10 Secrets to Successful Food Truck Marketing

Whet the appetite of potential new customers and leave existing ones hungry for more with these tips.
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Marketing your food truck is imperative for building a bigger customer base. (Photo: CityofStPete/Flickr)

“If you build it, they will come.” That dictum applied to a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield in “Field of Dreams.” But to get people to your food truck, you’ll need to do more than build it. Marketing is the key ingredient in food truck success.

Food truck owners and marketers offered this advice.

Tell a good story

Food trucks need to have a hip, compelling, well-told story. Who are you? How did you start? What is your niche? What sets your truck apart? All of these are components of the story you want to tell on social media, in print materials, even in your truck’s design.

“Showcase what is your point of difference, and point it out in a fun, irreverent way,” said Randy Lopez, a marketing and brand consultant with Synergy Restaurant Consultants. “For food trucks, there needs to be humor to it. It’s not a corporate messaging. It has to be original and have a little bit of wink to it.”

food-truck-twitter

It is crucial for food trucks to have active Twitter accounts informing customers where your truck is and what is on the menu that day. (Photo: Lisa @ Sierra Tierra/Flickr)

Tweet often and effectively

“You really have to remain active on Twitter. If you’re not willing to remain active, people fall off, and building that brand and cult following will be less likely to happen,” said Marilou Shea, director of Pasco Specialty Kitchen, a food startup incubator in Pasco, Washington. Shea is also an advisory board member for Washington State Food Truck Association and creator of Mobile Vending University.

“For example, if you have a set location, you’re waking up everybody in the morning saying what the specials are for the day; for those who have a punch card, the discount for our Carne Asada platter will be XYZ. At the lunch hour, 10:30 or 11:00, you’re pinging them again saying ‘We’re down at the Grove, we’re looking forward to seeing you again.’ Then you’re closing the day with piquing their curiosity for what’s going to happen the next day.”

“Make sure the hashtag you choose is very specific and relevant to what’s happening that day in your business,” said Shea. A burger truck that does a great guacamole burger might tweet “#greatguacamole at the Grove today,” said noted.

Target influencers

Target food bloggers, columnists, social media personalities and anyone else who can fall in love with your truck and encourage others to do the same.

“Invite food critics or influencers in the community to try it. Focus on building the credibility through the right people,” said Lopez.

Samantha Aulick, co-owner of S’more Mobile, the food truck division of 240sweet Gourmet Marshmallows, had this advice: “Take food to the band and emcees. When we work a concert or event with bands, we take samples of our dishes to the band or bands shortly before they go on with a note telling them what it is and asking for a shout-out. Since we have delicious treats, we almost always get some recognition on stage.”

Get appy

Sign on with a food truck app. There are a variety of them, such as Roaming Hunger and Truckily. Customers who download these apps are food truck devotees and want to find you.

“If you’re at a special event and you have a cult following and people weren’t aware that you were participating, by being a member of the app they can find and locate you,” said Shea.

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Some of the best marketing is cheap and easy; offer discounts for customers that take pictures while eating your food and post to Instagram. (Photo: Tammy Gordon/Flickr)

Establish a loyalty program

Loyalty programs work. Use old-school punch cards or offer discounts to customers who download the food truck app you signed on to. Ask them to show you the app for their discount, suggested Shea. Or use social media to foster loyalty. “For everyone who likes or follows us on this date, we’ll give the first 50 people a BOGO offer.”

Or, Shea added, tell customers, “Take a picture of you eating our gourmet hot dog and show us your pic when you show up at the truck and we’ll give you a discount.”

Leverage those email addresses

Aulick recommended collecting customer email addresses to stay in touch via email marketing.

“We just put out a clipboard, usually with a contest like a gift certificate as a prize, and ask every customer to sign up while they wait for their order,” said Aulick. “It works like a charm. Sometimes, we get hundreds of email addresses in a day. Other times, we might get two. But we always get them.”

Your POS system can also generate an email database. Use those email addresses to market your blog or newsletter, or to extend special offers.

“Once a week, we send out a geo-targeted email with what our locations will be,” said Aulick. “Often, we tell people to show us that they got the email for a free little treat. It works great. The treat’s value is less than $1, but it helps us know if the email works.”

Start a blog

Speaking of your blog, if you don’t have one yet, consider starting one.

You could position yourself as a subject matter expert and offer tips for other food truck owners, said Shea, or write about how you source your ingredients or the fact that your Aunt Bessie grew up in Louisiana and has a great etouffee recipe that’s been passed on, and why it’s so incredibly good. “It’s impressive and compelling to consumers,” said Shea.

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People eat with their eyes, so use your Instragram account as a free marketing source. (Photo: Jens karlsson/Flickr)

Don’t forget Instagram

“Instagram is a very effective social media channel because people eat with their eyes,” said Shea. “When you’re active on Instagram and you’re showing them a bacon waffle platter drenched with whipped cream and drizzled with syrup, that whets their appetite.”

Cultivate evangelists for your brand

Get your most enthusiastic customers to spread the word for you. Encourage them to talk, tweet and post about the quality of the food or the customer service or write reviews on sites such as Yelp.

“You can also do it by having people create short videos, which are becoming more and more popular, and you can give those fans who are your evangelists a special premium branded something, whether it’s a baseball hat, t-shirt or band like the Livestrong band,” said Shea. “Those are all very visible, tangible, hip ways to build your brand. Everyone wants to be part of a club, especially when it’s a winning club.”

Esther Kuperman, CEO of SAYLII, said she tested the mobile app as a way to help market a food truck in San Francisco, “and it worked really well.”

“They placed the app on an iPad or iPhone and when their customer was paying they asked them to speak about their experience briefly. The customer was able to do a video or just talk. The food truck then was able to go and sync the ones they liked with their Facebook and Twitter, but the app syncs to so many more sites. The best part was the customer also got an email with what they said letting them know to post it to TripAdvisor and Yelp.”

Have fun

“We sing silly songs throughout the day and cheer, using the person’s name, when a customer puts a tip in the jar,” said Aulick. “Word-of-mouth marketing is the most important, especially when you are doing immediate sales. We’ve had tons of customers bring people to our truck to meet us and interact and buy because we’re fun.”

“Involve the people working with you,” said Aulick. “Send your helpers out with the camera phone. Some of our most engaging social media pictures came from telling our helpers to have some fun.”

Vivian Wagner contributed reporting to this story.

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