How to Run a Food Truck 07: Run Promotions to Inspire Fan Loyalty

In last week’s special customer service lesson, we learned how the FoodTruckr LEARN method helps you handle customer disputes. However, while it’s important to have protocols in place for those times when fans get a little grumpy, there are also plenty of things you can do to prevent customers from becoming dissatisfied and to instead turn every passing person into a loyal, impassioned fan.

Our favorite strategy for getting more customers to recognize how awesome your truck is? Promotions! That’s right—a few special sales and events can totally transform the way that people view your food truck and can also bring in new people who would have otherwise never stopped by your window. Read on to learn more about our four favorite promotional ideas for FoodTruckrs who want to make a lasting mark on their cities. Use one (or more!) of these ideas to attract new customers to your truck and to turn casual visitors into loyal, raving fans.

1. Regular Promotions

First up on our list is regular promotions—the types of sales that come by every week or every month so that your biggest fans can plan their weeks around your truck’s schedule. We’re talking Taco Tuesdays where fans get two dollars off their plates, Sunday Fundays where select menu items are half price, and daily Happy Hours with discounted sides and dollar-off specials.

Do It the Right Way: The key to this type of promotion is consistency. You can create any type of special offer that you like and run it on any day you want, but you need to stick to it so that fans know what and when to expect their discounts. These sales don’t have to be big or outrageous (and in fact, it’s usually best if they’re not since you don’t know what kind of demand you’ll encounter down the road), but they do need to happen on a regular schedule.

Be Sure to Avoid: As we mentioned above, it’s best to keep regular promotions to a minimum or moderate discount, especially while you’re still starting out. Because the most important part of these types of offers is consistency, you don’t want to get yourself into a situation in which you have to discontinue the promotion because you’re losing too much due to high demand. Keep regular promotional discounts to a manageable amount. Though that amount will definitely vary from truck to truck, a good guideline to use is to make sure you’re still erring on the side of the profit. Save the loss leaders for one-off sales and special events.

Make It a Hit: Promote your regular promotions early and often! If you’re running a regular Taco Tuesday sale, for example, be sure to have something about the offer printed on your menu and listed on your food truck’s website and social media pages. Send out Facebook posts and tweets on Monday afternoons and on Tuesday mornings reminding fans that a discount on their favorite menu items is coming up. Advertise the offer on your printed materials (like cups and to-go sacks) and tell people who visit your truck on non-sale days that they can get a discount if they come back again the following week. People love to know about promotions like these ahead of time so that they can plan time to make it to your truck on the right day, so don’t be afraid to shout this one out loud and proud.

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2. Social Media Sales

One of our favorite things about regular promotions is that they’re open to all of your fans that happen to be in the right place at the right time. However, some sales are worthy of a bit of exclusivity—and your biggest fans are the ones who deserve to enjoy them. Share better offers like “Buy One, Get One Free” meals and free desserts with fans that have taken the time to follow your pages on Facebook or Twitter.

Do It the Right Way: Our favorite social media sales pop up spontaneously and are easy for fans to use. Instead of making fans print off coupons or sign up for email updates to receive a discount (although this is a valid and smart strategy to employ, too!), you can promote occasional sales exclusively to your social media fans. Try posting updates like “Mention this tweet to receive a ‘buy one, get one free’ lunch today at our downtown stop!” or “Tell us you saw this post on Facebook to upgrade any small meal to a combo size all this week!”

Be Sure to Avoid: Since the goal of this type of promotion is to reward people who are following your truck on Facebook and Twitter, it’s best to run these deals on a random schedule. We recommend offering these discounts anywhere from one to three times per month—this frequency gives fans a reason to visit your page regularly, but is also inconsistent enough that they’ll need to continue following along to find out when the next offer is coming up.

Make It a Hit: In addition to promoting the sale on the day the discount is eligible, you can also tease these offers in advance! Post something like: “We’ve got a special surprise coming up later this week for all our favorite Facebook and Twitter fans—keep your eyes peeled!” Keep these promotions informal and remember to thank your fans when you post the offer. It’s important to make it clear that you’re running the discount specifically to show your social media fans how much you appreciate them following along.

3. Holiday and Calendar Discounts

We love regular promotions and special social media pop-up sales, but it’s also a lot of fun to see food trucks getting in the spirit of the season with holiday and calendar discounts. From Halloween goodies to “start-of-the-summer” specials, there are plenty of good reasons to give fans an excuse to celebrate with your truck.

