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10 Tasty Marketing Lessons Served Up by Food Trucks

The first food truck I ever saw didn’t have a lot of competition. In fact, it pretty much had a monopoly on the market. All it had to do was play “Pop Goes the Weasel” as it drove around the neighborhood at the dinner hour. And instantly this picky eater was scavenging Dad’s coat pockets for loose change and sneaking out the back door for her next sugar rush.

My how I’ve changed since then. And so has the food truck industry. Ever since Los Angeles-based Kogi, a purveyor of Korean-Mexican cuisine launched in 2008, the food truck industry’s growth has accelerated across the U.S. with 4,130 food trucks in close to 300 cities.1

I believe the Food Network’s “Food Truck Face Off” and “The Great Food Truck Race” inspired a lot of entrepreneurial chefs to venture out on their own without the cost-prohibitive capital and overhead required to start a typical restaurant.

Despite the reduced start-up costs, it wasn’t easy for them to gain acceptance. Food trucks had to conquer numerous barriers to entry and dispel the stereotype of being “roach coaches” parked outside construction sites.

They showed their culinary flair and overcame the doubters. And no matter what industry you are in, they offer some important lessons worth emulating.

Here are 10 food truck growth strategies to put on your own plate:

    1. Adapt to your environment. The food truck industry had to overcome local parking ordinance restrictions, preconceived notions about food safety, and competing restaurants lobbying against their presence. They had to work with the limitations of municipal codes and their community to ensure their tiny businesses on wheels had mileage. You may be facing an entirely different set of obstacles. But with perseverance and creativity, you can find your way around them.
    2. Be disruptive. How can you solve a problem and deliver it in a non-traditional format? Butcher Box sells grass-fed and organic meat online. ROMWOD.com provides daily online mobility classes. Hulu delivers our favorite old shows. Even if you already have an established business, perhaps there’s a way to increase your profits by marketing it in a different way. Gillette now offers OnDemand replacement blades to compete with newcomers Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club.
    3. Be bold. Food truck branding is often as colorful, fresh and unique as the selections on their menus. It has us salivating before we even have a chance to taste the food. Good branding creates that sense of anticipation, long before the sale.
    4. Make the most of what you have. Food trucks don’t have big media budgets. But they sure do have big trailers that are on par with expensive outdoor billboards to showcase their name, logo, tag line, URL, social media platforms, and phone number.

      It fascinates me how many businesses fail to wrap their vehicle or fleet with professionally designed graphics and messaging to extend their brand.

      I recently met a State Farm Insurance agent, Alex Mora, at my local state park. You couldn’t miss his vehicle. How has it worked for him? “It’s paid for itself more than ten times over,” Alex reported, “And with every new customer, I typically get three or four referrals.”

      It also gives his business extra visibility when he parks there. His prospective customers take him more seriously because he’s already demonstrated his penchant for details. Good branding magnifies your professionalism.

    1. Be trustworthy. Food trucks use social media to alert everyone where they’ll be each day. They show up. That’s how they grow their following and reputation. How and in what ways can you show up? It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just do what you say you’re going to do. In this modern age, the old-fashioned virtues of punctuality and reliability are key contributors to a growth strategy.

      Of course, the world will forgive the occasional breakdown if you should falter. Last year, one of my favorite online stores missed the mark on an order. It was a few days late. I received a nice e-mail apology, admitting they were deluged by their sale. They handled it well. I’m still a customer.

    1. Find your niche. My favorite food truck of all time? Cousins Maine Lobster. These young cousins figured out that there was a huge market of New England transplants in Southern California and other warm climates. As a New Englander, I can attest to the fact that we are as obsessed with lobster rolls as our beloved Red Sox. Since Cousins Maine Lobster first appeared on Shark Tank, it has expanded into eight other cities with 18 food trucks.2  Your business may not be this narrowly defined, but could you be overlooking the real sweet spot for your product or service?
    2. Show your passion for the product. No matter what these food trucks serve – mac n’ cheese, Cuban sandwiches, French crepes, you name it – they are obviously, whole-heartedly all in. You can clearly see the pride in their product. Especially when it’s so humbly served on paper plates.
    3. Be transparent. People look into food truck order windows and they instantly see an enthusiastic culinary crew prepping their meal. How can you give your customers a glimpse of the people behind your product? Demonstrate how they go the extra mile through social media. Make customers feel more connected with your company through a series of blog posts that tell your story and build your authority.
    4. Encourage word of mouth. At the point of sale, remind your customers to help spread the word about your business. Ask them to post about it on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat and Yelp. According to Yahoo! Small Business, “50% of shoppers have made a purchase based on a recommendation through a social media network.”3 And the more active you are on these platforms, the more likely your business will be mentioned in their conversations.Food trucks count on social media to announce where they will be on a daily basis. Their livelihood depends on it. In this new age of social media, it’s reached the point where every business does.
    1. Keep your wheels moving. Since most municipal laws prevent food trucks from parking in the same place for more than two hours a day, they must find new markets for their cuisine on a daily basis. Now, you’ll find food trucks at apartment complexes, colleges, corporations, events, or retailers. They book their calendars well in advance by continuously finding new places to serve on a repeat basis. Have you kept your business parked in the same place for a little too long? Imagine where you could go to form new business relationships, change your momentum and flourish.

    Why do I love food trucks so much? It’s not just their tasty meals. I can see behind each one, there’s a gutsy, David-and-Goliath approach to marketing and sales that serves as inspiration for the rest of us.

    1. Medium: “America Loves Food Trucks”
    2. Shark Tank: Cousins Maine Lobster Update
    3. Yahoo.com: “15 Social Media Statistics Every Business Needs to Know”