The appeal of food trucks to the average customer is that they are cheap, fast and fun. In most cases, food trucks build into the equation relatively low prices and fast service before the first meal is served. This isn’t the difficult part (or shouldn’t be). The fun factor is what sets some food truck marketing apart from others and puts some of these roaming kitchens in the papers.
It’s not as impossible as it seems. Food trucks enjoy much more leeway with their marketing than the average brick-and-mortar restaurant. In regards to marketing, it’s like food trucks are playing a pickup game of basketball versus the refereed tournament game that restaurants are restricted too. So because of their informal nature, a creative concept and a cool brand is almost as fundamental as quality food. But those qualities (concept and brand) are pointless if a food truck has a passive marketing strategy. Content and communication need to work together. Sure, word may get around, but limiting your restaurant’s potential by not taking advantage of marketing opportunities is no way to make the 10 hour days of running a food truck worthwhile.
Any urbanite who isn’t living under a rock sees that the food truck business is undergoing a massive growth and transformation. In many cities, food trucks have moved beyond hot dogs, with all kinds of cuisine. Some even produce gourmet food. The competition is growing rapidly with now 3 million food trucks. That number doesn’t account for food carts. So marketing ideas are a valuable commodity, and a food truck needs to stay up on the best marketing practises. To get you thinking about it, I intend to give a few promotional/conceptual ideas and examples of how they might work.
Corner the Market
A food truck should work to set up arrangements that place them at an advantage. Working with the authorities (who tend to be suspicious of food trucks if you don’t reach out to them) and big vendors can set off a chain reaction that leads to very healthy. Here’s an example.
Pera, a Gourmet Marketing client with a food truck (besides a fixed restaurant), got a brilliant idea. Since their food truck stays at one spot in Central Park, Pera was able to obtain a liquor license from the New York State Liquor Authority. It was a first for a food truck in New York City. All they had to do is designate an area for drinking. To my knowledge, there is no inexpensive or legal way to buy a beer in Central Park. Once word gets around, I imagine many tired rugby, soccer and frisbee players will complete their afternoon with a beer amongst friends from Pera’s truck. Inevitably, other stationary food trucks will copy this strategy. Luckily, Pera’s food truck has another unique offering, Turkish tacos, that makes it not any old food truck (along with the alcohol).
Fusion and Menu to Remember
Pera’s Turkish Tacos (which is a Pera invention) highlights the value of a memorable (and somewhat simple) menu. Food trucks thrive by being playful and experimental in the kitchen, and people who eat from food trucks are more open to foods outside the norm is highly prized. Instead of trying to invent a new food, reinvent something popular (new, surprising flavors). On the simple front, focusing on flavors (on a few dishes) over a lot of different dishes produces better results along with causing less overhead.
Along the same lines, a signature dish is pretty helpful for a food truck’s brand. Originality drives people to track food trucks and become a follower of the food truck. It has to be the place that invented “sushi salads” (which is rather absurd).
Successful food trucks build off of their connections with customers through their websites, social media and mobile apps. Customers find out where the truck is, but when you think about it, to sustain long-term interest, that is not enough. Promotions and the fun elements should not stay the same too long. Of course, it is hard coming up with new ideas all the time, so a seasonal rotation of promotions may do the trick.
Promotions should involve social media and encourage customers to familiarize themselves with your online presence. If it’s a contest, pictures and updates should appear online. Another basic move is coupling a discount (food trucks tend to be more aggressive with offering a freebie) with checking-in on Foursquare or clicking the LIKE button on Facebook are a good start. Those don’t require
Food trucks have greater freedom and can engage in guerrilla marketing, a cheap and imaginative approach to promotions and public relations. Part of guerrilla marketing is doing unusual to attract attention to their truck. A non-restaurant example is a small water bottle manufacturer who ran next to bicyclists at the Tour de France in a water bottle costume. The media took notice. But creating curiosity goes only so far as these stunts should match your brand and not disappoint customers.
The stunt, whatever it is, should last for several days so that there is time for word to get around whether through word of mouth or media. Additionally, it’s even better if this stunt is coupled with a promotion. Give customers some value.
Tried and True Marketing
The basics cannot be ignored as they get the most bang for the buck. A staff member giving out samples to passer-bys breaks the ice. It may also help the customer get over the hesitancy that they may feel to your food truck or food trucks in general. Sending out staff to pass out coupons, especially right before meal times, can push people to check out your food truck. If people are gathered for festivals or you can gain access to farmers markets, these also can build exposure.
Don’t be afraid to colorfully decorate your food truck. A plain white truck is not likely to create much attention. Also, position your truck so you are in line of sight of pedestrians. But I imagine most food trucks are doing these things in some form or another.
Remember a food truck needs to be marketed with the same effort as a restaurant. It isn’t the same however. There is more creativity, interactivity and flash. Unless you do these kind of things, you probably won’t find customers, nor will they look for you.