Do It the Right Way: Though your food truck certainly doesn’t face the same consumer pressure to run holiday and calendar sales that typical retail stores do, you can give fans a fun, unexpected surprise by joining in the game. People who are out doing their holiday shopping during the winter or who are getting ready for big fireworks on the Fourth of July will be excited to see their favorite food truck getting in the festive mood with a special discount. Best of all, if this method proves successful for your truck, there’s no shortage of opportunities to show a little holiday spirit—from the major players like Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day to the little-recognized holidays like Arbor Day and President’s Day, you and your fans can have fun with special deals all year long.

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Be Sure to Avoid: Exercise sensitivity around religious holidays—keep in mind that not all of your fans may share your beliefs or cultural practices. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t offer seasonal Christmas discounts or close up shop so that you and your team members can celebrate Hanukkah, but it is important to keep in mind what types of messages you’re sending to your fans and to be conscious of remaining welcoming and inclusive. Additionally, be sure to avoid promotional ploys on days that mark somber occasions (for an example of a brand that failed to do this, check out this story on AT&T’s 2013 September 11th post). No one wants to get a dollar off a sandwich in honor of the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Make It a Hit: Holiday sales and calendar discounts are even more fun when you have themed menu items to round out the celebration. Instead of simply offering a flat discount on your typical lunches, come up with a creative concoction that uses seasonal ingredients, holiday-themed colors, or is packaged or plated in a thematically relevant way. And of course, don’t forget to post pictures of your celebratory goodies when you announce the sale online!

4. Loyalty Programs

Are you ready to meet the true MVP of all food truck promotions? We’ve saved the best for last with this one! We’re talking about loyalty programs.

Loyalty programs are awesome for about a thousand reasons, and we’ll definitely be writing more about how to implement them and why they matter so much in the future. For now though, we’ll just give you five important reasons you should implement a loyalty program on your truck today:

  1. They show fans how much you appreciate them.
  2. They encourage repeat business.
  3. They allow you to collect valuable data on consumer behavior.
  4. They incentivize customers to spend more.
  5. They help you stand out from the competition.

That’s a lot of powerful punch packed into one simple promotional opportunity! Read on to learn how they work.

Do It the Right Way: Loyalty programs can take any number of forms, and food trucks, restaurants, and retailers around the country have found all sorts of ways to reward customers for shopping with them regularly. We prefer programs that entitle loyal customers to consistent, predictable discounts (such as monthly coupons to use on a day of their choosing or birthday and anniversary freebies) as well as programs that give more to customers who spend more (such as programs where customers earn points on each purchase and then get bonuses when their account reaches a particular threshold). Make sure your loyalty program is easy to use, comes at no extra cost to the customer, and offers true rewards in exchange for their continued business.

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Be Sure to Avoid: When you set up a loyalty program, watch out for logistical problems that could prevent your customers from earning their rightful discounts. For example, a customer who forgets his or her loyalty card won’t be able to get a punch or have the barcode scanned in order to show that he or she was there. Look for apps that let you look up the customer’s information (by a phone number or email address) so that customers don’t have to carry their cards, or allow customers to bring in their receipts at a later date to receive loyalty credit for their purchases. Don’t be that truck that makes itself look really cool by offering a loyalty program but then makes it so restrictive and hard to use that no one ever actually gets any rewards.

Make It a Hit: To really take your loyalty program to the next level, offer as many discounts and rewards as you can. In addition to birthday freebies, monthly discounts, and bonuses for customers who have purchased a particular number of meals, offer additional promotions that are only open to loyalty program members. Run a special sale on your signature dish for loyalty members or offer bonus points during your food truck’s anniversary month. You can also offer extras to customers who refer other members and to people who meet a minimum purchase threshold in their first month of membership. Have fun with your loyalty program and make it as beneficial as possible so that signing up will truly be a no-brainer for your customers.

Go the Extra Mile for Your Fans

Weekly sales and special holiday offers help you attract new customers who will be eager to try out your menu at a discounted price, while loyalty programs and social media sales show your true fans how much you appreciate them and encourage them to keep returning. Whether you choose to run one of these promotions or all of them, you’ll almost certainly see an increase in foot traffic and sales and enjoy the benefits of a growing fan base.

Of course, rewarding your true fans with special discounts is just one way to show your customers how much you love and appreciate them. There are also tons of other things you can do to develop your relationships with customers and to show people that your food truck is more than just a tasty place to get lunch. Stay tuned for next week’s lesson—we’ll be diving even further into this topic and showing you how to care for your fans as we wrap up the customer service unit of “How to Run a Food Truck.”

In the meantime, we want to know all about the best promotions you’ve seen at other food trucks and your favorite offers to pump up your fans! Tell us what sales and special discounts have worked best for your food truck in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

image by Nick Webb

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FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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