Hyper-local marketing

In the industry’s collective embrace of the latest social media marketing tools and tricks, a marketer would be forgiven—but not rewarded—for ignoring what is still the most potent tool in his arsenal: the brick-and-mortar opportunities of promoting to flesh-and-blood employees, existing customers and neighbors. Hyper-local isn’t just a new food trend, it’s a tried-and-true marketing strategy and you ignore it at your peril.

To get your head in the game, here are a list of tips compiled by industry veteran, author and marketing madman Tom Feltenstein.

Marketing to employees
You may think you know how to motivate your employees, but what you probably haven’t fully realized yet is that they are your first and often most important customer.

  • You should recruit seven days a week, constantly. Don’t wait until you need somebody. That’s when you make choices out of desperation rather than inspiration. Have business cards printed up with your contact information and the following statement: “You were really terrific. If you’re ever looking for another job, please give me a call.” The next time you encounter great customer service, hand that person one of those cards.
  • Be creative with your training manual and avoid making a job out of doing the job. At Hard Rock Café, they’ve taken the training manual and turned it into a comic book. The company even recruited some of its employees to help write the content and draw the comics.
  • If you want employees to have a positive attitude, pay them a little more than what they expect.
  • When a server gets a great tip, get her to share her story with the crew: what did she do to deserve the tip? How did her service stand out?
  • You and your staff can decorate your business to suit the various holidays. Even better, invite staff and their family or friends to the restaurant for a special decorating party. Provide free food and beverages.

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Marketing to existing customers
The customers you already have are as vital to the success of your operation as the dollars you mustered to open your business.

  • When customers arrive, ask them where they came from—the general location of their home or workplace. Using different colored dots for each daypart, create a map showing your principal trading areas among your current clientele.
  • Remember, it’s all about “make me feel important.”
  • Offer freebies for the 10 best customer-generated suggestions each month.
  • When your staff handles complaints effectively and courteously, not only can you put out fires, but you can turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal patron. Leave nothing to chance! Provide your employees with scripts so they can respond politely to complaints on the telephone or in person. You might also role-play with your employees to make sure that they are hitting the right bullet points when conversing with customers. Your management employees should be empowered to use some discretion when addressing complaints. However, the individuals who handle phone calls or initial complaints voiced at the front desk should not have the same flexibility. Instead, they should be equipped to escalate the complaint to the next level.
  • Offer “bounce back” coupons. Customers have to return to your restaurant a certain number of times during a certain, short period of time to redeem them.
  • Instead of a punch card, give customers a passport. They have to either visit all your locations in the area to get stamps, or you could partner with other businesses in the area. Once the passport pages are stamped the customer gets a discount or other incentive.
  • Drive-thru windshield washer.
  • Give bar patrons a bingo card with 16 spaces, each containing a different drink. Each time the customer orders one of the drinks he gets a stamp. When he gets a full row or column—Bingo!—he gets a coupon or other prize.
  • Put a treasure chest in the lobby. Let the first 1,000 customers pick from a bowl of keys. One of the 1,000 keys opens the chest full of prizes.
  • Got a local business that’s always ordering from your restaurant? Show up at their business some day with gifts and thank you notes.
  • Offer samples to customers who are waiting for a table, or take the chance to tell them about a promotion going on. Ask if they want to join your birthday club or other loyalty program.

Marketing to your neighbors
For the savvy, thinking neighborhood marketer, the customers to grow your business are right next door, just waiting to be asked to do business with you. All it takes is a little thought and effort.

  • During cold weather put a large thermometer outside your restaurant. Have soup prices correspond to the temperature at certain times of the day. Thirty degrees out: 30 cent cups of soup.
  • Make it part of your marketing plan to regularly take photos at your local college’s events—games, social events, etc. Post the pictures in your restaurant and advertise a “Find your Face” promotion.
  • Stay open when the other guys are closed.
  • Run an ad in your local paper offering $5 to anyone who can find an intentional spelling error you’ve included in the text. Bury the error in the copy, forcing people to read the whole ad.
  • Hire people to picket your restaurant with promotional signs: “We love this place” and “What do we want? Great hamburgers! When do we want it? Now!”
  • Jogger’s breakfast special.
  • Contact universities to get approval to present incoming freshmen with coupons. You could also team with other businesses in your vicinity to offer a package of gifts.
  • If you’re located on a street with parking meters, occasionally have an employee check the meters. If a meter has expired, put money in and place a promotional piece on their windshield: “We happened to see your meter had run out, so we filled it up. Courtesy of My Restaurant.”
  • Any child who gets two A’s, three B’s and no grade lower than a C on his report card gets a reward at your restaurant when they show their grades.
  • Reach out to schools and offer tours and field trips of your operation, including local farms from which you source.
  • Once your database of customer emails is populated and you’re sending out regular newsletters or offers, offer the customers an incentive to sign up their friends.

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