In the age of fancy apps and big TV budgets, there are ways to market on a small budget that won't make your concept look cheap.
Such strategies were the focus of operator/consultant Scott Anthony's "Profits in the Pie" presentation at this week's North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio.
"There are resources at your fingertips, use them," he said. Among those resources:
"One of the cheapest ways I can find to market is to use my employees," Anthony said. For example, he gave his employees business cards that included a promotion (e.g. a 50-percent discount) and incentivized them on who got the most redemption from those cards.
This strategy not only generated new business for Anthony's concept, it also raised employee morale.
"We all have good employees, we just need to motivate them and get them engaged," he said.
While you're leveraging the people in your company, also get to know your distributors and what they offer across the board. You may find there are tools you can use to increase sales.
For example, one of Anthony's partners is the Grande Cheese Company. Maureen Michaels, a manufacture rep from Grande, said the company provides table tents and other marketing tools to an operator who uses its products. Grande will also send a rep to a business to take pictures, analyze the menu and help it get started on a menu mailing plan.
"We see an uplift of 20 percent in business once the mailing starts," Michaels said.
Anthony added that these menu mailers are cost-effective and get the message across to customers and potential customers. He sends out a mailing three times a quarter.
"Get to know your distributor. They are your partner," he said.
In addition to your employees and distributors, it's also important to tap into the community in which you operate. Anthony suggests joining the chamber of commerce, sending letters to local businesses introducing your concept and tapping into those same businesses for promotional incentives. For example, he sent a letter to each business in his community — Punxsutawney, Pa. — and offered them a discount for their employees. He sent out 1,000 discount cards throughout a two-month period and focused on one business per week.
"The employees came in and the employers felt great for handing those out, and we gained new customers," Anthony said.
Social media is not only cost effective, it can also personalize your concept. People want to know the manager of the restaurant, Anthony said, and they can do that through a social media channel.
But social media posts don't have to be an ad or even something specifically related to the restaurant. It can also be a humorous meme, for example.
"Do fun things that people can share. Keep it fun," Anthony said.
'The attitude of gratitude'
Finally, Anthony touted the benefits of "gratitude," and how it can appeal to your customers. He cited a Harvard study called the "gratitude effect" that showed people who are thanked have a near-100-percent return rate.
To tap into this effect, he sends out thank you cards, with an offer, every year around Thanksgiving to his most loyal customers using data gleaned from the POS system. He gets an 80 percent response from the effort.
"When you keep thanking your customers, they will feel appreciated and they will come back," Anthony said.
Micky Wheatley contributed to this story.
Photo provided by Wikipedia.
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Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.