Why Brand Journalism is the New Key to Franchise Lead Generation

Professional Storytelling provides content that potential franchise leads crave

Quick, close your eyes and try to recall a business mailing, magazine advertisement or online banner ad that you’ve seen in the last week.

It should be easy — the average person is exposed to several thousand display ads a day. But are you able to recall a single one? It’s hard, isn’t it.

Now, think of the last article you read online.

If you are like most people, it is easy to recall a number of online articles. That’s because a good article uses vivid storytelling that appeals to both emotion and logic. A story about how a business responded to a tornado, and revealed the character of its leadership team, is much more powerful than any banner ad.

Gilad de Vries, a marketing professional, used a similar exercise to make his point in a recent Forbes.com article: It is almost impossible to tell a story in a display ad — and customers have become completely impervious to them. He said that much of the $620 billion a year that corporations spend on online advertising goes into the “brand awareness black hole.”

And he’s right. People have become expert at ignoring traditional display advertising.

That’s why it’s so important for companies to tell honest, factual stories that people will seek out rather than ignore.

How brand storytelling makes a difference

In today’s franchise lead generation market, if you can’t emotionally engage a potential candidate, you can’t get them to opt into the sales process and seriously consider what you have to offer.

Buying a business is a big decision, and to earn the consideration of potential franchise partners, you need to be able to appeal to their heart and mind.

There is a parallel in real estate. Good real estate agents will tell you that you can’t really ‘sell’ a house — the house has to sell itself. What they mean is that you can’t push someone into purchasing a home; the home buyers have to be able to envision themselves living there and the connection buyers make with the house is what drives the decision to buy.

Every time a home buyer walks into a house, they are telling themselves stories: This comfy room is where we’ll play games together as a family; this is where I’ll set hor d’oeuvres when we have house parties; I will put the Christmas tree in front of that window and its lovely drapes. People are buying the next chapter of their lives.

When buyers preview a vacant house, there is nothing to look at except the floor, ceilings and walls. There’s not much of a story to tell. As a result, buyers spend very little time inside the home — as little as 5-10 minutes. Savvy real estate agents hire staging companies to fill these empty shells with stories — comfy couches, stylish furniture and color-coordinated accesories.  According to franchise home stager Showhomes, buyers spend upwards of 45 minutes in staged homes, which sell more quickly and for more money.

That’s the power of a story.

Recruiting franchisees is identical to selling homes. Both involve highly emotional decisions and large commitments of time and money.

How Brand Journalism attracts franchise leads

Display ads, banner ads, franchise portal ads and most email campaigns don’t work as well as they once did because today’s potential franchise buyers demand more information than ever before. They want to know who is in charge of your company, what it’s like to be a franchisee, and how it will affect their lives. We’ve essentially lost the first conversation a sales person has with a lead to the internet, and we’re not going to get it back.

Brand journalism gives companies a way to tell their stories across multiple platforms and media. And it’s not just about telling stories well — it’s also about telling stories while using the same language as a potential franchisee. Brand journalism is all about providing the content that the audience is already looking for.

Brand Journalism has been a hot marketing topic in 2012, and companies outside of franchising are rushing to adopt some form of brand storytelling. At the popular SXSW conference in Austin, several sessions focused on the new form of marketing. TED talks have mentioned it and just about every PR school in the country is struggling to incorporate it into existing curriculum. Entrepreneur magazine spotlighted Brand Journalism in its 2012 branding issue as the hottest trend in marketing this year.

For franchise systems that are adopting it, the results are breathtaking: enormous spikes in lead volume and even bigger gains in lead quality. They are getting more engaged leads who are easier to catch on the phone, more people opting into the sales process with a lot less selling on the recruiter’s part, and — most importantly — more sales to more candidates who understand the business and are a good fit.

Ten years ago, internet search, PPC and SEO were the big trends in franchise lead generation. Five years ago it was social media. In 2012 and 2013 we are entering into the brand storytelling and content marketing era.

The engaging stories unearthed through brand journalism overlaps PR, SEO, social media, blogging, website content, franchise portal strategy, paid search and even email campaigns. It’s an all-encompassing way to generate leads.

The stories are engaging because they use journalism-style storytelling. Stories are written to be engaging, transparent, informative and helpful. It doesn’t focus on sales pitches that make people skeptical. Instead, stories stand on their own and give people doing self-directed research about a franchise brand exactly what they are looking for — which isn’t always what your marketing department has been serving up.

Why companies should hire corporate storytellers to focus on franchise lead generation

How well is your brand doing telling its story to your audience of potential franchise candidates? Is your pipeline full of leads, and are you attracting people who really get your brand? Are you able to talk to the majority of leads that fill out your forms?

If not, it’s time to take another look at your overall lead generation strategy. Right now, there are people who are already interested in your brand. Use brand storytelling and you’ll have a better chance of recruiting them.

Brand Journalism is not easy to execute; it takes a special skill set rarely found in franchise marketing departments and almost never seen in development staffs. It takes trained journalists who have the know how to discover and tell stories. It takes outside help from people who know franchising and understand your audience. It also takes expertise in PR and SEO along with social media and web development. It is a lot more than just writing and blogging; it is an integrated approach. Think of it as adding a team member to your development staff whose job is to think from the outside in about how all of your marketing is working and make sure that the content stays current and relative.

Today, companies are embracing the chance to be their own publisher. Rather than rely on others to shape how the public perceives your brand, smart companies are using media they own and control — websites, blogs, social media, PR — to begin publishing stories about themselves that shape public perception. Becoming a publisher is far beyond the traditional role of a PR firm. When done well, it’s a new form of franchise lead generation that works.

Curious to learn more about using brand journalism for franchise lead generation? Start a conversation with us and see if it is a fit.

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