What comes to your mind when you think of ‘mobile food options’? A few years ago that would have been the typical street food vendors but now there’s this whole new group of businesses we call food trucks.
They’re not only an on-to-go way to get food but also offer avenues for more social interactions. On the food business owner side of things – they’re flexible and come at a lower end of investment.
Let’s start from the basics:
What is a food truck business?
A food truck is simply a truck serving food. With it’s inside turned into a kitchen and the road being its serving station. It moves from one district to another. And is a night-time favourite for many consumers who want the restaurant to come to them instead.
Even pop culture loves food trucks. Proof can be found in the plot points of sitcoms (Happy Endings), drama (Switched at Birth), reality TV series (The Great Food Truck Race) and even movies (Chef).
Who is the food truck business right for?
The major benefits of opening a food truck are its ease of operation and low-investment.
This makes it a perfect match for someone who wants to test waters in the food business. Think of it as a prototype for your concept that you can later expand.
Matt Johnson, who owns one such food truck says –
“The sense of interrupted temporality creates lots of room for innovation, and having a mobile food business allows us to regularly experiment with new and interesting menu items.”
While even well-established businesses like The Lalit have set an example to adapt newer concepts and open a food truck. The Lalit food truck is most famous for its range of pizza slices.
When asked about the best part of owning a food truck, Sara Colin, another food truck operator said – “Owners and chefs get to directly engage with their customers and see their faces when they take that first bite and watch them smile in enjoyment. That for me is the most amazing thing.”
So you’ve finally got a food truck, now what?
Knowing how to make your food truck reach people, not just by driving it – but by creating a brand story and a full-fledged marketing strategy is of more importance now than ever before. Why? Because a new food truck pops up in a neighbourhood every second day. With so many options available to your customers – how will they come back to you?
First things first – Branding
For any new business defining your brand identity is one of the most crucial tasks. It is what you’ll be known as for the rest of your journey. Your branding tasks will include defining:
Name: This is the word or combination of words that capture the essence of your brand.
Tagline: This is a short 3-5 word statement that defines who you are. Don’t be afraid to get a little quirky here.
Visual Identity: This includes your logo, colour palette and any other visual aid you’re using to present your brand.
Keep it consistent: The most important part is to keep your entire identity consistent across all marketing channels.
There’s no harm in thinking from the start – if you feel confused about your current identity.
Now that you have a brand set and reviewed – it’s time to look at the other important pieces of marketing. We have divided them into online and offline ideas for you.
Targeting the right audience in your food truck marketing plan
43% of monthly food truck spending comes from 25 to 44-year-olds. Another 20% comes from people under 25, according to data from IBISWorld Inc.
So when planning your food truck, be very clear about the audience you are catering to, what they like, where they hang out. Understanding and talking in their language is key to success here.
Online Food Truck Marketing Plan
1. Social Media
Using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, you can attract thousands of potential customers. On Pinterest for example, food is the most browsed and pinned.
Social media possesses an undeniable power to influence people’s choices and decisions. As per the National Restaurant Association, 90% of the restaurants believe that their success is largely dependent on their social media marketing style.
Marisa Ryan, a marketing consultant provides a very interesting tip on social media for food trucks –
“Use geo-location specific hashtags, such as #HamburgerStreet and also use the check in to select exact locations. Posting a photo of the truck around recognizable landmarks or buildings is even better to get to a larger audience.”
We’ve collected these social media posts from popular food trucks for your food truck marketing plan inspiration:
Here also are 500+ restaurant advertisement analysed for you.
2. SEO & Adwords
It is important to increase your restaurant’s online visibility by creating and optimizing your website for the search engines. It will help in gaining more organic traffic. You can use Google Adwords to:
– Drive traffic to your online ordering site
– See which keywords people are searching for to reach your site
– Appear in results across multiple locations
Any search engine’s ad costs depend on the keyword you’re bidding on. For example, keywords like restaurants near me could cost hundreds of dollars per click because of the many people searching. But other hyper-targeted keywords Asian restaurant in Indiranagar could be better in terms of costs. Google will allow you to set the budget for your ads so that you don’t overspend.
“A great strategy to market mobile food truck businesses is Google Ads that can be used to drive high-ticket corporate and event catering leads. Depending on your location, you can cultivate leads sometimes for a few dollars, and with a good sales process in place, you can generate thousands of dollars in new business and repeat customers. “ – says Natalie Athanasiadis, an advertising consultant.
Set some budget aside for testing different types of ads and keywords. Note down your learnings or talk to an ad expert if you need further guidance.
3. Online Listings
To be found online, your business should be listed on Google and other popular sites. The traffic on these sites goes as high as millions a day. Ask any digital marketing professional, a listing is perhaps the first step to be discovered online.
