Q: What is the number one concern that your multi-location partners have with digital?

Brock Andony

A: In short, managing all the properties around the internet. Duplicates and incorrect information seem to be abound across the web, and even major platforms like Facebook make it difficult to claim all locations and bring them under a single umbrella for the brand. The verification and cleanup for an assisted living client of ours with nine locations took multiple months, and our listings still weren't perfect at the end. Monitoring and responding to reviews is another process, but even getting the basic information and ownership set up in the first place is a serious challenge.

Eagan Heath

Founder, Get Found Madison

If you’re a brand manager for a multi-location business, you’re probably more than familiar with the concerns mentioned above.

Fortunately for you, not every answer involves forking over serious cash to straighten out your multi-location presence on the world wide web. Purchasing a reputation management solution is one way to combat digital, but there are a number of steps that can help you begin to accomplish your goals with the resources that you already have.

Today, we are going to make the life of a brand manager for a large multi-location business (you) much easier. In Vendasta words, a “Big Brand Bob”—because we love personas almost as much as we love alliterations.

Bob’s job is actually pretty damn hard, and sometimes he gets nightmares when people say the word “digital”. But, if Bob uses the following steps to develop an integrated digital strategy, he will sleep much more restfully.

Step 1: Build a Strategic Marketing Plan

This step cannot be an afterthought and must be interwoven with the long term goals of the company. You must also seek to answer some key questions when building out this marketing strategy:

  1. What need does my brand seek to solve?
  2. Who are my current consumers?
  3. How do these consumers make their purchase decisions?
  4. Is localization important to my consumers?
  5. Do I need to centralize my efforts or decentralize my efforts?

Answering these questions will be the foundation of your multi-location digital strategy, and will help you build your plan through the steps that follow.

Step 2: Build a Brand Voice & Style Guide

Voice

The voice of your brand is critical to the engagement that you are able to generate. There is no strategy that will be perfect for every brand, but there are some points that should always be addressed when building or altering your voice.

Listen. In the data-fueled society that we operate in, there is a literal abundance of knowledge waiting to be captured—if you can filter through the noise. The aspects of your brand that drive customer value should hopefully be the same aspects that your brand is trying to promote about itself.

To determine this, look at your customer reviews, listen to management feedback, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your consumers. This can provide huge amounts of insight into what’s working, what needs improvement, and how to best define yourself.

Define. Consult your company goals, vision, and value statements to determine the elements that matter most to your brand. Use these elements to isolate themes that you want to wish to relay through your content, reviews, and all things external facing. Take these themes and write them on every wall in every office of your company—maybe your forehead too just in case.

Okay, please don’t actually do that. But do make these themes very public knowledge for everyone involved in producing content for your brand. Every brand will have their own unique take on this, so make sure the cultural and external fit are both strong.

We have some pretty sweet guiding principles here at Vendasta if you’re doing a revamp and looking for an example:

Engage. Produce compelling content, produce it frequently, and interact with your consumer as much as possible. Personality is key to developing a strong brand look/feel.

Want to know the secret sauce? Be genuine, be yourself, and your consumers will respond.

Want to know the secret sauce? Be genuine, be yourself, and your consumers will respond. #ConquerLocalClick To Tweet

Resonate. What’s the first thing you think of when someone says “Red Bull”? Unless you live under a rock, you’re probably going to tie it to its ability to give consumers wings.

This is a message that has successfully resonated across the masses. You don’t have to aspire to give your customers the gift of flight, but do aspire to be the first name on their tongue when they think of your industry.

Adapt. Technology and marketing are evolving faster than most people can process. As these changes and others occur, don’t be afraid to change and adapt. It’s sad when we see businesses such as Toys”R”Us and even local businesses going the way of extinction in the face of companies such as Amazon.

On a brighter note, consider Wendy’s, a multi location restaurant that operates in a largely saturated market. With a simple revamp to their social media strategy, they were able to stir up a bunch of attention, traffic, and even begin to attract a new demographic of consumer.

As your company grows and alters strategies, your voice may also have to adapt.

The 5 elements even make a great acronym! Here you are: LDERA (the "L" is silent?).

  1. Listen
  2. Define
  3. Engage
  4. Resonate
  5. Adapt

You can thank me later.

