How did you get into the industry?

I started in the ad biz in 1997. I was actually still in college but remember watching Superbowl ads and thinking, “my God, someone gets to make this stuff up for a living.” I then read an article about how an agency copywriter made the jump into the film. My delusional 19-year-old self decided on that path right there and then. I walked into an Atlanta ad agency and asked the receptionist if they were hiring interns over the summer to do copywriting. The Creative Director suspiciously walked over to see what this skinny (at the time, surprisingly) young punk wanted. I let her know I wanted to intern at the agency and she told me there were no openings. So, I just told her I’d show up for free and write ads if they would let me build a portfolio. It wasn’t the sexiest agency in the world, but I remember working under a talented writer who taught me a lot. From then on…I’ve been in some form of marketing or Customer Experience related work for the past 25 years. I worked up the chain to lead major brand digital work for Volkswagen, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean Cruises, Home Depot, UPS and a host of others. I’ve been a Creative Director for agencies, and had my own firm named “Agency of the Year” by a division of IBM Watson Marketing. Before starting this agency, Bloomfield, I was Global Director of Customer Experience which covered a range of activities like marketing, the voice of customer programs and service design initiatives for a worldwide team I built from scratch.

What’s New in the Business or in the Franchise Model?

Every industry has its nuances, but human behavior is human behavior. What really dictates how a buyer responds to different purchase options, whether it’s an ice cream code, a mattress, a car or even a franchise comes down to one simple question. “What happens if I make the wrong choice?” If I choose the wrong ice cream, the negative consequences of that poor decision are pretty limited. I toss it out and fight my inner 5 year old’s desire to pout for about 10 minutes. But if I choose the wrong mattress, my wife might remind me of how uncomfortable she is for the next five to ten years. But if I choose the wrong Franchise, now this could seriously impact my financial well-being, my future and all sorts of elements of my life and my family’s lives.

What’s new in the world of franchising is there seems to be a critical mass of information that’s finally pushing through. The number of franchisors buying ads appears to be exploding, pushing up rates and impacting effectiveness. Likewise, the number of channels where franchisors can reach out to franchise investors continues to diversify with the advent of TikTok, Reelz and other media.

But it’s not just the overall amount of noise coming from advertisers. Buyers of high-impact purchases, of which franchises are certainly one of these types of purchases, have more information to sort through than before. Overall reliance on reviews and social proof for all purchase types is at an all-time high. Franchisors who aren’t leveraging the positive experiences their existing franchisees have had are missing an opportunity to present an authentic story to their audience. People are becoming accustomed to doing independent research to become comfortable before they commit to anything big and the more information you can put out there to educate this audience, the more likely they will be to feel comfortable or they may even pre-sell themselves on the opportunity before they ever talk to you about investing in their franchise.

Lastly, I think it’s impossible to ignore what AI is doing in the market. ChatGPT is a really neat tool. But I caution anyone out there from over-reliance on JasperAI or ChatGPT. We aren’t far from the day when AI does a large part of the image creation, copywriting and even strategy in marketing communications. But let’s not forget that we are in the early days of these tools. ChatGPT still needs to be fact-checked. Its output still needs to be edited and formatted for the specific use where you want to put that blog post or email copy. ChatGPT does not know how to update all the tags on your site with the relevant keywords or how to optimize your budget allocation for PPC. We, as an agency, have started using it to reduce the time required for copy-draft work – and it’s improving efficiency by around 30%. Hell, it’s starting to be able to spit out code for things like emails. But, it’s not eliminating the need for good copywriters quite yet. Look at tools like ChatGPT as a time-saving tool at this point. Be suspicious of anyone who says any portion of their business is on autopilot due to AI. Three years from now that may be different, but AI is still very much in its infancy.

Where do you See Opportunities or Challenges for the Franchise/Business Moving Forward?

I think franchise owners underestimate how much they should be investing in good marketing content and promotion. If you’re looking for guidance on how much to spend, well that depends on who you ask. The US Small Business Administration says a business generating less than $5 million in revenue should spend around 8% of its revenue on marketing in order to be competitive. That figure is between 10% and 20% for more established companies. The challenge for a lot of these growing companies is that they got to where they are by being extremely cost conscious. A lot of their early, skyrocketing growth was due to organic referrals or by virtue of having a strong product offering. Unfortunately, it’s hard to scale on the reputation of your local community alone.

As I’ve mentioned, the marketing space is becoming more and more crowded. And when it comes to investing in marketing, some businesses have a hard time distinguishing between cost and value. They’ll pay some overseas firms $500 per month to manage an online ad campaign just to save a few bucks, but may be missing out on double or triple returns from using a marketing partner with more credibility. Advertising is a talent-based business. Imagine you get the cheapest landscape architect you can find to re-do your backyard. How do you think that would look compared to the more expensive guy?

And even if a successful franchise business is doing well with a capable marketing partner, there is a massive challenge in terms of knowing what works. Visibility has been a problem for the last century. A hundred years ago, famed ad guy John Wannamaker coined the famous phrase “Half my advertising spend is wasted – the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Any business owner who is running ads on google, ads on Facebook, mailer promotions, paid networks or a host of other traffic sources can probably identify with this statement. There are ways to start connecting these marketing and promotional channels to bring more visibility into franchise marketing spend. It’s possible to assign trackable phone numbers to every media channel. It is possible to connect the various analytics platforms from Google, Facebook and your CRM into a single source of truth. But most businesses fail once again to differentiate between cost and value. The time it would take and the investment required to build out a single marketing dashboard feels expensive but is actually a revenue-generating activity. If you can understand how to better allocate your existing budget between the various marketing activities you’re undertaking, you can see dramatic results and put to rest the anxieties of Mr. Wannamaker.

What is your Goal for the Business Moving Forward?

Our goal is to bring enterprise, Fortune 200 expertise to rapidly growing businesses. It’s amazing how many low-cost but low-quality providers there are in this space and we really want to reveal them for what they are. We teach our clients to hold us accountable and how to own their own ad accounts. We are on a mission to raise the overall marketing acumen for as many businesses as possible.

Talk to us About Training and Support, How Do You Deliver?

Again, the agency world is very much a talent-based business. We have to have big guns at the top, absolute experts with a lot of big logos in their history. But then we utilize the smart, younger talent to learn and copy the masters.

Your most difficult moment at the Franchise Business?

I think it can be hard to reconcile expectations with reality for franchise businesses unaccustomed to using marketing to expand their sales and revenue. Again, franchising means taking a concept that is proven to work and replicating it in other areas. Most entrepreneurs have a hard time understanding that the people who buy into a franchise won’t necessarily have the same levels of vision or hustle as the original founder. They won’t have the deep history the founder has in the market. So there is an adjustment that a lot of franchise owners must go through in order to realize a certain level of marketing spend is needed in order to support the new franchisees and keep the engine fueled. I’ve realized that some founders will get it right away, but I can’t help those who can’t understand their own uniqueness. It’s amazing how many talented entrepreneurs can’t understand their own exceptionalism. They become frustrated when other people, thought talented in their own ways, can’t replicate the success borne from the founder’s unique personality and, truth be told, genius.

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