Usually, I don’t steal.
But today I am.
I’m stealing a word from the scientist: ecosystem. Why? Because as a metaphor, ecosystems best describe franchises.
Anytime a group of unrelated things interact, you have an ecosystem. And a franchise is no different. Franchisors. Franchisees. Customers. Employees. Packaging companies. Ronald McDonald. Teamwork makes the franchise work.
So here’s my argument: if a franchise is an ecosystem, then it needs a digital ecosystem to market itself online.
No franchise can single-handedly market itself online. That’s impossible. We’re far too busy to do that.
Digital ecosystems? They can. And by the end of this article, you’ll want a digital ecosystem for your franchise.
What does a digital ecosystem look like?
When I say “digital ecosystem,” what do you think? If you’re like me, you’re yawning. “Digital ecosystem” conjures no images; it’s too technical.
So before we continue, let’s have an image to remember “digital ecosystem.” Stay with me here. This is a good mind exercise.
Ecosystems connect seemingly dissimilar things. So our image must connote unity amid diversity.
A Dinner Plate?
The first image that pops in my head is a plate (probably because I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat at the office).
I see all kinds of food. Like green beans. And fried green tomatoes. And cornbread crumbs sprinkled on potatoes. And apple pie. And ice cream.
Obviously, I eat Southern food. But the image is useful. Different food on one plate.
An Online Platform?
Let’s name something more abstract. Instead of a plate, let’s try online platform.
I’m imagining a computer program with an online forum. Lots of people talking, solving problems, helping each other. Different rooms. Different computers. Different experts. Same conversation. Same webpage. Same platform.
Perfect. A digital ecosystem is an online platform.
Imagine a digital ecosystem as a program that everyone (franchises, franchisees, computer programmers, technicians, marketing experts) has access to. It’s like Facebook that everyone logs into and uses at the same time. Pretty cool, right?
This isn’t hypothetical. These programs do exist. And at the end I will talk about some. But for now let’s move to some practical questions. What problems can a digital ecosystem solve? While there’s no limit, I’ve got five that every franchise would like solved.
You got 99 problems, but…
1. Hiring ain’t one.
Express Employment Professionals report that 83 percent of the company’s 115 franchises surveyed said it was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to fill a job opening this year. That’s up from 78 percent in 2013. — NBC News.
What’s worse than hiring?
Seriously. What’s worse than failing to find top talent?
Having only in-house applications.
In our digital world, not only are in-house applications passé, they’re time-consuming and annoying. Managers know this. You’ve got work to do, people to manage, products to sell. Then, someone comes in, looking for a job. And he wants to talk to you.
With a digital ecosystem, you can avoid this conversation. “All applications are online,” your employee tells the inquirer. “You’ve got to go to this website.”
Like buckets that collect water, digital ecosystems collect online applications. Each franchisee has its own website. Each website collects applications. Behind the scenes, the franchisee logs in to the digital ecosystem, scans the online applications, looks through them, makes notes, stars the important ones, discards the others.
Franchisors can look through these, too. Regional managers, division superiors, sales representatives, HR specialists, a gorilla. Everyone can login to the digital ecosystem, scan the applications, and make suggestions.
That’s SO much easier than in-house applications. So much so they even have a name: online tracking systems. That name is SO much more difficult to remember. So let’s just forget I said anything and move on.
2. Online presence management (OPM) ain’t one.
Here’s another common problem.
A franchise builds a website. One site for the corporate brand.
Then, franchisees build websites separate from the franchise.
Soon, the franchise has 50 websites on 50 separate domains. Imagine managing that. Yeah. That’s worse than a hair in a biscuit.
A digital ecosystem, however, could allow franchisees to create websites from one domain. The franchise could have its corporate site, and the franchisees could have theirs. Both have the same domain, both are under the same system, and both can be edited and measured on the same site.
That’s a digital ecosystem at its finest.
3. Local ads ain’t one.
All advertising is local. The local market surrounding each unit is where advertising has its greatest impact, and the concept of ‘national advertising’ is really passé today.” —Ryan K. Vespra, Senior Vice President of Product and Operations at Sightly.
Franchisors are like the New York Times. Their stories are circulated widely. Their brands are well-known. Their products are purchased nationally.
Franchisees, on the other hand, are more like local newspapers: their stories are close to their locations, their names are known by natives, their products are bought by locals.
If you’re a franchise, which newspaper do you want to advertise in? Of course, the New York Times is appealing, because of its national appeal. But you don’t want to ignore the locality of a franchisee.
What if you could do both? You can. With a digital ecosystem, franchisees and franchisors access the same system. So franchisors could upload a professionally designed template, leaving spaces intentionally. Franchisees then download the ad, fill in the spaces, and send it out to their local context.
Or franchisees could create their own ad and upload them to the digital ecosystem. Franchisors can view the ad, accept or deny it.
Either way, the point is clear: local advertising is not done in a vacuum. It’s done together for one location and one location among many.
4. Mobile marketing ain’t one.
72% of mobile users want a website that’s mobile-friendly, and 51% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a mobile optimized web site.
Despite this, less than 5% of online businesses have a website that is compatible with mobile.
Why don’t websites have mobile websites?
Because it’s hard to do.
And yet without a mobile-responsive website, businesses lose customers. Fast. According to this Forbes article, 74% of mobile visitors will abandon a site if it takes more than 5 seconds to download. If you’re website is not mobile-responsive, then you’re screwed.
With a digital ecosystem, you can work with partners outside your franchise.
This is where the digital experts come in.
Partnering with third party businesses has saved the business of lots of businesses. That’s a lot of business. Indeed. With a mobile friendly website, you will see lots of business.
Chipotle, Coca-Cola, Best Buy all saved their franchises by inviting third party help into their digital ecosystem.
5. Online coupons ain’t one.
Like the local ads, coupons can cause some problems.
Fortunately, franchisors can upload coupon templates into the online platform. Franchisees download these and fill in the blanks. Easy. Peasy.
6. Global warming ain’t one.
But that’s a different ecosystem.
Who wants a Digital Ecosystem?
If you’re raising your hand, you’re in luck.
We’ve designed one of the first digital ecosystems, LocalMark.
We do everything described above, plus more. Much more.
If you want to save time. If you want to save money. If you want to advertise nationally and locally and make more money. Talk to us.