In recent years we’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some of the fastest growing franchise organizations in the nation—Firehouse Subs, Bricks 4 Kidz, Brightway Insurance.

As strategists and marketers, the experience is a never-ending source of learning and problem-solving - in the best way. In an industry that has so many variables, decision makers, and potential, we continue to analyze digital marketing strategies that franchises use to help their owners grow their businesses, and make suggestions for how they can do it better.

For many franchises today, the practice of building effective digital marketing strategies -and a platform to support it- is at best a testing ground for ideas that “should” work, and at worst, foreign. This is often because, unlike traditional advertising and marketing -where responsibilities for concept and production traditionally lie with corporate, digital’s accessibility makes it easier for any franchisee to jump in and try their hand at their own DIY strategies. The question surrounding digital strategy then becomes one of not only building the right platform or the tactics to use, but also one about expectations, responsibilities, and most importantly, control.

The question surrounding digital strategy is often one about expectations, responsibilities and control.

And control is tricky — a fact that is particularly true in digital strategies, where if you ask, everyone wants control, but few want responsibility. Because of this, a franchise tends to keep a firm grasp over the digital platform (they have the most to lose) which often leads to lackluster performance. It’s our philosophy that while giving every franchisee free reign to try their DIY strategies is not a sustainable or suggested model by any means, holding everything at the franchise level is also far from ideal for everyone involved.

Of course, no two franchise organizations are built the exact same, but for many, a hybrid solution answers so many of these important questions. Below are two of the ideas that we’ve seen work with a variety of franchise structures to help corporate maintain a certain level of control, while empowering their franchisees to maximize digital for growing their businesses (a win for both parties).

The Marketing Playbook

One of the solutions we often bring to the table is the creation of digital-specific marketing playbooks. These are guides that are grounded in the marketing strategy as a whole and infused with digital initiatives, strategies, and guidelines for addressing the how behind putting the strategy into action. The playbooks are produced at the corporate level where the marketing team makes careful considerations where the brand, franchisee and customers are concerned.

Rather than rethink everything from the ground up, these playbooks many times are able to take the processes and systems franchises already have for traditional marketing and bring them over to the digital arena -tweaking or rethinking them along the way. Depending on the overall strategy, a playbook can be made specifically for initiatives like building local SEO at the franchisee level, or growing lead generation through content, or driving social engagements using Pinterest (to name only a few).

These are produced by corporate, but they are built solely for franchisee owners. This means that at each step in the process, the owner and his or her problems are at the center of the discussion. While a byproduct of their creation is the franchise maintains control, these playbooks are designed to solve the business problem of the franchisee. The more they’re able to ring true in helping them achieve their goals, the more readily they’ll be adopted and the more effective they’ll be in the long run. “Effective” being the key word here.

Playbooks do wonders for giving franchisees clear directives for what digital initiatives are possible and how to maximize their potential. On the franchise side, they allow franchisees to run free, but within a generous and predictable boundary that is predetermined within the scope of the digital strategy.

Taking the Playbook to the Next Level

Marketing playbooks by themselves are a powerful tool for a franchisee. However, there’s a whole level above creating the strategy that pushes a cohesive marketing plan and participation even further through practical assets and applications. This can be achieved by creating a digital-specific asset repository for your franchisees.

A repository is by no means a revolutionary idea, companies have been creating marketing collateral for themselves and their partners for a long time. Franchises in particular often produce and distribute traditional marketing collateral to their owners through something similar as well. But the idea for creating a digital-specific repository that is married to a marketing playbook is not something we discover often, but they work.

Growing a FranchiseOn a practical level, the repository is a central location where each of your owners can either log in or get access to updated documents, templates, images, photography and other assets that will help them share online and market themselves across multiple channel.

A use case would go something like this. A franchisee reads through the corporate-produced marketing playbook about best practices surrounding creating email campaigns for current clients. The repository would hold a variety of digital assets for them to be able to get everything moving (headers, images, up-to-date campaign ideas and their relating images and/or messaging guidelines).

What this means for growth

It’s our philosophy that the best way to grow a franchise is to provide franchisees with the most value. When it comes to marketing, this means (quite simply) giving them the tools they need to accomplish their goals when it comes to growing their business. When this happens, and owners able to exceed their own expectations for growth, selling to potential franchisees becomes a whole lot easier to do.

Jared Rypkema Jared Rypkema

Content Strategist and Copywriter at Station Four