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Branding

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Is your food truck brand looking bland? If so, it’s time to spice things up. Here are three tips that you can use to create an unforgettable impression of your food truck business and brand name.

stand out in a crowd

But before I get to the list, let’s clear up some confusion about branding…Stop Trying to Be Remarkable

A food truck brand has few functions that it must accomplish:

  • Conveying what your mobile food business is about, in other words, what kinds of products does your menu offer?
  • Conveying the qualities and characteristics that make your offer valuable
  • Establishing your food truck as a credible source for what you are serving
  • Making your brand recognizable and memorable in some way to your target market

That’s it. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in social media, the Internet, mobile technologies, etc, etc. These marketing functions will never change.

Yet, some mobile food business vendors struggle with their brand. They tend to either trip over their own self-doubt, or they are out of touch with the things that their target market finds important and interesting.

Realize that having a successful brand doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be radically different. It doesn’t mean you have to change yourself, either. And, I know some of you will ask; “aren’t we supposed to be Remarkable?”

The truth is, you really DON’T.

Today, if you want your food truck to succeed, then you better be memorable. The people who matter have to remember you when they are hungry.

There is a slight difference between being memorable as opposed to merely standing out. You need to actively touch your customers in some way, to make an impression where it counts, to build relationships, and relate to your customers as real people, with real needs and wants.

3 Questions To Ask To Build To A Memorable Food Truck Brand

Here are three different techniques that any food truck owner can use to strengthen the weakest, most boring brand. Pick one or two of the following options to focus on and look for ways to emphasize and highlight these qualities wherever you can. Where possible, you may even want to test your target market’s response along the way, to see if you are truly conveying what you want to.

1. Is there a service or a set of skills that you provide that competitors don’t? Are there things that you know are valuable to your customers, but your competition doesn’t provide? Do you offer a free meal after 10 purchases? Do you take the time to explain the process you go through to prepare your menu items? Do you come with a particular expertise or skill set that few of your competitors can match?

2. Can you bring in your personal experiences? What interesting things have you done or learned about? Perhaps you worked in a Michelin rated restaurant, lived in the country in which your cuisine originates, or heck, worked on Wall Street.

3. Do you have an exceptional personality? This is about who you are, what you stand for, and how you act. In other words, what makes you, you? What are your values? Though you may have a hard time marketing your food truck based on values and personality alone, you can make sure that these qualities run throughout the items you serve.

In short, building a memorable food truck brand successfully may not be an exact science, but it get’s pretty close. Once you understand the goals you are trying achieve, your food truck won’t be so easily forgettable.

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Many food truck owners have written to us asking for advice in creating alternative revenue streams for their mobile food businesses. So how do we respond? We tell them that the sale of t-shirts, mugs, hats and other merchandise can provide them with a supplemental revenue source.

food truck tshirt marketing

For your customers, your food can be a moving experience and provides you with a way to express your truck’s identity. So your customers may want to buy merchandise to bring home something from your truck. However, a considerable percentage of mobile food vendors miss this opportunity to gain an extra revenue stream and advance their food truck’s brand through merchandising.

Loyal Customers Want More

The benefits do not end after the customer pays for your merchandise.  Frequently, it has a much larger marketing effect. Typically, a loyal customer commits to your food truck brand even more. This commitment has a lasting effect as it solidifies their opinion of your food truck. Think about all the times the customer will come across the merchandise at home and be reminded of the last item they eat from your truck.

Topic of Conversation

The second effect springs out of the conversations that the product provokes. A compliment or question is an opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing between a loyal customer and a potential customer. You may think your logo is an effective advertisement when someone walks down the street wearing it on his or her cap or shirt. That is not normally the case; instead, the T-shirt serves a marketing purpose when people get into conversations about the merchandise. These conversations give your customers the opportunity to talk about your food truck or cart and why they like it so much.

Spread Your Brand

Merchandising can also take your brand one step further, as just having only your logo on a cap is a recipe for failure. You should really express your brand fully and connect it to your food truck’s identity whether it’s through memorable text or visuals. Of course, you must consider customer demographics and what they want.

