firsts for the company, Shipley hired its first branding agency of record, rolled out its first systemwide digital marketing campaign, “Do-Happy,” and is updating its systems in a host of ways, including the addition of the brand’s first unified systemwide POS. 

With everything tied back to sales and profitability, Josephson says each program must have a positive impact on guests, operators, and franchisees. “We test and learn what works best for us,” says Josephson. “We’ve learned that sharing user-generated content is what Shipley Do-Nuts is all about because it celebrates the ‘Do-Happy’ we bring to the community.”

Constant vigilance

With the local marketing landscape continually adapting to keep up with the changing demands of today’s customers, it’s becoming more challenging to remain effective across multiple channels, elevating the importance of choosing the most effective ones.

“We are constantly evaluating our promotions and our business to see what is and isn’t moving the needle,” says Jessica Correa, CMO at Unleashed Brands, whose brands are Urban Air Adventure Park, The Little Gym, Snapology, Premier Martial Arts, XP League, and Class 101.

“In owned media (websites, email, social), we regularly track and A/B test different variables to ensure that the message, timing, media, and creative are resonating,” she says. “From a paid media standpoint, one of the benefits of consolidated media buying is that we have the benefit of seeing everyone’s data, setting consistent KPIs, and measuring the same way across the system.”

A satisfied customer is the best marketing tool, says Correa, whose team encourages all local stores to become part of the community they serve, highlight their store history and local guests on social media, and contribute charitably to their markets. 

“As part of the Unleashed Brands family,” she says, “all brands have accessibility to tools and resources they may not have as a single brand or a single location: things like consolidated media buying, which drives more value for every dollar spent; an internal creative studio, which helps them get creative quickly; and consumer research and analytics that can help them identify the right consumer, market to them effectively, and be efficient in their operation.”

Multi-pronged strategy

Winning brands, notes SOCi’s 2022 Localized Marketing Benchmark Report, “exhibit well-balanced marketing efforts that pay close attention to search marketing, reputation management, and social media engagement.” 

At the heart of the pandemic, in-home care provider BrightStar Care turned to SOCi’s multi-location marketing platform to engage with current and prospective customers. The franchise increased its social media posts by 757% and improved review response time by 48% in 2020—despite a 20% increase in review volume.

Along with email marketing, BrightStar advocates for its franchise partners to take advantage of search engine optimization and constantly manage online listing platforms, such as Google My Business and Yelp. 

 “When our franchisees identify and implement successful SEO strategies, this improves local brand awareness and drives website conversions overall,” says Teresa Celmer, BrightStar’s SVP of consumer and employer brand marketing.

Customers are not the only part of the journey capturing Celmer’s attention these days. BrightStar has made an unprecedented move to pour “countless dollars into recruitment, employee branding, and elevating our candidate journey,” she says. 

“I’m seeing a shift in brands realizing that recruitment and retention are a large part of the overall customer journey and must be invested in. Hiring happens on the local level, but corporate entities and franchisors must support their owners down the funnel in reaching the appropriate audiences.”

It takes effort

Adapting to constant change requires the right tools and follow-up support that encourage buy-in from franchisees. Five Star relies on the brand’s marketing directors to educate, train, and coach owners on best practices and follow-through. 

“Ultimately, marketing spend’s percentage of revenue is the key metric for evaluating a location’s performance,” says Fox. “We feel that providing owners with visibility on these metrics and results drives the most adoption and performance.”

Fox is on to something. BrandMuscle’s report found that only 50% of local partners surveyed invested more than 1% of their annual revenue into marketing. The study found that those who did realized 14% higher revenue growth than their peers who didn’t. 

Demonstrating the value of any spending through its ROI is critical to validating the advantages of marketing to partners. The BrandMuscle report noted that only 18% of brands share ROI data with their partners and help them understand how to apply it to their business. 

Five-Star recently partnered with Transitiv, a data integration and reporting platform, to provide additional visibility and comparable data so franchisees can see what their peers are doing and drive their competitive spirit. 

“Everyone loves to win. Having a plain and clear scoreboard of the KPIs that truly drive success has had an impact on growth for the brands,” says Fox.

In the end, he says, there’s no easy shortcut to make sure you own every step of the customer journey, but when done successfully the payoff can be big. 

“It’s a grind,” says Fox. “We know it’s the hard work of capturing first-party data, customer interviews, and business owner interviews that helps us understand the customer. Pairing that with customer journey mapping and in-depth persona development allows top-level performance. We feel that no one is going to know our customer better than we do, so we’ve invested in the team in-house to understand and execute on every path of the customer experience.”

