FoodTruckrs, can you believe it? Today’s lesson marks the end of Unit 5 of “How to Run a Food Truck“—and with just one more unit to go, that means we’re almost finished with the entire series! You guys have been doing an amazing job with everything from delivering excellent customer service to overcoming roadblocks to promoting your truck through Yelp, and we couldn’t be more proud of all you’ve accomplished.
In an effort to keep all that incredible work going, we’ve put together a really special lesson for you today that’s chock full of some of our favorite advanced marketing tips for FoodTruckrs. However, because there’s so much information in here, we’ve decided to break this one up over the course of two weeks.
Any food truck owner can (and should) promote his or her truck on social media and through a professional website, but it takes a truly knowledgeable and dedicated FoodTruckr to effectively handle the tactics we’ll be talking about today and next Wednesday. If you’re ready and motivated to truly take your business to the next level, we hope you’ll try some of these new food truck marketing strategies (and check back next week to get the rest!).
Let’s dig right in!
1. Build and Utilize an Email Marketing List
We’ve written about the importance of building and maintaining an email marketing list before, but we’ve always maintained that your Facebook and Twitter pages should be your top priority. That still holds true for food truck owners in the early stages of their businesses—but for an advanced FoodTruckr like you, who’s looking to take your truck to the next level, it’s essential to begin expanding your online reach. Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to get in touch with new customers and to build lasting relationships with your loyal fans.
Here’s why: when you send someone an email, you’ve gained direct access to their inbox—which means your only competition for the customer’s attention is the other emails they’ve received. Customers are also likely to see your messages right away, as most people tend to monitor email through their mobile devices and smartphones. When you compare that scenario with the situation you’re facing on social media (your messages are quickly buried in a never-ending feed of hundreds of other posts that people may only check in on once or twice per day), it’s easy to see why a well-utilized email list is so important for your business.
Learn more about how to effectively set up and use an email marketing list in this special episode of FoodTruckr School.
2. Begin Texting Coupons to Customers
Looking for another convenient way to contact your customers directly rather than relying exclusively on Facebook and Twitter? Consider affiliating your truck with a local mobile coupon app or setting up your own system to send coupons via SMS messages.
Mobile coupons offer similar benefits to email marketing—you have the opportunity to reach your customer directly without having to compete against hundreds of other messages, and your text goes directly to their phone, where the customer is likely to see it fairly quickly. It is important to note, however, that while most people will be pretty willing to give you their email addresses, fewer customers are likely to opt in to receive text message updates from your truck. If you’re going to take this approach, you need to make it worth their while with a pretty sweet deal.
If you’re thinking of setting up a mobile coupon system or are interested in partnering with a local app in your area that does the work for you, check out sites like Yowza, Street Savings, CellitSpark, FrontFlip, and Momares.
3. Work on Your Local Search Engine Optimization (Local SEO)
Email and mobile marketing are great ways to stay in touch with existing fans who have consented to receive communications from you—but how can you reach brand new online audiences who aren’t familiar with your truck in the first place? If they’ve never heard of your truck, they won’t be visiting your website or social media pages, and they’ll never have the opportunity to opt in to your email or mobile marketing messages.
In this instance, the answer is to target people who are looking for something like your truck and who will likely be interested in what you have to offer—and fortunately, there’s a clear way to do so. The process is called local search engine optimization (or local SEO), and it’s an incredibly effective way to get more eyes on your food truck’s website and social media pages.
SEO is a complicated topic, so we’ll keep this description brief (and give you a link to Wikipedia) in case you’d like to learn more!). In general, search engine optimization refers to a set of strategies that website owners can use to make their websites appear higher up in Google (and other search engine) results when people search for particular phrases. Local SEO is the same process, simply targeted toward keywords that include a specific location.
Here’s how local SEO can work for food truck owners: Kevin is interested in finding a new food truck to visit with his girlfriend for lunch this weekend, but he wants to check out their menus online first instead of simply trying out whichever truck they happen upon downtown. He heads to Google and types in “food trucks in Denver” and is instantly greeted with pages and pages of search results for local mobile eateries.
Kevin begins by clicking on the first five results—and as he browses their websites, he decides he wants to try three of the trucks. That’s more information than he needed, and enough new lunch spots to last for several weekends! The results of this search are great for Kevin and his girlfriend, but not so great for any of the FoodTruckrs who ranked at #6 or below. Most search engine users will not click beyond the first page of results, which is why it’s so incredibly important to make sure your site ranks well for key search terms related to your truck and food trucks in your area.
We’ll write more about how to improve your local SEO results in the future, but for now, we recommend checking out this beginner’s guide from Shopify to help you get started.