Here are some types of merchandise you may consider with a few pointers:

Tips for Merchandise

T-shirts
  • Text or image in front that expresses food truck brand (whether funny, clever, or cool)
  • Logo is better on the back as customers shouldn’t feel like billboards and it will get more attention
  • Should last in washing machine and affordable
  • Use these T-shirts as a staff uniform
Mugs
  • Travel mugs are better as they have the potential for greater word-of-mouth marketing
  • Better to have a distinct shape rather than traditional mug
Hats
  • Should be high quality
  • Baseball caps are your safest bet
  • Creative placement or representation of logo as back is out of sight

Other brand-specific Items

  • Glasses, magnets, key chains, pins, stickers

Four things that will help you anticipate the success of merchandising is:

  1. Evaluate the size and excitement of your most loyal customers
  2. Desirability of the merchandise
  3. Visibility of the products
  4. Price (remember there may be different state sales tax for merchandise)

Be sure that you give customers a way to find out about these products (show them off in your service window or on your food truck’s website). When in doubt, you should ask them if merchandise from your food truck would interest them.

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With 2014 just around the corner, have you ever wondered why people get so worked up about the New Year,? The answer is because the New Year brings new opportunities for everyone. It’s a time when many make resolutions to do better or to turn over new and exciting leaves in their personal and business lives.

future sign

As some food trucks have struggled to build strong, powerful, and consistent brands, why not make 2014 ‘the year of your food truck brand? To help you start the New Year with a bang, here are 10 creative ways to reinvent your food truck in 2014 (if it needs it).

Rebrand

While this may not take the cake as the most creative option, definitely the most drastic brand-driven move in the new year is to literally start anew with your brand. Take note, the easy way out is to take a blank piece of paper and start making stuff up. Pull your team together and start answering — more clearly and concisely than ever before — what has to make up your food truck’s brand.

Refocus your team

Far too often the focus of branding efforts becomes external rather than internal. Don’t forget about your team members. Do they know how to talk about your brand? What words are important? Have they ever been given a brand brief? Why not change that in the New Year?

Customer survey

Switching gears from internal to external, how often do you ask your customers what they think about your brand? Tools like SurveyMonkey have taken the cost barriers out of market research for even the smallest businesses. There’s literally no reason not to do it.

Use a new social platform

Find a new megaphone to get the word out about your food truck. Why wouldn’t your mobile food business launch an Instagram account? Even if you aren’t a professional photographer, their easy-to-apply effects can make your dishes into works of art.

Steal something from the big boys

The Internet has broken down many cost barriers from quick and easy printing to online video. If you see an idea you like by a successful food truck or restaurant, keep an open mind and ask yourself why something similar wouldn’t work for you.

Create and share valuable content

You’ve heard it before but the social web has made all of us potential publishers. What are type of cuisine are you producing? Chances are your brand is really great at something — you may even be an expert. What are you publishing online to tell the world? Are you creating how-to videos? Are your writing an eBook? For your food truck brand’s sake, you should be.

Take a deeper dive into your web analytics

By now even the least technically savvy mobile food vendors like the idea of all of the stuff they can measure online but how much of that are you actually doing anything with? Why not pull your web analytics from the last year and come up with three actionable changes you can implement as a result of this intel to better your brand.

Find your voice

Have you ever noticed that the best brands have a distinct voice? Do you have a voice? Chances are your brand has an attitude. Work on finding it in the New Year.

Do something unexpected

I was going to say, “do something fun” or “do something crazy” but to the last point about finding your voice, not every food truck brand is particularly fun or crazy. But you can be unexpected. Find something outrageous to blow your customers away, like an unexpected event.

Branding isn’t always a big thing

Sometimes it’s simply a state of mind. Boiling down your food truck’s ethos into a direction that can inform everything from new promotions to how your service window members talk about your brand is critical. Remember, everyone on your team is a potential brand builder.