Style Guide

Mandatory Components include:

  1. Logo Guide with all variations
  2. Font Guide with recommended/acceptable uses
  3. Color Schemes
  4. Voice Guide created by the attributes above

Regardless of whether your brand is handling the majority of content generation at head office or not, you are still going to want every person who is involved in external content to share the same style guide. This will produce brand consistency in some small, yet foundational areas.

Note: The application of this brand voice and style guide will vary depending on your choice to centralize or decentralize your brand—but the principle will remain the same.

Step 3: Seriously Centralize or Seriously Decentralize

When trying to combat all things reputation—social, listings, reviews, etc—you can either manage all of these elements for your brand’s locations from head office, or you can diffuse the responsibility across each of the locations or franchises that you’re responsible for.

Use the answers to the key questions above to guide your reading

Centralized Solution

A centralized brand management solution is all about consistency. Consistency is optimized by having the same staff responsible for all of the social posting and reviews because there will be no variation in voice or position across any of the locations that you are responsible for. This can be a strong asset when trying to build a strong brand position and reputation alike.

How to implement:

You can implement a centralized solution for your brand by creating content style guides, reputation management guidelines, visual branding guidelines and templates, and then utilizing these guidelines to respond to reviews, produce content, and manage web traffic all from a central location. This solution ensures consistency of voice, image, and style of the main brand.

We will get more into the nitty-gritty of how to do this below.

Decentralized Solution

A decentralized brand management strategy is all about embracing the uniqueness of local. Why? Because people love local, and local is also one of the major factors in SEO when Google is crawling and indexing different businesses. In this light, many franchises or multi-location businesses are disadvantaged by their more corporate attributes.

By dispersing responsibilities such as review responding, social posting and listing claiming to each of your brands locations independently—you can have owners and management at each of these locations generate more personal review responses and social posts that are relevant to their own communities and customers. Leveraging this first touch point can prove to be hugely beneficial depending on the image that your brand is trying to capture

How to implement:

Implementing a decentralized strategy is much easier than a centralized brand management strategy. Give each location the authority to manage their own reputation, create their own unique social posts and strategy, and essentially operate as their own unique business under your brand.

Of course, this doesn't mean letting them run wild with your logo and name—it's important to still keep an eye on how these businesses are operating their marketing strategy so you can step in and assist if things go sideways.

Step 4: Construct Listing, Reputation, & Social Strategies

Before you bother diving into the “How To’s” for these critical marketing elements, it’s important to have an overall brand strategy in place.

Listing Strategy

Listings are kind of like the brussel sprouts of the digital marketing vegetables (hopefully you aren’t a brussel sprout fanatic). You probably don’t want to eat them, but you have to if you want to stay healthy—otherwise my entire childhood was a lie...

Claiming listings can be a difficult process if you are running a single local business, but it gets even more stressful if you are managing a multi-location operation. That’s why it’s super important to have a strategy in place when approaching claiming and managing the listings for your brand.

By following some simple steps, you can easily construct a listing strategy that suits your brand:

1. Set Some Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). Without goals, you have no means to measure your success. Have a number of listings that you want to audit/claim in mind. The key to all great BHAGs is to set them somewhere in between attainable and impossible.

2. Know Your Consumers. Where are they looking to find you? See the full study on the top 100 listing sites here.

3. Initiate a claiming process. Who is going to audit/claim listings? 

  • Centralize. If you want to be responsible for listing claiming at head office, it will require manual searching and claiming across the major directories for each of the locations under your brand. Since this process usually involves a verification at each of the locations, there will be some degree of collaboration with each location.
  • Decentralize. Provide location management with a claiming process and claiming plan, so that they can spearhead the claiming process independently. This can be beneficial being that most verification processes involve direct calls, postcards (a Google favorite), or emails to each location.

Ready to learn the step by step process to make this happen? Continue your reading here  

Reputation Strategy

Reputation is a challenge for local businesses, but can be an even greater challenge for multi-location brands. Most brands want to have a consistent and strong reputation across all of their individual locations. This can be difficult to achieve without a plan in place.

Mastering reputation will take time, but follow these steps to stay on track:

1. Set Some More BHAGs. For reputation, these goals are going to look something like: “Increase monthly review volume by 30% in low volume locations”, or “Improve an overall brand Facebook rating from 4.2 to 4.4 over the next fiscal year”.

