Creative Marketing Ideas to Make Your Ice Cream Shop Stand Out

These expert suggestions will have customers screaming for your ice cream.
Specials like limited-time flavors are a fun and delicious way to market your shop. (Photo: ChiccoDodiFC/Shutterstock)

Summer and ice cream are synonymous. But with no shortage of ice cream shops, how do you lure new customers to yours?

With the help of these sweet marketing tips, you can have consumers screaming for your ice cream.

Host a grand or seasonal opening

Whether you’re opening up shop for the first time or welcoming summer, hosting a party is a great way to generate buzz.

“Whenever we do a store opening, we do an opening party or celebration,” said Laura O’Neill, co-owner of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, a former Brooklyn startup that transformed from ice cream trucks to shops in two years.

“We’ll invite family, friends, bloggers and press people. And then we have a grand opening day, where we will have dollar scoops or free scoops. It is a really nice introduction to the store.” Look for ways, like free scoops, to make your event a “can’t miss.”

If you’re opening for the first time, spread the word ahead of time. “There is no point in trying to be a big reveal,” said O’Neill. “The more people that are talking about the store’s opening, the better. So even having a poster on the window saying ‘Coming Soon’ would be a great way to get foot traffic.”

Dish out tasty specials

Draw in additional customers with specials, like new, limited-time flavors.

“We do specials that run for a month,” said O’Neill. “We used to do specials every weekend but we realized that it was too fast because people weren’t able to try them. So we will do four or five specials that are available for a month to try.”

Hold ice cream events

Consider a tasting session or even a class. Natasha Case, co-founder of Coolhaus, which has a fleet of 10 ice cream trucks and two stores, hosts ice cream making classes at her Culver City, California, location.

“I talk to them about the brand, they get a free copy of the Coolhaus cookbook and we cook recipes from the book,” said Case. “I show them how to scoop the sammies and we taste everything, so it is a very intimate look behind the scenes and it is the kind of thing that inspires customer loyalty. And it’s something that you will tell your friends about.” Which means more business for you.

Lick up the benefits of social media

Ice cream has always been social, but now it can be social online, too.

“Social media is an awesome direct communication with our customers,” said O’Neill, who adds that many people have suggested flavors through their social media feeds.

“We mostly use Instagram. We use that to communicate our special flavors and special sundaes.”

O’Neill also uses Twitter to tweet out the locations of their ice cream trucks.

You can use social media to give the inside scoop on your business, too. O’Neill posts pictures of the factory on Instagram. Case likes to show the story behind her brand. “We do Snapchats to tell stories of our team,” said Case. “What’s Pierre’s favorite flavor? How does he start the day at the office? Insider views that most people wouldn’t be able to access.”

Take your treats on the road

If possible, consider investing in a truck to take your business mobile. Both Coolhaus and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream attribute their success to having ice cream trucks.

“The trucks were an awesome starting point for us as we had the flexibility to explore neighborhoods and had a much better idea of where to open stores, once the time came,” said O’Neill. “Trucks also act as their own moving billboards. Being mobile allows us to do lots of events and festivals.” The more exposure, the better.

Join forces to spread the cool

Partnering with a local store or bigger brand can bring more visibility to your shop and more taste buds to your treats. Both O’Neill and Case rent out their trucks to brands that then serve their ice cream at various events.

“We work with other, bigger brands who have the dollars so they have more access to things than we do, so we get to go to these cool events with a different audience,” said Case.

Her company recently joined forces with Cuisinart at Coachella to tremendous response. “We wrapped the trucks in Cuisinart posters and we handed out sandwiches with edible Cuisinart wrap. So it was the Coolhaus experience brought to you by Cuisinart. You have that cool, startup edginess that those kinds of companies can’t generate. They need to be cool through companies like yours.”

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