If you’ve been reading since our 2016 State of Local Marketing Report was released, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been expanding on the findings of our research to touch on specific topics like event marketing, traditional media and social media.
One of the best features of our survey is that we ask open-ended questions so we can hear the voice of local dealers, agents and franchisees. This insight on local dealer marketing provides raw, qualitative feedback from the field, detailing what their pain points actually are and what they want form their corporate brand – it's comprehensive feedback that provides the context beyond simply looking at hard numbers and statistics.
The feedback we captured with our open-end questions was eye opening – especially when dealers, agents and franchisees were asked to express their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with how brand marketers structure and operate local marketing programs.
While the sentiment from local affiliates was mostly positive, we found ample constructive criticism, especially from local affiliates who had never been asked for feedback in the past. Inherently, this told us one thing: local affiliates want better ways to communicate with brand marketers.
Solutions differs by client and type of distributed network, but to get you started, here are three communication approaches that can work together to foster a more united local marketing network.
1. Use a regional structure or advisory council to collaborate
Divide large networks into regional or tiered groupings to communicate with specific sectors. Build consensus using regional directors, field marketing managers or advisory councils to facilitate communication. It’s important that these do NOT turn into dealer vent sessions. Maintain a two-way conversation to get the most out of each meeting.What do the most successful advisory councils look like? They’re segmented. While it might make sense to have the councils divided by location, you’ll get more out of the meetings if you mix up personnel:
- Say the council is made up of 10 affiliates. Gather five of your largest dealers and five of your smallest from across your network. That way, you as the brand will get more of an understanding of the issues and concerns occurring across the board.
- Make sure you’re not just making the council consist of the top performing dealers, either. Marketing issues and concerns vary across dealer size, experience, location and revenue.
- Getting a diverse group together will allow you to see a comprehensive look at dealer marketing efforts, concerns and suggestions.
One of the most important parts of advisory councils is the follow-up. Dealers will get frustrated if they take time to sit on a council and hear nothing after. In addition, create a communication system to let your entire dealer base know what happened at the advisory council and what your next steps are. Remember: don’t make promises to dealers that you can’t keep. Stay optimistic, transparent and realistic with your dealers when following up.
2. Open feedback channels to facilitate direct communication
Sometimes dealers need a more immediate outlet to address issues and concerns. Something as simple as an “AffiliateHelp@NationalBrand.com” email address or 1-800 number can give your local affiliates a communication channel to share an idea, report a marketing issue or provide insight that might otherwise not be brought to the attention of a corporate brand marketer. Just make sure there’s only one phone number and not multiple that may confuse the dealers.
Also, be sure that whoever is on the receiving end of the phone call or email is trained well and knows the business. Affiliates who call or email are looking for an immediate and educated response. Make the most of your direct feedback channels by training the employee who is responding to affiliate questions and concerns by ensuring they know your businesses’ missions, values and voice. Similar to our points above, share the feedback gathered with other local affiliates along with your action plans when appropriate.
3. Communicate regularly with local affiliates using various channels
Using a mix of communication channels will help keep local affiliates and brand marketers coordinated:
Regular email updates: Email is one of the best ways to stay in contact with local affiliates. However, as we know, too many emails are easy to ignore and can easily find their way to the deleted folder. Work to streamline your email communication down to weekly or monthly updates delivered from one common email address. Remember, if you have one strategic email with five updates in it, you’ll get a lot more traction than if you had five emails with one update per email. Measure your email performance to figure out what works best for your affiliates (i.e., day of the week, time, topics, etc.) and go from there.
Formal feedback surveys: Surveys are an easy, powerful way to hear what your affiliates have to say. It’s a way for brand marketers to actually listen to what the local affiliates want or need. For surveys to be successful, however, you need to make them worth the affiliates’ time. That starts with providing survey incentives, but goes much deeper. If local affiliates take the time to give you feedback, you need to take the time to follow-up on the feedback (are you sensing a trend yet?). Otherwise, the next time the survey comes around affiliates will blow it off or not take it as serious.
In-person meetings: Never forget the power of face-to-face communication. Getting in front of your dealers will strengthen relationships and build rapport. Dealer conferences, retreats or gatherings put a face on your national brand. One way to do this is through roadshows. Pick a city and invite nearby dealers to come out and chat. This not only builds the relationship you want, but allows you to hear the concerns of your affiliates. Bring along educational pieces and use it as an opportunity to train affiliates on upcoming marketing initiatives, sales efforts or new offerings. You may need to incentivize your dealers to get them there, so think of ways to make the roadshow interactive and fun, or even offer to fund part of their trip. If a roadshow isn’t in the budget, set up a day or two to go out and just meet one-on-one with some of your dealers agents or franchisees.
Effective communication between your national brand and its local affiliates is necessary to maximize a strong, lasting relationship. It's the glue that holds a successful business network together. The national brand needs to be honest, consistent and transparent when communicating with affiliates. Stay committed to your local affiliates and leverage different communication outlets to ensure solid, two-way communication that will provide results for your brand and your affiliates.
What other ways have worked for you when communicating with your affiliates? Or what hasn’t worked in the past? Let us know in the comments below!