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No Better Time for E-Mail Marketing

What do the best franchise owners know about online marketing that you need to know, too?

With the new year comes new challenges. As business owners and operators, consumers, and citizens, we know that the climate has changed radically in the last year. However, as I indicated recently in my column --there's no need to panic. I talked then about cultivating stronger customer relationships, and provided tips on how to do so. My advice applied to anyone working to establish and build a successful entrepreneurial venture, whether it be an independent restaurant, a consulting firm, a successful franchise or some other type of business. For all of us who are business leaders, everything begins and ends with customers. I'd like to dig a little deeper into how a customer-oriented culture impacts franchises--a market that has its own opportunities and challenges.

According to a recent report by the International Franchise Association's Educational Foundation, the franchise industry is expected to face challenges this year with regard to the number of establishments in operation, jobs and the economic outlook. The same report, however, indicates that franchise owners remain cautiously optimistic, and I, for one, am not surprised. Like other entrepreneurs, franchise owners are a stalwart, determined bunch.

Here's the challenge: Financing will be tricky this year, which inhibits the growth of current franchise locations and the establishment of new franchises. So, franchise business owners are under increased pressure to make current situations work--and work well.

So, here we are, in a new year with new opportunities, but with some hurdles to overcome. What does that mean for franchises? Let's look at what successful franchise business owners could teach their colleagues about selling.

Marketing, marketing, marketing. As in every other segment of business today, marketing is of paramount importance. This isn't just hyperbole. Franchises need to get out there and make themselves heard. Experts of all kinds point to various reasons why, but the biggest reason is simple: It drives sales and keeps you in front of the people who have potential buying power. There are, however, some unique challenges to face when it comes to marketing a franchise. To help you get started promoting your franchise, I've included a few tips focused primarily on the effective use of e-mail marketing.

Corporate vs. local. As the corporate franchiser, you want a consistent brand image that makes it clear who you are and what you offer. And, at the same time, you want your individual franchisees to have a sense of individuality and a connection to their local communities and customer bases. Err on the side of being too corporate and you could alienate the buyer. Be too localized and you won't realize the benefit of the brand. Answer: the e-mail marketing template. Templates hold two purposes: They help you get up and running quickly and they help to ensure a consistent brand image, which is particularly important in the franchise industry. Using templates pre-populated with brand logos and content from corporate, individual franchisees can promote their businesses through e-mail marketing by creating professional-looking e-mail newsletters, but with individualized content specific to their locations such as local promotions, local hours and special events.

You don't need to hire a staff. You can hire graphic designers and copywriters, but it's not necessary and, in today's economy, being conservative with hiring decisions is a smart move. With the right marketing tools you can develop and deliver effective, professional, creative campaigns with a minimal investment of time and money. You can even delegate projects to staff members who aren't tech-savvy, which includes most of us.

The right offer for the times. Teach your local franchisees how to design offers. Help them construct offers that give customers what they need now: a reason to buy. Coupons, educational seminars, incentives and other offers propel possible buyers forward. Along with sales promotions, be sure to include a mix of informational or educational content, such as how-to guides, questions and answers, or survey results that may be valuable to your readers.

Improve results. Increased sales prove marketing value for you. This is what it's all about, right? Don't throw away your money, time and energy with poorly written or executed campaigns. Tracking results of each campaign will help you to understand what's resonating with buyers. If you send it, you can measure it. This should become as automatic as breathing. For everything you send, do a complete analysis and incorporate feedback, and your campaigns will continue to grow stronger. Compare results across local franchises and get the best performers to share their secrets.

For franchises, 2009 can be the year of customer marketing. Newcomers, or even those looking to refresh their efforts, should look to 2009 to build better lists and drive more effective e-mail campaigns. Instead of looking toward 2009 with trepidation, resolve to make it the year you truly connect with your customers, one and all. Now that's a goal worth pursuing.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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