How to Market Your Restaurant Franchise

Marketing for any restaurant or bar is important, but it can be more complicated for franchises, which must roll-out campaigns across multiple locations and in disparate markets—all while maintaining brand consistency.

And franchise marketing is an important topic because the option is increasing in popularity with entrepreneurs. In 2023 alone, the industry saw massive growth in new franchise location ownership. According to Guidant Financial’s 2023 Franchise Trends, of all franchise owners surveyed, 77% started a new franchise location, while 23% bought an existing one this year. 

laura murphy bolt pr franchise marketing
Laura Murphy

We spoke with Laura Murphy, senior vice president of Bolt PR, a digital marketing, content development, and public relations agency, about what it takes to get franchise marketing right. "With franchise ownership comes the need to create a brand persona to drive customer loyalty and retention," she says. "This business is all about people. You have to be able to adapt, evolve, and ignite areas of the business with customers always being at the forefront of the decision-making process."

Below are her insights on franchise marketing for restaurants and bars.


Bar & Restaurant News: What are your top marketing tips for restaurant franchises?

Laura Murphy (LM): Whether a QSR or FSR, restaurant franchises can truly thrive by honing in on a few key areas to succeed in a customer-driven competitive market.

First, you must focus on building a strong brand identity. What’s your brand story? As a franchisee, you benefit from a compelling storytelling component to help build your brand equity.

To drive further impact in your storytelling, focus on continuously creating a unique customer experience that's memorable and fulfilling, invest in building your social media channels to engage with your target audience, and encourage word-of-mouth marketing. By doing so, you can attract and retain customers in a competitive market and strengthen your brand persona along the way.

Let’s break this down even further. 

Build a Strong Brand Identity

  • Crafting a clear message that resonates with your audience and consistently delivers on your promises through marketing creates trust and loyalty among customers, leading to repeat business and increased revenue. 

Create Unique Customer Experiences

  • Creating a unique and memorable customer experience is a critical piece in building brand loyalty. These experiences can be accomplished through providing exceptional service, ensuring an inviting atmosphere, or even innovative menu offerings. By standing out from the competition, you can leave a lasting impression on your customers.

Leverage Social Media

  • By building a strong online presence and sharing engaging content and photos that elicit emotion, you can attract new customers and keep existing ones coming back for more. This can be a powerful way to reach and engage your target audiences. Consider special promotions or incentives to encourage customers via your social media channels to visit your restaurant and become loyal followers.
franchise social media marketing
(Photo: invincible_bulldog, iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Embrace the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

  • Encouraging your most enthusiastic customers to spread the word about their experience can be a valuable tool in building your brand and attracting new customers. Partnering with local influencers or community organizations can also help expand your reach and provide third-party credibility through trusted referral sources. By focusing on these key areas, your restaurant franchise can succeed and stand out in a competitive market.


What are some of the unique marketing challenges food franchises face? What do you recommend? 

LM: It’s no secret that competition in the QSR industry is fierce. The number of millennial franchise owners grew significantly this year, increasing by 163% or 2.6 times since 2022, according to Guidant Financial’s 2023 Franchise Trends. These staggering numbers mean new franchises are opening every day and it’s imperative to stand out and attract customers. Your PR and marketing strategies must be creative, compelling, and effective to capture the attention of potential customers and also retain a strong, loyal customer base.

In order to strengthen their competitive footing, especially in a new market, restaurants need to evaluate modern efforts and be big and bold. My recommended go-to is leveraging the power of experiential marketing. From building reputation and credibility to improving brand perception, attracting new customers, and retaining customer loyalty, these are just a few “secret sauce” benefits QSRs can leverage to gain a competitive edge. 

In 2009, I had the incredible honor to spearhead the launch of the McCafé brand in Raleigh as an identified test market. We knew we were going up against several other coffee giants in the region and needed to find a way to connect with customers to build their trust in a brand with a reputation originally established around burgers and fries. We launched a McCafé Mini Campaign statewide with a street team armed with BOG (Be Our Guest) cards, a wrapped McCafé Mini Cooper, and product samples to hand out during events in high-traffic areas. 

