The food service industry depends on the digital landscape to drive interest to its local restaurants, where franchisees handle most of the marketing. If you’re any bit interested in advertising, the word “digital” is one you’ve heard a lot — and it’s a word you’ll continue to hear. Tactics like geo-targeting and online display make digital advertising attractive to restaurant brands, not to mention that audiences continue to shift away from TV and other traditional media.

Although it’s still young and can potentially lead to less than stellar online experiences if not executed properly, the digital ad space is the most efficient and promising way of capitalizing on potential consumers, especially within local markets. To truly own local, your franchisees should have a digital presence that extends beyond their address and hours of operation. Like all good advertising, your franchisees’ digital marketing should tell a story, one that is reflected through online reviews, images, restaurant description, and more — readily available to the consumers using a search engine.

A restaurant with a strong digital presence will include details beyond just hours of operation and address, such as reviews, photos and a description and, in turn, will appear at the top of Google search results.

Large restaurant chains are already spending a lot on their own digital advertising — and will continue to spend more — but there remains a disconnect in distributing similar, hyperlocal digital programs to their franchisees. That’s not to say franchisees aren’t aware of digital programs. From our own research, many franchisees already use certain digital or social based tactics, e.g. social media and websites, but often don’t do much of their own promotion through these mediums.

Although some local owners may be aware of the basics, here are a few ways you can help franchisees build better digital programs in 2017.

1) Secure accurate online directory listings

Consumer decisions are increasingly shaped by the results of a search engine and the ‘near me’ trend. In 2016, 4 out of 5 consumers looked up your restaurant before deciding to come in and eat your food. Consumers want your product — your delicious food and beverages — right now. If a consumer is hungry now, then he or she is ready to purchase now, and having a digital presence at the local level may be the breaking point between a customer eating at your franchisees’ restaurant or somewhere else. If a potential customer cannot readily find your franchisees’ store location, then you should consider that store virtually non-existent.

Online directories are a no-brainer then, right? Apparently not. The State of Local Marketing Report that surveyed more than 2,100 local franchisees, dealers, agents and distributors found that only 25% of local affiliates and franchisees use online directories, with 50% attempting to manage directories themselves– a difficult task for someone who also manages the operations of running a restaurant. Consequently, less than half of local affiliates have claimed their Google My Business Listing.

Help your franchisees secure accurate online directories listings by using opt-in location data management services, a low monthly cost measure that lists your franchise locations where consumers are looking online. This is the easiest way to ensure your locations show up correctly on Google Search, Yelp, and other online directories, and will be especially important when consumers are searching for food using a “near me” search.

2) Websites need to be mobile responsive

As previously mentioned, many franchisees already have their own websites. But in the world of saturated screen sizes — desktop, tablet, smartphone, and everything in between — simply having a website won’t cut it, particularly when more and more consumers are learning about your food and locations on a mobile device.

Why is this so important? It’s simple: since Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ in 2015, businesses that do not have a mobile-friendly website will not perform well in mobile search.  As more and more consumers rely on their mobile devices as they travel through the costumer journey, a solid mobile user experience is vital for franchisee success. According to the State of Local Marketing Report, 82% found their website as an effective marketing tactic only when it was mobile responsive. When their websites weren’t mobile responsive? Only 4% found them to be effective.

Not surprisingly, national brands see the importance of their franchisees having unique mobile sites. The issue is building these sites at scale while ensuring brand compliance across several restaurant locations. Incentivizing your franchisees to build sites with mobile responsiveness is a great way to expand your restaurants’ presence in the local space. Consider subsidizing such efforts through co-op programs.

3) Don’t underestimate the power of a simple landing page

Your brand’s web and mobile pages should be simple, and the same should apply to your franchisees’ web presence. In fact, you may find that your franchisees only need a single web page instead of a full-fledged website. In many cases, you may wish to supplement your local digital marketing presence with campaign specific landing pages.

Landing pages are effective because they can be built at scale and are still customizable. While landing pages can be controlled at the corporate level for brand voice and identity, customizable templates enable franchisees and store fronts to stand out and build a presence within their local communities. If executed properly, local landing pages can be a funnel for harnessing data important to your overall goals. Where you distribute media through a slew of other digital tactics — like email marketing and online display — as well as some non-digital tactics — like direct mail — local landing pages can sit at the center of your campaign to track which tactics are working best.

By integrating your marketing strategy with a unique landing page, your brand can evaluate a number of conversions — including site visits, store visits, coupons and your overall ROI.

These three digital tactics are a great starting point to build your restaurant’s local presence in 2017. While these tactics are important, and the growth of digital advertising should not be understated, there are plenty of other tactics for your restaurant chain to consider to own local. Hosting and planning local events, for example, has proven to be a cornerstone in the local restaurant industry. Direct mail continues to be a champion for connecting food chains with their existing customers. Brands shouldn’t think of digital marketing in a vacuum. It should be used as tools for franchisees to employ within a more fully developed integrated marketing program.

The digital landscape is vast, but Brandmuscle is here to help! Have any questions? Feel free contact us today to learn more about our digital services.

JJ D’Aurora is a Client Service Account Executive II in Brandmuscle’s Cleveland office.