Marketing on the cheap

Can't opt out of marketing but can’t spend a lot to do it right now? You’re in luck. Read on to get free advice from four  marketing agencies, each offering low-budget, high-impact strategies geared to a different hypothetical concept. Their charge: to provide a few practical, creative (and did we mention low-cost?) ideas that can help you get more people in the door right now.

Get 'em while they're driving

The restaurant: A regional 30-unit fast-casual sandwich chain

The agency: Sirius Advertising, Avon, New Jersey

The plan: If the 30-unit chain is all within a specific DMA [designated market area], there are more options when it comes to driving quick sales. One of the strategies that may be feasible is a radio campaign of short duration and high frequency. Usually, if you know your core customer, you can buy time on one or two high-rated stations and really hammer away for two or three weeks. An offer should be included or some type of event to add incentive to visit. Another conventional method for reaching out is a strong outdoor campaign. Again, the trick is frequency, so just a few billboards will make relatively little impact. A 50 GRP [Gross Rating Point] buy reaches 50 percent of the market on any given day and about 90 percent of the market over a four-week period.  (Each board has a traffic count and, when divided by the population, the result is a GRP.)

The cost: Both of these programs will cost upwards of $25,000, depending on the market.

Find the influencers

The restaurant: 8-unit “polished casual” independent restaurant group

The agency: The Reynolds Group, Atlanta

The plan: A relatively inexpensive way to boost sales is to focus on making connections with influencers.

Concierges, for example, are perfect targets. Business professionals who frequently dine out for lunch, entertain clients and schedule meetings at local restaurants, as well as dine out at their leisure, are also ideal to contact directly. Utilize contacts at local convention and visitors bureaus, also, as they work regularly with out of town business people. Invite these groups into the restaurant to showcase the place. Sending them discount cards, coupons and other trackable bounce backs keeps the restaurant at the top of their list and helps the restaurant evaluate the success of the campaign. Work with the local Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau to ensure the business maintains a solid reputation.

The press is an “institutional influencers” and should be courted. It’s critical to maintain a strong database of local and national food writers and invite them to dine. Always keep the publication editors abreast of news, including things like menu changes, new chefs, weekly specials or restaurant awards. Pitch them interesting story angles that could include the restaurant or chef, and be aware of the publication’s editorial calendar (if it has one) to pitch stories that can easily fit into appropriate issues and sections. Once a story has made it into a magazine or newspaper, it generally is posted on the publication’s Web site. Leverage Facebook and Twitter to promote these links and drive readers to these stories. And don’t forget about the power of the food and restaurant bloggers. Many of them have loyal followers and have the power to influence diners and create buzz with the stroke of a computer key. They can update and add content in an instant, something magazines and newspapers cannot do.

The cost: $2,000 to $2,500 per location, if all is handled by agency.

Fill it with value

The restaurant: A regional 15-unit varied-menu casual dining chain

The agency: Boyd Tamney Cross, Wayne, Pennsylvania

The plan: To begin, the restaurant must know its target market segment so it can target a specific audience.

The restaurant must also create an enticing, value-filled offer for customers. The offer could be comprised of either current or new menu items, packaged together with an alluring price and/or catchy theme. With this deal in mind, craft a creative press release about the offer and distribute to newspapers, short-lead magazines, online news sources and blogs. Pitch as many different angles of the story as possible such as food, business and local. PR dollars usually bring a much higher return on investment compared to paid advertisements. Consumers see editorial coverage as more credible than advertising.

The cost: $500 for a demographic analysis; $3,000 for drafting a press release, media list creation and media relations/pitching.

Go local or go home

The restaurant: A regional, 50-unit, fast-casual pizza/takeout/delivery chain

The agency: Morgan Marketing & Public Relations LLC, Irvine, California

The plan: Local store marketing is the way to go in this economic climate. It’s cheap and effective. Try distributing door hangers to local apartment and condo complexes (locations with condensed residential living) that offer a dining coupon and the local store’s contact information. Deliver a promotional flyer offering a value priced take-out order for lunch delivery to offices within a three-mile radius. Contact local groups to promote the store’s “team room,” which could be reserved for church committees and athletic teams. Provide discount-dining information for groups using the room midweek. Connect with the local Welcome Wagon chapter, which delivers information to new homeowners. Utilize the store’s delivery car as a “moving billboard” with an advertising “wrap.” Offer a “club” dining card that gives office managers a free lunch after seven visits, to encourage group orders from local offices.

Research shows guests have to repeat an action seven times before it becomes a habit. Finally, establish a “wall of fame” inside the local store where photos of community heroes can be displayed. Local heroes can be nominated by guests. The hero would be invited to an evening, mid-week ceremony (along with their friends) to unveil their photo. Managers would present the hero with a dinner certificate for two. The ceremony could garner interest with the local media.

The cost: $3,500 to $4,000

Cheap tip: Buy sponsored or paid advertisements that appear on the results pages of search engines like Google and Yahoo. This can be very cost effective because the restaurant only pays for those people who click through to their Web site, and the campaign can be stopped at any time. [Boyd Tamney Cross]

Cheap tip: E-mail clubs are inexpensive and can generate immediate traffic. Building your list is one of the biggest keys to success. Make sure all members double-opt in so you are in compliance with the Can Spam Act. And choose a professional company to administer your e-mail club. [Sirius]

Cheap tip: Program messaging at the bottom of receipts to offer guests bounce back dining discounts and/or encourage them to list the local store as their favorite pizza restaurant on dining sites such as Yelp! and AOL. [Morgan]

Cheap tip: The best PR and marketing strategy always begins tableside. Having a well-trained staff, great food and service is a given, but acknowledging and thanking guests for their business is an invaluable—and very inexpensive—marketing tool. [Reynolds]

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