We also worked with local media outlets to conduct onsite interviews and radio remotes and ensured that our campaign was seen all over social media. As a result of the diligent and consistent effort, customers waited hours in line to taste the limited test supply, secure freebies, and be among the first to experience a brand rollout. This campaign occurred over a decade ago, but the importance of getting the product into customers’ hands by all means necessary has not changed today. In fact, it has become even more impactful for consumers to see, touch, and taste products upfront. 


How can restaurant franchises remain authentic in their marketing - from the first impression through to every encounter?

Authenticity is the heart of successful PR and marketing for restaurant franchises. Consistency in messaging, tone, and visual identity is vital in creating an unforgettable experience for customers. As [McDonald’s Founder/Fast Food Innovator] Ray Kroc once said, “McDonald's is a people business, and that smile on that counter girl's face when she takes your order is a vital part of our image.”

This consistency for an authentic brand image should extend to all PR and marketing channels and efforts, including social media, experiential activations, and blog content writing, to name a few.

In addition, staying true to the core values of the restaurant franchise is the ultimate way to maintain authenticity in marketing, with your employees as the first point of contact. They should exemplify your brand identity, so ensure they are aligned, motivated, and trained with key messaging to provide exceptional customer experience. When it comes from your people, that brand identity remains at the heart of who you are. 


In the hospitality industry, the guest experience is paramount. How can restaurant franchises make marketing decisions with the customer experience at the forefront?

Paramount indeed. It’s exceptionally vital for franchisees to identify and lead marketing strategies based on the feedback and opinions of their customers. One effective way to gather this feedback is by conducting surveys or offering incentives directly to customers who take the time to share their thoughts. You can do this through email marketing, positioning a customer drop box at the counter, or launching a social media campaign.

Also paying attention to reviews on social media and other online platforms can give valuable insights into what customers appreciate most about their dining experience. Armed with this intel, you can tailor your marketing messages to highlight what customers are looking for and value the most, such as a welcoming atmosphere, high-quality food, and friendly service, from counter to completion.

restaurant reviews
(Photo: invincible_bulldog, iStock / Getty Images Plus)

By prioritizing the customer experience, restaurant franchises can build a loyal customer base and attract new visitors who are seeking a memorable dining experience.


How can food franchises ensure their marketing is cohesive across all of their locations?

One effective way QSR and FSR franchises can ensure their marketing is cohesive across all of their locations is by creating a brand style guide that outlines consistent branding elements such as logos, fonts, colors, and messaging. This guide can be distributed to all franchisees to ensure they are using the same marketing materials and following the same guidelines.

To co-exist with this, a social media brand style guide should also be developed if individual franchise locations own and create their own social media content. This can ensure consistent messaging and visuals along with the do’s and don’ts of social commentary and regulations are addressed and communicated to all locations.

Additionally, ongoing communication and training can help franchisees stay up-to-date on marketing strategies and maintain consistency in their promotions. Collaborating with a central marketing team can also help ensure that all locations are following the same plan and messaging.


What type of marketing are you seeing the best results from for franchises?

Personally, I have found that a triage combination of PR, social media, and content marketing tends to yield the best results for franchises. Content remains king when it comes to building brand equity and establishing credibility, but I am a big advocate as well for event activations and experiential pop-ups geared to customers sampling and experiencing products firsthand, especially if it's a new menu or product launch. However, it ultimately depends on the specific industry and target audience.

Influencers can also be effective in certain cases, and we’ve seen tremendous results with several of our clients in the restaurant and QSR industries. But it's important to enlist the support of a PR agency that can create an effective plan to properly vet the right influencers and ensure they align with the brand's values and messaging.

Ultimately, a well-rounded marketing strategy that incorporates various tactics tailored to the specific franchise is the key to success. 


Plan to Attend or Participate in the 2024 Vibe Conference, February 26 – February 28, 2024

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