Building a bold digital platform for hundreds or even dozens of franchise locations across the globe is complex on its own. It’s even harder to make each one highly visible and accessible for a large target audience, and something that will be enthusiastically adopted by individual owners/operators.

One of the largest difficulties in building one of these platforms is balancing and meeting the needs and wants of corporate, franchise owners, and the end-consumer.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for adoption of the ‘franchise model' - differences in franchise costs, industry, and history can all play in to the expectations of franchise owners of the level of marketing support provided by corporate.

However, in general, we've noticed a few patterns when planning and implementing digital platforms and strategies for franchise-model companies:

  • When it comes to the level effort a franchise owner will in fact dedicate towards their online presence - some franchisees will be awful, some will be great, most will be okay. The best solutions can accommodate everyone, from the owner who wants to blog every day, to the owner who will never touch their website.
  • In general, the technical sophistication will be low. As such, training and support will be expected and required.
  • Operators are passionate about what they do, so it’s critical to connect your online effort to their success. If the platform is effective, they won’t perceive it as just busy work.
  • An operator’s frustrations around updating their website leads to general frustration with ‘corporate’.
  • It’s important to include operators in the strategy and decision making process early on. It is then important to communicate efforts and hit deadlines moving forward.

6 Ways to Structure the Franchise Online Platform

Whether a platform will hold 10 franchises or a few thousand, the decisions that determine the model a Franchise will adopt are similar. Ultimately, the best approach will fit an organization’s structure, business goals and digital marketing strategy.

Let’s look at some of the possibilities for a franchise-based organization’s digital strategy:

  1. Corporate control/franchises listed: Common strategy where the franchise/local nature of the organization is far second to the establishment of a strong brand. You’ll see this a lot in the restaurant space. This is the model one of our clients chose to connect over 800 franchise sites. A single URL with sophisticated location finding capabilities.
  2. Single URL with individual  Franchise Pages: This strategy makes sense when corporate wants a high level of control, but knows that a localized presence is important to their model and sought by their owners. In some cases operators have direct access to edit ‘their’ page. In other cases owners are able to leverage the social media activities of Franchises and corporate event data to keep franchise pages and sub-domains ‘up-to-date’.
  3. Separate URLs - single platform: In this case, a single CMS or platform is powering every franchisee website. The single theme and structure is similar for each site but the operator is able to make substantive changes themselves (add pages, edit content, etc).
  4. Separate URLs - single platform - multiple template: Franchises can opt in to different templates/themes that involve different capabilities. While it’s one of the more sophisticated patterns and holds significant benefits for individual operates, it includes a significant amount of design and development upfront.
  5. Separate URLs - cloned platform: A common, but often times a  nightmare scenario. As part of the new franchise onboarding process, a new URL and autonomous CMS instance is spun up. Without central control or theme, this eventually leads to deviation between franchises. Lack of central control means that the only solution for improvement is a complete overhaul of the system.
  6. Completely decentralized: individual chapters are left to their own devices to develop and manage their own web presences. Many historical and large nonprofits, such as the BGCA, take this approach, but as imagined, it can easily lead to a diluted or inconsistent brand experience.

Careful Consideration is a Must

Whichever method is chosen, the decision should not be made lightly. There are hundreds of thousands of franchise sites that give their users a bad experience with the corporate brand because they were ill thought out, bulky and tacked together from multiple angles.

A powerful turnkey digital marketing effort and ecosystem can act as a powerful sales tool for enticing potential franchisees to get on board. Properly done, however, this requires investment from corporate either through bringing in an agency or building an internal team.

Chris Olberding Chris Olberding

Co-founder and Creative Partner at Station Four

Share