Stay Curious

Big Blue Swim School’s integrated messaging toolkit includes local social strategies and nurture and conversion email campaigns to deliver the right message at the right time to the brand’s primary customer, the “Millennial Mom.”

“Where franchise partners want more out of their marketing plan, we give it to them through the latest digital offerings, such as geofencing and additional social media platforms on top of the brand’s tested and proven plan. We are always running with a proven tactic or piece of creative, while also testing something in the wings. You have to stay curious and open-minded and be ready to leverage whatever is taking off without totally forsaking what you know works. The great thing is that by staying true to our brand creative and messaging, it is fairly straightforward to lift and shift an element that is working on one platform into another with confidence. For example, we’ve had some of our best social media creative lifted from our most successful email campaigns, and vice versa!”

—Brooke Mallick, CMO, Big Blue Swim School

Best Tools & Practices

BrightStar Care relies on Facebook and LinkedIn for customer retention and acquisition and to maximize recruitment efforts. Franchisees can access a suite of email templates to amplify their marketing impact and drive local results by more efficiently communicating with inquiries, customers, referral sources, and employees, using consistent messages that align with the brand pillars.

“On a local level, we provide our franchisees with tools, best practices, and onboarding guidance to recommended social platforms like Facebook, which has proven to be the most effective social platform for our franchisees. We also provide them with a library of social creative/ads to use as part of their local social strategies, and assistance with responding to online reviews, which is time-consuming and critical to building a positive online reputation. On a national level, we regularly publish national social content and ads to reach key target audiences. We also provide franchisees with the option to have these posts, which are localized to their specific market, automatically published to their local Facebook pages.”

—Teresa Celmer, SVP of consumer and employer brand marketing, BrightStar Care

Centralized and Local

CMS platforms have helped create a scalable personal experience with centralized control for Five Star’s synergistic portfolio of seven (so far) home service brands. The fast-growing franchisor uses Hubspot and WordPress for marketing and is evaluating additional tools to fill in the gaps as new brands join the fold.

“As we’ve grown, it’s become critical to present to the consumer a unified and consistent brand experience but with a local feel (every franchise system’s challenge, right?!). We’ve had some major success with follow and share for our local community content and with individual group memberships at the local level. So as much as our centralized approach is important for consistency with the brand, we’ve worked closely with franchise owners to educate them on grassroots efforts to get in front of their target audience. For example, one franchise owner in Mosquito Shield became a member of a large Facebook group in their market area and doubled their new account growth for that season from that one lead source—game-changing for that market.”

—Ben Fox, head of customer experience, Five Star Franchising

All Channels on Board!

Shipley’s local marketing strategy continues to evolve as the rapidly growing legacy brand undergoes a tech-driven makeover, including a new website, a unified, systemwide POS system, online ordering, third-party delivery, and the brand’s first systemwide digital marketing campaign. Franchisees can take advantage of monthly content at the local level and a platform to connect local Facebook pages to Shipley’s national content if they don’t want to run their own pages. 

“We are using all our channels for brand awareness and to bring the ‘World’s Greatest Do-Nut’ to consumers through images and videos on their phones. We analyzed how and what we communicate to each of our audiences on the various platforms and recently have taken a different approach to Twitter. We switched our language from sales to be more fun. However, Instagram and Facebook continue to be the focus for our brand. These are perfect platforms to bring the visual parts of Shipley to life (like the glazing process used to create our signature, hexagon-shaped glazed donuts). Reels and videos really help capture this for us. We’ve implemented more memes, gifs, trending sounds, and popular, engaging visual content on all platforms. We haven’t explored TikTok yet, but we know it is a growing and popular social media channel. We plan to watch to see how we can activate on it. We are at the beginning stages of partnering with influencers within local markets for grand openings. We look for visual user-generated content that we can share on our brand pages and opportunities to engage with local audiences through influencers.”

—Donna Josephson, CMO, Shipley Do-Nuts

Templates with Flexibility

With a growing portfolio of family-focused brands like Snapology, The Little Gym, and Urban Air, Unleashed Brands offers the power of a large national brand with loads of synergy to make the business easier and more successful for its local franchisees and for a greater impact on the local markets.

“Each brand has a unique set of brand standards. To ensure that brands use them consistently, we build (or will build in some cases) out a robust set of templates they can customize. It is flexibility for them to add their local touch, but in a controlled environment so we can ensure brand and creative consistency. From a marketing standpoint, we also provide them with a national calendar. There are some key ‘full participation’ promotions, but outside of that, franchisees are free to run (or not run) any promotions they want from an approved set, and we provide creative for those promotions. Also, we have a robust system of compliance management through marketing and operations just to remind people that we are more powerful when we deliver a consistent product that delights the consumer.”

—Jessica Correa, CMO, Unleashed Brands





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