4. Set Up Paid Advertising Campaigns
Another great way to reach people who may be interested in your truck but who haven’t heard of you just yet is through paid advertising campaigns on social media. Running ads on Facebook and Twitter is a very effective way to drive more views to your pages and to familiarize brand new customers with your truck. Best of all, you get a lot of control over when and how frequently your ads run, as well as what types of customers are able to see them. You can also spend as much or as little as you want on an ad campaign, which gives you the option to start out with a small investment and see how well it works before forking over a lot of cash.
For food truck owners, we definitely recommend running the majority of your ads during lunch time (and an hour or two before) in your city. There are tons of different strategies you can use to figure out what types of customers you should target, so we suggest trying out a few different user groups and seeing which audiences net the best results. For instance, you may want to target people who are following other food trucks in your area, or stick to people who work for businesses with locations near your regular parking spot. Testing is super important when you’re running paid advertising, so you should also play around with different ads (including new language and various images) to see which combinations seem to appeal to customers the most.
5. Hold a Contest
Our next advanced marketing tip is one that seems pretty simple on the surface. But once you dig into all the logistics involved and the possibilities afforded, things get a little more complex. We’re talking about running contests—and whether you choose to run one on social media, in person at your truck, within the members of your email marketing list or your loyalty program, or through a traditional raffle, there’s a lot of information you’ll need to consider.
Here are a few key questions to keep in mind:
- What are you going to give away?
- How much value can you afford to give away, and what type of business do you expect to enjoy in return?
- Who is the contest open to?
- What will people have to do to receive an entry?
- How will you discourage people from entering more than once?
- How will you notify the winner and send him or her the prize?
- Will there be additional prizes for runners-up?
- After the contest has ended, do you want to use the winner’s image/entry in any fashion to promote your truck?
- How will you communicate the rules of the contest to potential entrants?
As you can see, the idea of running a contest sounds simple in theory, but there’s actually a lot of work involved in getting it set up, which is why we’ve classified this one as an advanced strategy. Fortunately, all the work you’ll put into this one should be well worth it in the end—people love giveaways, and they’ll be eager to check out your page, visit your truck, and share the information with their friends and family if they’ll get the chance to win something in return. Contests are a fun way to promote engagement with your business and to attract new fans, and they’ll also show your current followers how much you appreciate their support.
Remember—before you can do any giveaway of any kind, you should check with your lawyer to find out what kind of legal considerations you need to make and if there are any particular requirements mandated by your city. If you’ll be running your contest on a platform like Facebook or Twitter, you’ll also need to research their rules and restrictions before getting started.
6. Run Your Own Event or Promotion
One of the reasons that contests work so well to build buzz around your truck is because they’re a special event that’s only happening for a limited amount of time, which gives people a sense of urgency to check out what’s going on and begin participating immediately. You can also harness the benefits of this principle by running other promotions or setting up your own special event—and we’ve got plenty of ideas to help you get started.
Here are a few of our favorite ways food truck owners can make what would otherwise be a normal Saturday into the Super Awesome Special Event of the Season That Everyone Will Be Talking About:
- Bring entertainment to your truck: Hire a face painter, magician, or street performer to hang out outside your truck and entertain customers while they’re waiting in line.
- Get the party started: Play music from your truck’s speakers or have a performer play outside to draw attention and create a high-energy atmosphere around your business—or play music as you’re driving around town, a la the ice cream man (just be sure to pick songs that are less monotonous and boring!).
- Run a major sale: Sales and special offers will always be one of the best ways to bring more customers to your truck. Consider running a “buy one, get one” promo or a special sale where customers can upgrade their meals for just a few extra cents.
- Give out samples: Hoping to encourage more people walking by to stop and see what’s on the menu? Give out free samples of some of your most poplar dishes! Everyone loves free food, and cooking up just a few extra meals and dicing them up into sample-sized bites is a cheap and simple way to get people interested enough to stop and see what you’ve got—and then hopefully hooked on your delicious food.
Keep Working Toward Bigger and Better Things
One of the things we love most about this industry is how creative food truck owners are and how much opportunity the market gives them to try out new things and forge their own paths. And so while many of these advanced marketing tips are tried and true tactics that have proven to be incredibly successful for business owners in other fields, we know that FoodTruckrs like you will enjoy the chance to put your own unique spins on them and to see which options work most effectively for your businesses.
Stay tuned for next week’s lesson, where we’ll present more advanced marketing tactics that are designed to take your truck to the next level! In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your experiences with the strategies presented in today’s lesson. Have you ever invested in paid advertising? Do you have a killer mobile marketing tactic that’s increased your business over the last year? Tell us all about the advertising opportunities that are working best for you in the comments below or on our Facebook page!
image by Karen