What’s your resolution for the food truck brand New Year? Is this the year your food truck grows even bigger? Do you have a new social media initiative planned? Or is this simply a time to get back to basics with some delivering a consistent message?

Whatever your food truck resolutions may be, best of luck in 2014!

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tip of the dayFor food truck owners it’s not enough to have a Facebook or Twitter page alone, you also need a Twitter account. What do you mean you’re not on LinkedIn? Well, at least you have a blog on WordPress or Tumblr, right?

While each social media platform has different features, layouts, and functionality, one thing can always remain the same – your food truck’s branding and presence. The best way to do this is to secure consistent usernames on each platform.

Customers should be able to type in your username from one network to the next to find you easily and not accidentally stumble upon a personal account created by someone outside of your mobile food business.

For those starting out you have to make your presence consistent across multiple social media networks. so make sure to grab your truck’s branded username even if you don’t want to set up and use a particular social media account right now.

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Conventional wisdom says building a strong brand for a food truck requires creating a cool name for your mobile food business, getting the word out about your truck, and enforcing brand message consistency in all of your future customer interactions.

brand name recognition

However, conventional wisdom is wrong. Branding doesn’t create, build or strengthen your brand. Your food truck’s brand will always be a reflection of the quality of your menu and service. There are really no exceptions to this rule.

To understand why, it’s first necessary to define what is part of a food truck’s  ”brand.”  Most people think a brand consists of exterior elements: the truck’s name, it’s logo and the tag line.

To get a general understanding of a brand, think about it in the simplest terms. Take yourself as an example, are you just a combination of skin, clothes, and what you say?

The essence of your food truck brand is not it’s exterior elements, but how your customers feel about your menu items and service.

The purpose of the brand elements is not to create those feelings, but to remind customers of them.  If their feelings about your truck are negative, those brand elements simply remind them of how much you dislike the end product being sold from your service window.

The only way to build a strong brand is to create and sell food that delights your customers. If you fail at this basic step, brand marketing is not just a waste of money, but is actively counterproductive to your food truck business since every time someone sees your truck they will be reminded how they disliked the meal or service they last received.

Ultimately, if you want to build a strong brand for your food truck, put your time and money into creating and selling the best menu items as possible.  Once you have invested in this area use brand marketing to help spread the word.

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A food truck’s Unique Selling Proposition (UPS) is what differentiates you from all the other food trucks and restaurants in your market – especially the trucks that look, smell and taste like yours. It’s the compilation of things that clearly separates you from the pack.

food truck unique-selling-proposition

Defining what your USP is takes some creativity, hard work and soul searching. A USP can be almost anything that distinguishes you from your competition. When determining your USP consider these things:

• Unique benefits to your customers
• Great prices
• Special menu options
• Incredible service
• A strong guarantee
• The best of the best
• Exclusivity or rarity
• Excellence
• Following a specific standard
• Specializing

Another piece important for designating your USP is understanding who your customer is and what makes them purchase:

• Is it low prices?
• Great service?
• 100 percent money-back guarantee?
• Speed of service?
• Something special your product delivers that nobody else does?
• Your qualifications or celebrity?
• Promises you make that no other competitor does?

On top of all that, you need to ask yourself what makes you unique:

• How are you better?
• What makes you the best?
• Why do your customers dine with you?
• What are your special talents, qualities or strengths?
• What makes your product and or service superior?

With a little work, you can start to clearly communicate what makes you different from your competition. Once you’ve crafted your Unique Selling Proposition start using it! Put it on your menu. Include it in your advertisements. Post it on your website.

USE IT EVERYWHERE!

Your USP is much more powerful than your food truck brand. Your brand will help you get recognized, but your USP will help get them up to your service window and keep them coming back for more.

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While speaking at the 2013 ROAM Conference this weekend, during the afternoon breakout session, I was asked a question that I felt needed to expand on for our readers.

Food Truck Branding…What is it and why does it matter?

why food truck branding matters

Marketers have debated about what exactly makes a brand, it’s one of those buzz words that everybody knows or has heard about, but it can be really difficult to explain.

