Storytelling: Tell Me Your ‘Why’ And I’ll Buy

International man of mystery. World traveler. Secret agent. Food truck owner.

When you tell me you own a food truck, that’s how I—your customer—see you. I’m trapped in cubicle-land, where the air is always a little too cold and the coffee a little too weak. I answer the same boring emails day after day. When I take an extra trip to the break room at 10:00 a.m. sharp for another cup of weak coffee, it’s to stare out the window at your truck on the street below. I see you, outside in the sunshine, surrounded by delicious food, with the ability to go wherever you want.

To me, your truck looks like freedom. I’m left to wonder: What do you do with that freedom? Where do you go? Where have you been? Who do you meet? What secrets have you discovered?

Of course, you know better. To you, the food truck life is a daily battle with the weather, a delicate balance to keep your truck stocked without overbuying, and a fight to secure your rightful spot on the street. You know your life is anything but glamorous. But still, it’s interesting to me.

And that’s the magic hold you have over me: your story.

You have a story to tell me, your customer. Your daily life is vastly more interesting than my monotonous job, which means that I’m eager for a good tale full of adventure, both the ups and the downs. So, the better you get at telling your story, the more connected I’ll feel to you.

And the more connected I feel to you, the more I’ll buy from you.

Simon Sinek explains why the power of storytelling forges indestructible bonds between customer and brand in his famous TED Talk from 2010. As Simon said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Tell me your why, and I’ll buy.

Story Sells (And You Like Sales, Right?)

Sean Blanda from the fantastic blog 99U points us to advertising research proving that storytelling ads outperform ads that rely on explaining facts and features. To see this idea in action, think of any Apple commercial. Apple doesn’t tell us about their video calling features. Instead, they show us a grandfather and granddaughter singing with each other during a video call—making our hearts melt and our wallets open.

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It’s important to know that story sells, but it’s just as important to know that imperfect stories also sell. When you admit your own faults or flaws in a story, the audience is more likely to empathize with you and remember your message. Why? Because they self-identify with your imperfections; we’re all human after all.

Chances are you’re not creating traditional print, radio, or television ads, but the lesson still applies. Every interaction with a customer like me is effectively an advertisement for your business, including:

  • Your website and social media profiles
  • The design on the side of your truck
  • The way you smile as you take my order
  • The disposable container I take back to my busy office break room

You have an opportunity to share your story in each of these moments. Your mission, oh international chef of mystery, is to share with me the story of why you run your food truck. Why are you parked on the street in the sunshine—selling me the greatest fish tacos I’ve ever eaten—instead of working in the cubicle next to me?

Let’s look at a few ways you can start connecting at a deeper level with customers.

Level of Mastery: Prep Chef

Share your story on your website and through social media.

If you have a website, you must share your story on it (and bonus points if I don’t have to dig to find it). Keep it short—I came to buy tacos, not to read a novel—but make it personal. Answer the following questions:

  • Who are you, my food truck owner? Tell me your name(s)! You want me to think of you as your friend, and I know my friends’ names.
  • Why did you decide to open your truck? Did you get laid off from a day job? Were you unable to find good fish tacos in your city?
  • What makes you excited about opening your truck every day? Is it talking to your customers? Is it the thrill of owning your own business?
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Here are two trucks that tell great stories on their websites:

You can also extend this storytelling to your social media profiles:

  • On your Facebook page, use the same information from your website to fill out the About section of your page.
  • On your Twitter profile, encapsulate the story of your truck into a single sentence, such as, “We live to bring you the perfect fish taco.”

Here are two trucks that excel at storytelling on social media:

  • On Facebook, Fist of Fusion tells you the why—“This is about fun times with family and friends”—as well as the what—Hawaiian-Filipino food.
  • On Twitter, Oh My Gogi! uses their profile to explain their unusual name and to tell us what they serve.

Level of Mastery: Sous Chef

Use your social media updates to tell the story.

