No Limit Agency’s Sean Fitzgerald on why franchise brands need to throw out to the old rules to attract a new generation of franchisees
Franchisors do not like uncertainty. Franchising was developed as a bulwark to the inherent uncertainty of opening a new business or expanding an existing one into a new market. Operations manuals, FDDs, national marketing strategies and singular branding are all means of establishing consistency and mitigating uncertainty. There are any number of persistent uncertainties in the industry — changing consumer habits and a shifting economy are perennial concerns — but in recent years franchisors have had to face up to a wholly new known unknown: the millennial investor.
Of course, now is not the first time that franchise brands have had to repackage their concept for a new generation of investors, but millennials represent by far the biggest leap from one generation to the next in terms of how candidates interact with a brand.
“Millennials are the first generation to grow up with the internet, and that’s a game-changer,” said Sean Fitzgerald, Chief Development Strategist for 1851 Franchise. “The ways that franchises used to court candidates just don’t work anymore.”
Fitzgerald says franchise development teams would do well to take notes from their consumer marketing counterparts, who have long understood the sea change they are facing.
“In terms of marketing, most brands are putting most of their resources into consumer marketing, and they’ve developed more sophisticated strategies to reach consumers,” he said. “Dev marketing needs to do the same thing.”
While social media is the natural first step for a franchise brand to reach millennials, Fitzgerald stresses that is just that — a first step. And throwing a few advertisements on Snapchat isn’t enough.
“You need to engage with social media, but you can’t just spam any given channel with ads,” he said. “You need to understand how users engage with the media. Millennials have grown up avoiding ads. The hard sell doesn’t work. You need a softer, more educational approach. You want to tell a story.”
Millennials, Fitzgerald says, are savvy researchers. They aren’t going to go straight to the brand for information; they are going to scour a variety of sources. So it’s crucial that a franchise brand puts its story out on an array of channels.
“When I was in college, the rule of thumb for advertising was three–five impressions would lead to action. Now it’s 15–25, and that’s for impulse buys,” he said. “Now take something that is not an impulse buy, something that investors are researching and vetting, and you see just how much you are going to have to interact with a candidate before they inquire.”
According to Fitzgerald, one of the segments that has done best with development marketing to millennials is the service industry, which requires a sort of flexible, web-oriented footprint that appeals to the younger generation.
“Take a brand like Mosquito Joe,” he offered. “They don’t have brick-and-mortar locations, so they need to be very active about getting their name out their and cementing their reputation through other means, which is something that millennials are very good at. Brands like that, who apply the same strategy to their dev marketing, are finding a lot of interest from millennials.”
Franchising, of course, is still a high-capital investment, and the older generation is always going to have an advantage in that regard. It may be tempting for brands to fall back on the old strategies and continue targeting older, well-financed investors. But Fitzgerald cautions franchisors against taking the easy route.
“You’re still seeing a lot of resistance from some brands to break away from the old strategies,” he said. “You can only go after the same big fish for so long. Millennials have been in the workforce for more than a decade now. They are saving money, they are looking for new opportunities, and it won’t be long before they become the big fish. You’ve got to know how to catch them.”