2. Find Your Reviews. There are a lot of review sites, so know where to look for your customer reviews. Some of the major review sites can be found here.

3. Nail a Brand-Wide Response Strategy. It’s important to have a review response plan. Find some insight here.

4. Initiate a Reputation Management Process. Who is going to respond to reviews, and monitor the citations/online mentions of your brand?

  • Centralize. Spearhead your review management and response tactics from head office. This can make it easier to maintain consistency across the brand, particularly on the review platforms such as Google My Business that have options in place specifically for brands.
  • Decentralize. By giving each location the ability to respond to reviews written by the customers that they actually touch, you can stir up some truly great and personal consumer interaction by leveraging the local aspects of your brand.

If you feel that this is simply too daunting of a task for head office, and would rather not have each location responsible for their own reputation, check out the Marketing Services team at Vendasta and see how we might be able to partner with your brand!

Social Strategy

In this digital climate, every brand has to maintain a strong digital presence to stay alive and relevant. Depending on whether or not your consumers place a high value on the localization of your brand and product or service, you can attack this marketing element in a couple different ways.

Here are some key steps to constructing a killer digital marketing game-plan:

1. One last round of BHAGs. Some samples could be: “Grow monthly post reach by 5% per month”, or “Improve CTR on ads by 100% by the end of Q3”.

2. Determine where to post. Where do your consumers look for information about your brand? Strategically align your marketing efforts with the channels that matter most.

3. Set social media guidelines. Dos and don'ts, step by step instructions, voice and content guidelines. Have them and use them.

4. Initiate a Social Marketing Strategy. Who is going to post and where?

  • Centralize. In this approach to social media, ideally you have a team of content machines at head office that are generating and posting all of the content for all of your brand locations. Thankfully, many of these social sites function similarly to the review generation aspects of GMB and Facebook—which makes brand posting much less terrifying.
  • Decentralize. This will largely operate similar to review response, where each location is responsible for regular social posting across the critical channels (and potentially others). Although, this will likely be in accordance to certain parameters through a voice and style guide. But, by allowing for some greater freedom, a more genuine local presence can be developed and nurtured.

Website Strategy

In terms of structure and strategy, your website should be a place that exemplifies all of the brand attributes that you have designed through steps 1 and 2. Make your website rich with the same culture and content that you use internally. This creates a more personal relationship between your brand and your consumer, and can help build a better relationship with consumers that prefer to always shop local.

Competing with local businesses can be difficult for multi-location brands, especially with the growth of “near me” and other related searches. According to Google, since 2011, Google searches for “near me” have increased by a rate of 34 times. And, with the exception of online stores, websites are actually trending to get less traffic.

Yet there are still some key strategies for multi-location websites that need to be established in order to rank and improve traffic to your locations.

1. Build location-specific sites or micro-sites under your brand.

2. Each site needs to be rich with your brand voice and content.

3. Each location needs to have its business name, address, and phone number (NAP) information prominently displayed in text on the site, so that Google can easily index each location.

4. Initiate a Website Strategy. Who is going to post the content on each site?

  • Centralize. This will either involve the collection of content from individual locations that staff at head office will then use to build slightly unique sites for each location, or else simply the generalization of all location sites. This is determined by the value your consumers place on localization.
  • Decentralize. If localization is what matters to your consumers, then decentralization will be key. Allow each location to collect and manipulate their location site or micro-site with local content. Naturally this can still be monitored by head office to ensure quality.

Note: If you’re ready to take your brand to the next level, and get into the technical “How To's” for each of these marketing dimensions, or explore possible platform solutions—you’re definitely going to want to read this article:

Recommended Reading: Assessing Your Brand’s Digital Presence: Core Aspects of Multi-Location Reputation Management

Final Thoughts

By following these strategies, your multi-location business can use the resources that it already has to build the foundation of a strong marketing presence.

Vendasta is the industry leader for white-labelled CRM and reputation management software. If you’re interested in learning more about what reputation solutions we might have for your brand, check out our Brand Monitoring software, or submit a demo here so that we can get to know you a little bit better.

See you in the next Tim’s line, Bob!