As I, your frequent customer, languish at my desk, I’m going to sneak looks at Twitter and Facebook throughout the day. While I appreciate the updates that tell me where I can find you, what I really want are juicy little insights into your life.

Kate from @ButtercreamPHL is a Twitter master, sharing relevant information about where she is and what cupcakes are available while simultaneously blending in humor to give her 11,000+ followers a glimpse into her daily life.

Each tweet is insignificant on its own—but together, they form a larger narrative of who Kate is and what her business is about. It’s the reason why her truck is the first stop I make every time I return to Philadelphia.

Here are a few more ideas for capturing life inside your truck:

  • Make frequent use of pictures and Vine or Instagram videos.
  • Talk about the food in fun ways—tell us about any cool concoctions that you or your customers dreamed up, where your food came from, or how fresh today’s ingredients are.
  • Talk about the truck, the struggles of finding a place to park, and those “business expenses” called parking tickets.
  • Tell us what music you listen to as you prep.
  • Talk about the environment around you.
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Level of Mastery: Executive Chef

Become an ambassador for your city.

This final level extends your story beyond your truck to include the city that you call home. You have an opportunity in each of your interactions to represent your city. By extending yourself as an ambassador, you become synonymous with your city. You become the “must have” experience for local events and in travel guides.

Here are a few ways to become a beacon for your city:

  • Embrace visitors: If a couple customers say they are visiting from another city, ask to take and share a picture with them next to your truck. Keep a Facebook album with the goal of getting people from as many countries as you can.
  • Embrace your regulars: Take and share pictures of your regular customers and tell us why you love them, such as, “Our daily chat with Kathy is the highlight of our morning.”
  • Share your values: If you are working at a charity event, use a Facebook post to tell us why that charity is important to you.
  • Add a page to your website to share the above content, such as a photo gallery or a list of the top reasons that you love your city.

All of us at FoodTruckr adore businesses that go the extra mile to make a real relationship with us—their customers. That’s the spirit of caring that keeps us coming back for more, often with friends.

I hope you appreciate that every interaction, whether it takes place in person or online, is an opportunity for you to share what makes you and your truck unique. I’m sure you also have many ways of telling your story that I haven’t included here. Share them in the comments and let us know how you’ve connected with your customers.

image by miggslives


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About the Author

Mindy Holahan is a staff writer and the #FoodTruckFan columnist. Indeed, she’s a big ole fan of food trucks, particularly if they sell fish tacos. She has a background in the hospitality industry, loves working with writers, and gets positively giddy about the intersection between cooking and science. Follow her on Twitter @HolaMindy for daily bouts of enthusiasm or on Instagram @HolaMindy for her adventures and epic failures in gluten-free baking.

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  • Chris Adams October 1, 2013, 3:41 pm

    Great post! I think most food trucks don’t fully appreciate the value of sharing their “why.” It’s easy to miss, however, with all the other demands of running a food truck business. Yet it is so very critical.

    Not only is your “why” important for food trucks to forge authentic, lasting, human, connections with customers, but a food truck’s “why” also provides a brand positioning benefit.

    A unique “why” sets each food truck apart from its competition. Every truck owner has a unique why, which is distinctly his/hers. As more trucks hit the streets and competition heats up, every point of difference matters.

    • foodtruckr October 1, 2013, 5:26 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Chris. You’re right — sharing the “why” is something that a lot of food trucks miss, and it’s a point we’ll make again and again on FoodTruckr. Building connections with your audience is essential to any business, but it’s especially important for food truck owners who need loyal FANS rather than one-time customers.

  • Mon poêle à pellet.com April 17, 2014, 2:11 am

    Hello,
    I’m from France and i’m totally agree with what you wrotte.
    People don’t come to you just for the food, but also for who you are, your storie. The more important they come to you because you recognize them and they know you.
    You and your custommer are “apprivoisé” like in the novel of St Exupéry.

    • foodtruckr April 17, 2014, 1:18 pm

      So true! Recognition is key, and building relationships is essential to running a successful food truck. People are excited to support brands (and people) that they want to see do well.