If you’ve seen Jon Favreau’s 2014 movie Chef, then you have some idea of what food truck operators go through to get off the ground, build their audience, and navigate their way to profitable operations. It’s a journey!
One thing the movie portrays well throughout is the role of marketing in a do-or-die industry. As a business that doesn’t have the benefit of either the traditional brick-and-mortar establishment or the newer direct-to-consumer ecommerce players, food trucks occupy a unique niche in the B2C marketplace. On top of that challenge, they typically don’t have much of a marketing budget. So, how do they leverage the tools available to them to achieve success?
We took a look at some of our favorite local food trucks making it in the scene around Greenville, SC and picked up a few lessons to share.
It’s all about the brand.
If there were rules written somewhere for food trucks, the first would be that the name has to be cool. Not only does it have to tell people what to expect, but it also has to differentiate in a meaningful way. Consider a few of our local rockstars – Black Thai, Scottie Dogs, One Love Fusion Foods, Automatic Taco, and The Chuck Truck. Clever, witty, descriptive. These are names that locals know well.
But, the name isn’t enough on its own – the rest of the brand has to deliver. From the vehicle wrap to the menu to the truck’s digital presence, the whole package supports the brand’s story and carries the vibe throughout the customer experience.
Most of all, the brand has to be memorable – a food truck doesn’t want customers saying “What was that truck that had those good tacos?” No, the goal is to have customers saying “You have got to try the Yellow Curry Fries!” or “If you haven’t had the Hawaiian Grilled Cheese, you haven’t lived.”
Loyalty is the secret sauce.
Everyone knows word of mouth is powerful marketing. We all hope to go #viral at some point and reach that peak Internet success. But food trucks live and die by this type of marketing. And loyalty is the currency they trade in for a reputation as the hottest, tastiest attraction on wheels.
Not every food truck has a website, and those that do are pretty lightweight, but every single one of them has a robust social media presence. This is the primary tool they use to communicate, engage, delight, and recruit customers. Three of the major trends we’ve seen working include:
- Location, location, location. If your customers don’t know where you are, they can’t be customers. As a mobile business, food trucks have to constantly shout from the rooftops where they’ll be and when. Seoul Republik is consistent in sharing their locations for the week on Mondays and then reinforcing the message with daily posts that remind their followers where to find them. This also serves to share the menu and inform people about private events and other important news.
Some of the best trucks are skilled at using their location as part of the appeal – when you park at The Community Tap every Monday night, you build a following of happy hour customers who know they can count on your food to go with their craft beer, and you get another voice in the conversation from your partnered location!
- Be interesting. Engaging content is better content, and that definitely rings true for food trucks. The Black Thai does a great job of telling their story across every medium. Their posts remind people that the food is great but the people are part of the experience. It’s not just about menus, hours, and addresses. It must have some connection people can get excited about, too. Video marketing on Instagram and Facebook has proven its power in the marketing world, and food trucks are doing well to integrate this mobile-friendly content just like in Chef.
- Engage! While this rule rings true for any business with a robust social presence, food trucks in particular can leverage the opportunity to answer questions, reply to comments, and interact with their customers. One Love Fusion Foods consistently posts content that draws customers into the operation of the business. They ask for involvement, posts, tags, and likes – and they get them! The more responsive you are, the more real you are, and that’s big in a mobile-first environment.
- Bonus Trend – #hashtag everything. This might not be a best practice, but it’s certainly a trend. Like many social media users, food trucks seem to like using as many hashtags as they can come up with in a post, and if they’re seeing results, we won’t tell them to stop just yet!
Menus change, but results persist.
It doesn’t take a huge budget to create results – it takes creativity, a plan, and persistence. Food trucks are a great example of the kind of nimble business that runs lean, leverages their customers as ambassadors, and uses social and word-of-mouth marketing to thrive wherever the road takes them.
If this post has you hungry for some incredible eats, you don’t have to look far – FUEL is excited to launch “Food Truck Fridays” right outside our office (25 East Court Street)! Every Friday this summer, you’ll find some of Greenville’s best mobile eateries pulling up on Court Street for an end of the workweek party. Check out social media for details and be sure to say “hi” when you stop in for a bite!