Effective marketing on a shoestring budget

Mobile, digital, radio, TV, billboards and mailings all have their perks, but restaurant marketing doesn't have to be expensive to be effective.

Fox's Pizza franchisee Scott Anthony has been searching for the right balance for the past two decades. He offered some approaches that have worked for his business during a recent educational session titled "Marketing on a Shoestring Budget."

Getting started, he says, means building a "USP."

"A 'Universally Selling Position' is a statement that emphasizes your strengths to your community. You have to be more than a generality," Anthony said.

For example, Domino's is known for delivery, while Little Caesars' USP is its $5 carryout deal. Fox's Pizza touts family-oriented service.

"We will serve you what we'd serve our own family and we want to get that ingrained in people's heads," Anthony said.

To do that, it's important for operators to get out of the kitchen and get to know the people in the neighborhood.

"People are three to four times more likely to buy from you if they know you. And it doesn't cost anything," Anthony said. "We're in the hospitality business, interact with your guests. Tell them a story about your food, make that emotional connection. Smile."

Following the B-A-S-I-C-S

To take full advantage of a frugal, grassroots marketing strategy, Anthony suggests following the B-A-S-I-C-S, including:

B – Business cards. Have your business cards on you at all times and, if you can, put your photo on them, since you're the face of the business. If possible, use the back of the card to offer a promotion, such as a free order of breadsticks. "This says I really want to host you in my restaurant," Anthony said.

A – Attitude. Make customers' experience memorable enough to start a word-of-mouth campaign. This means going out of your way to ask how the meal tastes, saying "thank you" and "hello." The No. 1 reason people don't return to a restaurant is because of indifference or lack of concern from employees. "If you act like you don't care, they won't care to come back," Anthony said.

S – Sampling. Pass out samples to people in the community. The food cost is minimal and it introduces people to your product and gets them in the door initially, Anthony said. Offer promotions for birthdays (a common occasion for people to dine out), new mover programs, charities, etc.

I – (vested) Interest. You can show a vested interest in your customers through social media, by posting their photos or videos, answering their questions, hosting contests, etc. If you have an email program, include questions such as "What's your favorite sports team?" when someone signs up. This way you can offer a promotion to a Lakers' fan specifically during a Lakers' game, Anthony said. "It makes people feel special when they are targeted with marketing," he added. "It doesn't have to be a sales pitch, just social engagement."

C – Community. Charity fundraisers are a good way for restaurants to get involved in their community; it helps them gain new customers and provide goodwill. School nights, sports sponsorships, etc., are also good examples of being involved and getting your name out there.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 52 percent of adults said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on how much a restaurant supports charitable activities and the local community. "This is powerful. People want to know where there money is going and that you care about their community," Anthony said.

S – Smile. Finally, don't forget to smile and to tell your employees to do the same. Anthony said smiling has a ripple effect and makes your guests feel welcome and appreciated.

Read more about marketing initiatives.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Stefan Vlisides
    These are all great ideas and can help build a strong foundation for marketing your restaurant. However, to amplify these basics, independent restaurant owners should take an integrated marketing approach. When creating a promotion or marketing message, make sure the same promotion goes out via email, text, and facebook. This can help maximize the exposer your promotion gets and ensures you're connecting with your customers no matter their preferred communication choice. Braviant offers a great service to help local restaurant owners on a shoestring budget do just that. http://www.braviant.com
  • Mike Mirkil
    The original USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition. It's a way to position your brand and goes beyond $5 deals and the exercise of arriving at your brand's USP is a critical one. Once all stakeholders are in alignment around your company's USP, then you are on your way.
  • Brandon Forschino
    Great Article! Bing in the technology industry, I believe that custom apps integrated with loyalty programs that reward customers is also a good "tactic." Having a custom app allows for all the social integration as well as sending push notifications about deals, uploading specials and offers etc...A good source for this is companies like http://www.mobileappsuite.com. Good analysis!
  • David Yeager
    I believe in the basics but we spell it out slightly differently. BlueTooth | WiFi Apps SMS (Loyalty, Reviews, Offers, Viral Sharing and Maybe a Wait List Sys.) Internet (Reservations and Ordering) Cell phones and tablets (Missing this will close doors sooner than later) Search (Even if micro niche focused, don't miss your most valuable customers) Social Every restaurant not involved in at least some of these, is losing money. If you save $10 everyday at the expense of $100 in profits then lost $90 more than you needed to. I worked in industry for 20 years owning 4 restaurants in this time. I started marketing F&B full time two years ago. I eat and sleep this stuff. To me the most basic thing of all is, that when 93% of your consumers age 16+ adopt a technology you need to serve their new needs or have one heck of a niche dug out of the remaining pool. I love FastCasual.com, you have been an inspiration to me and remain a go-to-source for ideas and backing authority. Our brand used to be what we told our customers it was, USP was a vital tool. Today, our brand is what our customers tell each other it is, the Unique Selling Proposition today has to be the truth about your brand and then it becomes a Unique Perceived Benefit. The only difference is, you listen , you learn and then you enforce your strengths.
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