9 Ways to Effectively Market Your Franchise Convention
By: Steve Friedman
Engaging franchisees is obviously important to every franchise system’s success, and the most critical medium to achieving that engagement is live interaction and face-to-face connection. That makes your franchise convention a signature opportunity to connect with your most important stakeholders. Of course, to engage franchisees, you have to get them there. The key to maximizing attendance is effective marketing and promotion. Even if franchisees are required to attend, you need to clearly demonstrate to them the business reasons for attending through a campaign of traditional and non-traditional media. Below are several tactics to consider incorporating into your strategy.
It starts with messaging. Tactics evolve – from print to digital and social media – but all tactics need strategic messaging to make them most effective. For a franchise convention this means making the business case for attending, including:
• Educational opportunities – both professional business education and specific industry trends,
• Networking opportunities,
• New product and new technology training,
• Share best practices for future success, and
• The chance to hear from and give input to company leadership.
Your print and digital communications about the convention should consistently articulate one or more of these benefits. You can also promote the appearance of outstanding speaker resources and the convention destination can also play a role in attracting attendees. Most cities, through their convention and visitor’s bureau and other venues, will assist you with promotional materials.
2. Event Branding
Before you can begin marketing your convention, you must first have a strong brand to take to market. Many successful franchise systems place heavy emphasis on developing a convention theme that is strategically tied to the communication objectives they want to achieve. This theme then becomes the foundation for the event’s brand – the logo, scenic design, keynote speakers, entertainment and event collateral – all become branded elements of the convention and part of your pre-convention promotion and on-site experiential marketing strategy.
3. Digital Media
Digital media is the most cost-effective weapon in your marketing arsenal. You’re probably already using traditional (and still effective) touches, such as email marketing and direct mail to regularly communicate with franchisees, but consider adopting some of these digital tactics to help boost attendance.
4. Social Media
Social media should already be a part of your marketing communications and franchise development strategy, and it’s a great way to effectively promote your convention. A social media campaign also takes advantage of existing traffic and sites that potential attendees are already viewing and interacting with.
The viral effect of sharable content on social media gives you greater reach and allows your franchisees to become brand advocates of the convention. Create an event on Facebook, a convention group on LinkedIn, convention hashtag on Twitter and post videos on your YouTube and Vimeo channels. But the key step is that you make it an integrated approach that reflects your event brand and messaging.
A great example to promote your convention is by launching a user-generated contest on sites such as YouTube, Vine or Instagram. Invite franchisees to post a video or photo to be voted on by their peers with the winner(s) announced at convention. For example, if your convention theme is “You Make the Difference,” invite franchisees to shoot a short video of how they’re making a difference in their franchise or community. This is a high-impact, low-cost touch to build buzz for your convention.
5. Convention Microsite
This step is a no brainer. A simple microsite that solely hosts your convention information is an easy and cost-effective way to boost your convention’s online presence. Public or password-protected, it becomes the home for everything related to the convention, with information on registration, hotel, speakers, transportation and schedules. It also hosts videos from previous conventions and material to download, and should have direct links to your social media, or better yet, have social media feeds embedded on the site.
6. Digital Invitation
A more lively and engaging way to invite franchisees to your convention and create excitement is with a digital video invitation. Using motion graphics, video footage and animation are much more engaging alternatives to a static HTML email. Formatted for both desktop and mobile devices, the video introduces the event’s theme and typically features the destination, keynote speakers, entertainment and specific theme messaging all packaged as part of the event’s brand.
7. Convention App
Yes, you need an app. If you’ve used the International Franchise Association’s convention app, you’ve seen first-hand how useful an app can be. Just a couple years ago, clients asked us what kind of meeting apps even existed. Now we develop an app for nearly every franchise convention we produce. They’re dynamic, flexible and a green alternative to all those printed programs and collateral. Better yet, they’re becoming smarter and more comprehensive, allowing you to stay connected with your franchisees before, during and after your convention.
To decide which app is right for you and your event, it’s important to keep in mind your event goals and objectives, your meeting format, and your franchisees. Just about all integrate social media and offer key features such as wayfinding, speaker profiles, schedules, and more, with bells and whistles that include gamification, photo sharing, ticketing and more. If you have not introduced an app, start small with basic functionality to acclimate your franchisees. Customizing the right solution is a value-added benefit for all parties.
8. Directly Involve Your Franchisees
Crowdsourcing is gaining ground in the meeting and event industry, and fast. It’s a growing trend that impacts your bottom line, because greater engagement and interaction with your franchisees leads to a greater return on your meeting investment. Don’t just assume what type of content your franchisees want or need to hear, ask them.
Get your advisory council involved to solicit feedback on content and format for your convention. If you don’t have an advisory council, send out a call for one specifically for your convention. Rather than relying on post-conference surveys on what was liked and disliked, lean on your advisory council or survey your franchisees prior to the meeting to decide which keynote speaker they’d rather hear, what type of entertainment to offer, which off-site event they’d rather attend and so forth. Relevant content that franchisees truly need and value will be more memorable and impactful.
A key advantage to personalizing the experience is that it generates loyalty. Attendees feel special when an event is tailored around their likes and dislikes, striking an emotional chord. Higher loyalty leads to higher attendance the following year, greater buy-in with corporate initiatives and a greater motivation to take action.
9. Hybrid Event
Much like many elements discussed above, hybrid events are becoming increasingly popular. Advancements in technology have made it easier and more cost-effective to stream live sessions from your convention, greatly amplifying your reach to franchisees and prospects who couldn’t attend in-person. Additionally, this allows you to provide remote access to content to your entire corporate office and franchisees’ employees, most of whom don’t regularly attend your convention. This does present some additional costs and production challenges, including some back-end development on where and how remote viewers will access the content. Before diving in headfirst to a “live + virtual” event, consider simply offering on-demand access to recorded sessions following the meeting on your convention microsite or password-protected landing page on your current site.
Traditional thinking might initially warrant skepticism as a marketing tool, since it might suggest a franchisee attitude such as: “Why should I attend in-person when I can just watch online.” However, with only 40 percent of franchise systems reporting 81 percent to 100 percent attendance at their convention, the opportunity to exponentially reach a greater number of such a critical audience exceeds the risk, according to a 2012 online survey of nearly 200 franchisors conducted by Ingage Consulting, Speak! and Franchise Business Review. Rather than hindering attendance, it has the ability to increase excitement and engagement when promoting your convention.
Steve Friedman is co-founder and president of Creative Producers Group, a leading St. Louis, Mo.-based marketing and corporate communications firm.