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Multi-Channel Venue Management: A Primer

The reality is that consumers have changed the way they seek out information and make purchase decisions. Given the non-linear path to purchase brought on by the rapid adoption of technology, it’s more important than ever for multi-channel merchants to be firing on all cylinders.
Knowing the adaptation challenges your company faces, what if it could approach the management of its marketing efforts at the local level, leveraging relevant, customized and cost-efficient tactics?
Would the company do it? If we were a betting bunch, we would bet the answer would be, “Why not?” followed by, “How do I do it?”
The first question is mired in legacy issues surrounding past promises of using technology to create a sustainable advantage only to discover that the solution was “vaporware” or a patchwork solution of digital tactics. While vaporware still exists, there are plenty of products in the marketplace that can deliver on one type of consumer targeting or another.
Venue management is an approach to thinking and marketing execution that maximizes your co-op contribution and allows a franchise organization to leverage local marketing solutions, including data management, social, search, email and mobile (geo-fencing). Venue management can help a franchise company leverage its resources more efficiently, enabling better plans and generating greater results for the business.
The strategies proposed throughout this article are critically important to have in your marketing toolset when trying to reach consumers in this new “digital” age. Companies must disrupt the way they think about their marketing efforts to effectively move forward.

Location Data Management
Most consumers have shifted their habits from checking the phone book to using the Internet to get local business information. This makes it important to consider how your local data is distributed online.
Certainly, the local data space can be overwhelming. There are thousands of sites that publish location information. So where does your business turn when its phone number is wrong on Google or its address is incorrect on Yelp? And how does your company determine whether or not the issue is more widespread?
First, check your Google Places page. Google doesn’t allow third-party companies to feed data directly into its local database, so it is a critical point to correct this data at the source. If your page is claimed (by your company or your marketing department) and shows correct data, you’ve addressed the location information that the highest volume of people will see. If it is unclaimed or has incorrect data, alert your marketing department and have them go through the bulk verification process to claim all locations under one Google account.
Getting your Google data fixed is generally the easy part. Your next steps need to be prioritized based on your industry and consumer habits. For example, a restaurant will likely be interested in getting local data visible on Yelp and Urbanspoon. Once your company has a list of the most important sites for your business, it’s ready to start discussing solutions that address those sites specifically.

Product Data Management
If your franchise system is in the business of selling a physical product, it has the ability to pass inventory-related data into Google’s Merchant Center. Not all retailers are taking advantage of this opportunity, which is free, so it’s a great way to efficiently increase your products’ visibility.
For an illustration of how this data is used in Google’s search results, do a quick search for “soccer balls.” See the shopping results for soccer balls with images, prices and a link to find the product nearby? That information is there because companies are feeding local inventory into Google’s Merchant Center database.
Once your company has chosen to share this data with Google, it can also use these shopping results to make its paid search ads more visually dominant. How? It’s simple: incorporate images and pricing information into your ads.

Reputation Management: Ratings and Reviews
While ratings and reviews are a great way for businesses to get feedback about how they can better serve their customers, they have a bad stigma among local businesses. They are impossible to control, but it’s important to understand the reality of ratings and reviews: they aren’t going anywhere.
All businesses have positive and negative reviews, and customers are learning to understand that one person’s experience doesn’t have to equal theirs. So what influences customers to look beyond those not-so-great reviews?
An effective way to sway the perception of these consumers is to respond to negative reviews in a professional way. It humanizes your business and shows consumers that it values their opinion.

Social Monitoring and Management
Social networks are rapidly gaining traction and have become powerful influencers over the last decade. If your franchise business isn’t active in the social space already, creating a plan is a crucial step. Consumers are going to be talking about your company through such networks as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ regardless, and it’s up to your company to join the conversation.
Before setting up a profile, talk to your marketing department about what it is doing to cover social media. The department members may have valuable insights from a social media-monitoring tool that they may be able to share or they may have a social media policy that provides a tutorial for participating at the local level.

Search Marketing: Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization can be best described as using your website to explain to search engines what your business does. Whether your organization manages its website or not, SEO is a critical aspect because it can directly impact your ability to get in front of customers.
Between 75 and 80 percent of search engine users click on organic or non-sponsored listings over paid results, so while your business can get visibility on search engines without focusing on free listings, it misses a big piece of its audience that way.
Organic listings can be gained by optimizing your website content to reflect the way that users search. However, if your organization is trying to rank for more competitive terms, this optimization tactic may not be enough. Additional strategies include link building, increasing social media mentions for your business, and improving the readability of the code within your site.
Regardless of how involved your organization will be in the SEO process, it should learn enough to ask the right questions of the agency or marketing team conducting the SEO or to present the case that your site or webpage needs some SEO TLC.

Pay Per Click or PPC
There are a few features that set paid search apart from most other online media. First, PPC enables your franchise business to gain more control of its search engine messaging. If your company wants to promote a local offer that is only valid for one week, paid search is a great way to run ads that can be immediately turned on and off.
Paid search also gives your organization the ability to create more customized messaging. If it is running paid search ads through Google, it can customize ads by adding “extensions” such as phone number, address and product-related information from Google’s Merchant Center. Creating locally-targeted campaigns is also made simple by using PPC.
No matter what strategy your company takes, venue data management is crucially important and can lead to big results for your business. 
Geoff Pickering is senior vice-president and director of digital marketing, Quinn Sheek is a search marketing supervisor and Chad Coleman is a digital strategy supervisor at Barkley USA, an integrated marketing agency. Pickering can be reached at gpickering@barkleyus.com, Sheek at qsheek@barkleyus.com and Coleman at ccoleman@barkleyus.com.

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