Brand Camp (part one): local search and online brand control 02/04/2015 11:30

Most franchisors understand that controlling their brand is critical to their success, but in an online search world now dominated by mobile devices and social media, that's not always easy to achieve. David Whatley, managing director of MiShop.local, gives his thoughts on achieving digital consistency and why it's so important to both franchisors and franchisees. 

Local Search

Local search is the term given to any online search for products or services offered by local businesses – from hairdressers to cleaners, restaurants to gardeners – and where a location is specified in the search.

Local search results are tailored to the vicinity of the searcher; either by them specifying a location, or by virtue of the fact that a search engine can tell where they are.

An example of local search via Google Maps. More than half of searches are now conducted on a mobile device, changing the way results are presented to customersThere is a significant trend towards local search: more than 50% of all web searches are now done on a mobile device, with results that are inherently local. Coupled with this, 78% of people searching for a local service are looking for a telephone phone number to call.

As most franchises are local businesses, understanding how local search works is incredibly important.

NAP is Key

Local search is influenced more by a business’s Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) than its website. In fact, you don’t need a website to appear in local search – you need an address!

Local search resultsTo optimise local search results, your NAP and business category must be consistently listed in multiple local listing sites. You can further improve your local search performance by adding rich brand content to key local listing sites – such as a logo, photos, keyword-rich business descriptions, opening times, website and social media links.

Once listed, you can encourage customers to write reviews on these listing sites; customer reviews written on local listing sites add to your online reputation and further improve your local search performance.

Business Benefits

Local search is dependent on NAP consistency, brand content and customer reviews on multiple local listing sites.

There are win-win benefits for franchisee and franchisor in controlling local listing sites as part of a local search strategy:

  • The franchisee benefits by appearing in more local search results whenever people search for their services. They also look professional wherever people find them, resulting in more footfall and calls.
  • The franchisor benefits by ensuring brand continuity across the network. This reinforces the message of common brand identity and also looks impressive to prospective franchisees.
  • Imagine how powerful it is to be able to search any franchisee location and know that it will be on-brand?
  • Consistent branding, when seen by prospective customers, is powerful and reassuring.

Although managing local listings is simple in principal, it takes time and effort to get it right. It is very unlikely that the franchisee will have the time or inclination to do everything themselves; it is also unlikely that it will be done thoroughly or consistently.

Brand Continuity…

…is important in online search because franchisor and franchisee results can appear alongside each other. If there are inconsistencies in name or branding it could confuse or even put off a customer. Customers don’t necessarily understand nor care whether you are a franchise or not; they want a common experience and where there is anything that deviates from a common identity it will confuse.

…is critical in local search where there is a boundary between franchisees. It is possible for two franchisees to appear in the same local search results. Imagine the confusion if the customer clicks on both and finds two different experiences?

…between online and offline promotions must be aligned. For example: if a new franchise location opens and a flyer and local media campaign instigated, you need to ensure that your online presence matches this. If a potential customer is motivated by an offline ad to go online, it is important that they can find you quickly. Yes your website is important, but if they choose to search for you locally, will they find the new franchise, or an old one several miles away?

…between franchisee and franchisor is essential. Any interaction that a customer has with a brand should reinforce their impression of that brand. If there is any disparity in the branding customers can get confused.

Deep Impact

The detriment to not controlling your brand on local listing sites is poor brand integrity and potentially lost business. Incomplete listings won’t necessarily damage the brand or reduce your search performance, but they won’t improve it! Listings that are wrong will compromise the brand and potentially undermine your search presence; in some respects it’s better to do nothing than do something wrong or badly in local search.

Listings need to be controlled, not only for brand integrity and search optimisation purposes, but also for continuity. If listings are set up and not managed, or they are ‘locked’ because the owner has forgotten the login details, then they can act against you.

For example: if a franchisee stops trading, but all their listings remain, there is a chance that customers could call either a dead number (not a good reflection on the brand), or worse, call the ex-franchisee who may be operating independently under a different name. Coupled with this, customers can continue to write reviews on listing sites (associated with your brand) which you may not be responsible for.

So how can franchisors keep on top of things?

Keep Your Focus

An example of a typical local listing. With so much choice, pick your targets carefullyThere are hundreds of local online services – think Google+, Bing Places, Facebook Pages, Foursquare, Yelp, Yell.com, Thomsonlocal and so on. Then there are sector-specific and also location-specific listing sites. Every franchise is different, and what works for them is specific to their goals.

It is not practical or necessary to manage every single service. Instead, identify which ones are most relevant to your sector and customer base and brand those. Do not set up a local social media account for an individual franchisee unless it fits with your strategy and the franchisee is committed to using it.

Once you’ve identified where you want to focus your efforts

We strongly recommend setting up and managing local listing sites centrally to ensure brand continuity and to leverage economies of scale.

Login details should be controlled either as a bulk account i.e. all franchisees under one login managed centrally, or individual logins managed centrally for each franchisee.

If there is insufficient resource to manage this centrally, franchisors should provide guidelines on which sites the franchisee can use and the content to be used. A policy should also be enacted to ensure that account login details are controlled centrally.

Content guidelines should include specific wording, images and branding to be used on particular sites.

An important consideration is what the franchisee is prepared to do and the time they have to do it. It takes time to set local listings up but, once completed, they only need to be reviewed and managed periodically to ensure they keep working for the business.

Top Five Tips

1. Have a Policy – who does what, what can and can’t be done by the franchisee.

  • Have a Naming conventions for online listings
  • Identify the online services that can (and can’t) be used.
  • Review this periodically. Online channels are constantly evolving! What is good today, will be different tomorrow.

2. Maintain a list of approved sites and examples of how they should be used and what they should look like. Include a mix of general listing sites, local social sites, sector-specific and location-specific listing sites.

3. Maintain a brand content library including: 

- Logo

  • Have different sizes and styles of logo to fit different sites.

- Images

  • Brand generic images that reflect the brand.
  • Branch/location/franchisee-specific images, e.g. shop fronts, staff
  • Name each image with keywords, such as plumber_brighton.jpg

- Business Descriptions

  • Keyword-rich descriptions of different lengths ranging from 1500, 1200, 1000, 800, 500 and 200 characters.
  • Ensure descriptions are engaging and can be adapted to the local market.

- Approved social media links

4. Maintain a list of ALL the sites that you are using and keep a record of their login details.

5. Refresh the sites periodically - sites that aren’t maintained lose their effectiveness and can look outdated.

 

David will speak at the bfa's upcoming specialist seminar on franchise marketing and branding, where he will expand on these ideas and managing franchisees' profiles online.

 
 
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