For the sake of this article I’m going to define brand as the name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one food truck’s food or service that differentiates it from those of other food trucks or restaurants. I would also add that a brand is also the feelings that are associated with that food truck, which also helps it be distinct from other food businesses.

You need to do the branding, not the consumer

One of the major mistakes that food truck owners make even before their launch is that they don’t take time to carefully think about what their brand is and worse yet, because they don’t know how to articulate it, the brand ends up being controlled by the consumer instead of the mobile food business owner.

Restaurants aren’t in the business of providing food. They’re in the business of providing a branded experience. Eating is an experience of the senses. Customer service with a smile should be part of every restaurant’s brand experience. But how do you exactly know what your brand should be, and why is it so important?

Why branding your food truck matters

It can make you money. A brand may not mean much to food truck if your food is excellent, but if your plans are expand the business a few years down the road, your brand is worth a lot.

If you have a very clear brand identity for your food truck, then when you need to open another truck in your region or in another state you have a solid idea on the theme of the truck, the level of service that is expected and to be able to explain clearly what your brand is to the new market.

The beauty of branding is that when it’s done right, it made all future communications so much easier. Food truck owners ask themselves, “Is what I’m trying to communicate fitting into what we want our customers to perceive us as? Is the music we’re playing conducive to attracting the people we want at the truck? Is the information we provide on our website focused on the brand message?”

By having a strong brand, not only does your communication remain consistent, but it also helps guide your customer service. How many employees in your food truck know what your brand is really about?

So what’s in a food truck brand?

The Name of Your Food Truck

The name of the food truck is vital. This is a given. Based on what you’re trying to achieve it’s important to think about the name and how it reflects the goals of your mobile business in the present and the future.

A Logo

Not every food truck will have their own logo, but it’s pretty much unheard of that any of the most successful food trucks don’t have one. A good solid logo shouldn’t be changed unless absolutely necessary and there’s public approval. You will know your brand is strong when people don’t want to see the logo changed.

A Slogan

Slogan, though not always necessary in the business, a good slogan can help strongly differentiate you from your other competitors. A slogan really intensifies and forces you to focus on what your mobile food business is all about, or how you want the public to perceive you.

Color Theme of your Food Truck

Colors are extremely important and some colors (like warm colors) are designed to stimulate hunger. The colors and the design of your food truck wrap play a major role in the feel of how your restaurant is. Knowing what you want customers to feel when they step up to your truck will help guide you in the branding of your business.

Dress and Attire

The way that you employees dress are vitally important. Just imagine them all running around looking like customers.

Customer Experience

What do you want your customers to experience? What do you want them to feel? This is all part of the branding strategy as well. Once you know how you want your customers to feel, your servers will be able to have some clear guidelines on how to act so that they deliver the food truck’s brand promise and brand image.

For some, branding a food truck is very easy, because their concept is very sticky. For a truck that focuses on Chinese cuisine, you’ll need to give some deep thought on what your brand is and how that becomes part of the overall long term strategy and goals of your food truck empire. After all why not play classical music at every Hard Rock Cafe if branding didn’t matter?

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tip of the daySocial media is not just for socializing or posting the next parking location for your food truck. When handled correctly, you can use it to enhance your personal brand, establish your expertise, or demonstrate your digital fluency.

Commit to using social media for professional reasons and be proactive about managing your activity and image. Consider what potential investors, business partners or customers will see — you don’t want them to discover only pictures of you and your dog, or worse.

Make sure at a minimum you have a LinkedIn account with a completed profile. Try tweeting or blogging about your expertise in the culinary world, thereby creating content that others can forward, retweet, or repost. This can help you establish yourself as an expert in the mobile food industry.

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tip of the dayBy creating a unique, relevant, and enduring brand position for your food truck and developing a solid understanding of your customers’ purchasing behaviors, you give your mobile food business a fighting chance.

Answering these three questions will help you define one essential aspect of your food truck’s success: Why us?