Many sites allow you to get reviews, ratings, testimonials, pictures on their platforms. These add to positive signals that your restaurant needs. Here are some high authority websites to get listed on:
- Google My Business
- LinkedIn Company Directory
- Yahoo! Local
- Apple Maps
4. Your Online Ordering Platform
With mobiles becoming popular among the millennials, An online ordering platform can help you in:
- Getting direct orders – no commissions to be paid
- Branding and advertising
- Retaining customers
In fact, The quantity of online orders received by restaurants has tripled over the past five years.
A good website is a central point for all your restaurant marketing, branding, outreach, and promotional efforts.
The limited space given by third-party platforms to show off your restaurant is one major drawback. Having a website helps to overcome this by giving you an opportunity to push your message the way you want.
Make sure your platforms are descriptive, visual and responsive on mobile. Your menu is always up to date, delivery areas fixed and ordering timings set. You can even add an option for pre-orders to provide ease of use for customers and to estimate the demand for yourself during busy days.
Need tips for a stand out platform? We’ve got you covered right here.
Once you have access to customer information – SMS and email campaigns on your marketing automation tool is a great way to engage with your audience.
It costs much less to sell to existing customers than to get new ones.
You can share daily updates like a new discount or menu additions. For these campaigns to convert your messaging needs to be personalized and offers need to be topical.
Don’t forget to time your campaign right. For example – an hour before lunch & dinner times in a high conversion slot.
Need more guidance on customer relationship management. Check this out. (Hint: OATMEAL is the secret here!)
6. Branded loyalty program
Loyalty programs have existed since 1982, but it is recently that they have caught large interest.They give customers a sense of recognition and achievement.
Loyalty programs benefit your restaurant because:
– You have an opportunity to please your guests.
– You can attract more customers through it.
– You can retain more customers through effective marketing opportunities.
– You can build a strong brand for your restaurant.
Your loyal customers are more likely to convert on an offer rather than new customers. For food trucks especially, building a strong customer base and nurturing them is of great importance.
In fact, 44% of millennials (25-34) say they are more loyal to restaurant brands than before. And 30% of millennials plan to sign up for every loyalty program.
7. Influencer Marketing
This marketing method involves using influential personalities or entities to market your restaurant. They can be chefs, cooking show hosts or noted food bloggers.
There are two kinds of influencer marketing:
Earned Influencer marketing – covers a predefined relationship with the influencer and involves their personal growth too.
Paid Influencer marketing – can take shape in sponsorships, testimonial messages and videos, which you have to pay for according to the decided arrangement.
Here’s how popular food bloggers share recommendations online:
8. Social listening (is also marketing!)
As a lot of data pours into social media, the need for social media marketing analytics and social listening emerges. Social media marketing channels like FB, Twitter, Instagram are crucial touchpoints for your food truck. Customers are spending a high amount of time there and are likely to engage more.
Social listening is an excellent way to understand the public sentiment about your food truck. When any negative social post comes up, with effective social listening tools, you can be quick to address it.
9. Have a blog
More people are using the Internet to find restaurants, read reviews, order online and make reservations. A blog can strengthen your digital reputation, SEO ranking and ability to build your database for email campaigns.
Starting a blog on your website allows you to promote your food, cuisine and even values that your food truck stands by. You can get even more mileage from your blog by publishing posts by guest authors. These can be famous chefs, food bloggers, or even some customers.
10. Video Content
Video is an important element of food truck marketing – in fact, last year, approximately 75% of internet traffic was video-based.
Consider using your smartphone to shoot alluring footage of your food and post it on Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram for free.
Small ideas to get started with videos for your food truck are:
– If you’re at an event, get on Facebook live or Instagram live to give the world a peek.
– Make a cooking video or a behind-the-scenes shoot.
– Showcase happy customer stories.
– If you’re hosting a giveaway or contest, you could announce the winners on Facebook live or Instagram.
Offline Food Truck Marketing Plan
Events are some of the most popular forms for food truck marketing.
Evan Weiser, a food marketing consultant says – ‘
“Just because you open a food truck does not mean hordes of foodies will be flocking to line up at it. Private catering, corporate events, team lunches, food truck lots, weddings and large public events are where you will see your best crowd and grow your business from.”
As you select from various event opportunities, ask the organizers for the average number of attendees and take information about their previous events. It’s important to think about how well the event fits your target demographic.”
Why are events important:
- Help in reaching new audience sets.
- Increase your brand reach
- Help in networking
- Ground for testing new menu items
Types of events:
- Food festivals
- School or colleges events
- Holiday based events (example Christmas & New Years)
- Concerts / art festivals
- Neighbourhood events and gatherings
Here’s a guide on how to stand out in events like food festivals.