QUESTION 1: Who are you?

This isn’t a trick question, but it is deeper than the obvious. The question gets to your tagline: What makes your mobile food business special? What are you bringing to the streets that none of the competition are?

QUESTION 2: What do you sell?

Again, there’s a deeper meaning here. Food trucks don’t just sell food; they sell entertainment, comfort and warmth. You must determine what it is that your truck truly sells. Beyond the products on your menu, beyond the services, you have to offer something more — because right this instant, there are a thousand other food trucks that can make the same food, but it is what you do differently that counts.

QUESTION 3: Why does it matter?

Relevance, relevance, relevance. If your message, your offer, your truck’s brand doesn’t matter to your customers, you’re already losing the battle to the next food truck that’s willing to give or do more than you do for your most important customers.

So now ask yourself, why you? If you’ve done the work right your answer isn’t “Because we have great service” or “Because we have great prices.” Just about everyone in the mobile food industry can (and does) say that. The real answer, the deeper answer, helps you get, keep, and escalate the number of customers that frequent your service window.

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What’s in a food truck’s name? When deciding what to call your mobile food business, the answer is plenty. Your food truck’s name can be too quirky or not memorable enough. The challenge for all prospective food truck owners is to pick a name that’s catchy, but also fits well with your particular type of business.

No name food truck

Here are 10 questions to ask as you ponder various names, keeping in mind that the choice could make all the difference in establishing your food truck business in your local area.

What do I want a name to accomplish for my food truck? 
The name you select can help separate you from competitors and reinforce your food truck’s brand. Clearly define your brand positioning before choosing a name.

Will the name be too limiting? 
Don’t box yourself in. Avoid picking names that could limit your mobile food business from enlarging its menu or expanding to new locations.

Does the name make sense for my truck? 
For most food trucks, it’s best to adopt a name that provides some information about the style of cuisine you serve. That doesn’t mean it can’t also have a catchy ring. But be careful because quirky names are always a crapshoot.

Is the name easy to remember? 
The shorter the name, the better, (or in other words K.I.S.S.). We suggest food truck owners limit it to two or three syllables and avoid using hyphens or other special characters. Also try to skip using acronyms, which mean nothing to most people, and picking a name whose first letter is closer to A than Z because certain algorithms and directory listings work alphabetically. When choosing an identity for your food truck simple and straightforward are always in style.

Is the name easy for people to spell? 
That may seem to be a given, but some food truck owners purposely select names that consumers can’t easily spell. It’s a risky strategy to try to make a mobile food business stand out. If your name looks like a typo, scratch it off the list. Some branding professionals we have spoken with believe it’s important that your name be spelled exactly as it sounds. Otherwise, you will forever have to spell it out for people when saying the name or your company’s email or website address aloud.

How will potential customers first encounter your name? 
Some naming experts believe there are exceptions to the easy-to-spell rule, especially if most people will see your name for the first time in print or on the side of your truck. The payoff can be that the unusual sound and spelling of the name helps to create a very distinctive brand.

Does the name sound good and is it easy to pronounce? 
The sound of the name is important in conveying a feeling of energy and excitement. You also must be sure potential customers can easily pronounce your food truck’s name. It is a fact that people are able to spell, pronounce and remember names that they are familiar with.

Is your food truck’s name meaningful only to you? 
A name with hidden or personal meanings evokes nothing about your food truck’s brand, and there may be cases when you or a staff member won’t be there to explain it when most people encounter it.

Is the name visually appealing? 
You also want to consider how the name will look on the side of your truck, in a  logo or an ad.

Have I conducted a proper trademark search?

A great name for a food truck is worthless if someone else already has laid claim to it. Start with some free resources like Trademarkia.com or USPTO.gov to do a cursory search to see if the name is already in use. Then, hire a trademark attorney to do a more thorough screening, and if the name isn’t taken, to register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Getting it right the first time will save you both a lot of time and money.

For more on Trademarking your food truck check out this full article on the topic.

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