12. Print Ads
This will include dropping off menus in neighbourhood areas, advertising in city magazines and more. The actions involved here would be in designing, printing and distributing.
Print ads work well with a more mature audience and can help food trucks build awareness in their target streets. Don’t forget to include a coupon code that can be redeemed at the truck or online to check conversions on your efforts.
Aarti S, a marketing professor provides a handy tip for your ad messaging –
“As people become more health conscious, they want information regarding what goes into that sandwich they’re eating. I think that if food truck owners and marketers advertise the ingredients and nutritional value, they may be able to win more consumers.”
While the reach through print ads would be limited to a certain audience set, it can be highly targeted on the basis of the audience you want to reach.
13. Tasting sessions
You can host these for selected customers, new customers, or even food bloggers. Sharing your specials or new menu items. It’s the quickest way of getting offline attention that might also lead to online reviews and mentions.
14. Catering jobs
These are not just a way of earning revenue but also promoting your restaurant in front of other business clients. You can occasionally host a lunch for all your business clients promoting your services and getting new gigs.
When going to cater a particular lunch, always carry your pamphlets, menu cards and flyers. Highlight your special dishes and USP on them.
This can be done with other food trucks or nearby stories and community centres in your target areas.
Some ways for offline cross-promotion include:
- Keeping each other’s flyers and pamphlets around
- Going for a pop-up during lunch at partner stories or community centres
- Offering a free dessert or a discount coupon to their customers
How to Set up a Budget for Your Food Truck Marketing Plan
In restaurant marketing, there’s no one style or budget that will fit all. You have to try, experiment and see what works for your restaurant.
Your marketing spends would vary on 2 bases:
- Type of channel
- Type of activity
The National Restaurant Association suggests that the average restaurant marketing budget is three percent (3%) of total revenues.
Commenting on this, restaurant consultant Aron Allen mentioned –
“If your total marketing budget constitutes 3% of your monthly revenue, then at least 40% of that, should go into digital marketing. Really, digital marketing for restaurants is certainly something that any restaurant, regardless of budget, should invest resources into.”
Follow these steps to arrive at a food truck marketing plan budget:
- Pick a marketing mix from the above-mentioned activities and the channels you would want to work on.
- Assign how much money you would want to put on each of the line items
- Total them for your total marketing budget. You can keep online and offline activities separately.
- Every month or every quarter match your planned expenses with your actual expenses on marketing.
- Correct your course accordingly and even add newer elements to your marketing mix.
Food Truck Marketing Planning – Step by Step
Step 1: SWOT & market research
Conduct a SWOT analysis of your food truck business. Determine the strong points you want to showcase to your customers. Study about the places you may lack and need external help with. Also, study your competitor food trucks and market conditions you’re building for.
Step 2: Create your customer personas
Evaluate the people you intend to serve. Customer research is an essential aspect of marketing. These steps will help you to choose the appropriate marketing ideas:
Make a brief profile of your target customers.
Gauge roughly the frequency with which they will buy from your food truck in a given time frame. Use data from your POS to build this study.
Keep in mind how tech-savvy your prospective customers are. Meet them where they hang out both online and offline.
Step 3: Select the right marketing tactics
Above we shared all the marketing tactics that your food truck can experiment with. Outline the ones you would want to prioritize. To determine the best marketing mix, identify the platforms your customers access the most.
Step 4: Set a marketing budget
It is important to streamline your marketing expenses. Due to the variety of advertising options available, it’s possible to go overboard. Have an internal person monitor the budget and discuss it regularly with your agency or social media manager.
All set to make a food truck marketing plan!
With this, you’re all set to make a killer marketing plan for your food truck.
Quickly Summing up the marketing tactics we discussed above:
- Social Media
- SEO & Adwords
- Online Listings
- Online ordering platform
- Email & SMS
- Branded loyalty program
- Influencer marketing
- Social listening
- Video content
- Print Ads
- Tasting sessions
- Budgeting and planning
The food truck industry is already an $800 million industry and is expected to grow another 20 percent in 2019, according to the Mobile Food Trends report. Are you ready to be a part of this growth?
Gilbert Villa from G’s Taco Spot On Wheels says:
“Believe in yourself and your concept. Believe that although there are many food trucks in the area, there is only one you. Which means that the quality of your food, your customer service, and marketing is what separates you from the rest. There are no right or wrong ways to what you do.”
At the end, it boils down to putting forward the right message for the right audience at the right time. We’d love to know what worked for you and what didn’t.
If you have any other questions about your food truck marketing plan – drop them in the comments. Happy planning!
Further readings on food trucks & marketing
Further readings on marketing