Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru | March 2012 | By Denise Lee Yohn

3 Ways to Improve Local Marketing

For small concepts, diversifying local-store marketing efforts beyond fliers and handouts is the best way to secure new business.

Q: Are there any low-cost methods of diverting eyes and mouths to our restaurant on an extremely local basis?

— Franklin Grimes, two-unit Ocho Mexican Grill, Los Angeles

A: Local-store marketing is definitely the way to go for Ocho Mexican Grill, Franklin. Mass media advertising can be expensive, and it’s not that effective for a small business like yours. Using local tactics to build a strong and loyal customer base in the 3–5-mile trading area around your locations will have much more impact.

The key to any effective marketing program is focus, and local-store marketing is no exception. In addition to focusing on a very targeted geography, you should focus on a specific customer target.

Is it young adults looking for a great-tasting late-night bite? Families looking for a wholesome, out-of-home meal? Foodies looking for fresh, locally sourced ingredients? Homing in on your desired customer and their needs will help you find and reach them more easily and tailor your offerings.

A focused message is also important. Define the single, simple idea you want Ocho to stand for and ensure all of your marketing messages communicate it. It will help you stand out from all the other options out there and make you more memorable. Repetition is the mother of learning.

There are three primary elements of a good local-store marketing program: partnerships, personal selling, and public relations.

1. Partnerships.

Relationships with community partners build your credibility and your exposure.

Potential partners include all businesses and nonbusiness organizations that interact with your target customers. Do a local search through Google, the Yellow Pages, the Chamber of Commerce, and local community newspapers to identify possible partners, and then select the ones that have the strongest ties with your target and that fit with or complement your brand image and values.

Community nonprofits, schools, and local sports teams are usually the best options. In Ocho’s case, the local farmers’ market and community gardens seem like natural fits for your chain’s fresh, all-natural positioning.

A strong partnership is a win-win for both parties, but be prepared to do the giving first—the receiving will come later. Consider providing discounted or free catering for sporting events and school parties or offering your location for community meetings. Support your partners’ fundraising and awareness campaigns by posting their signs at your restaurant, sponsoring their efforts, and volunteering your crew to work at their events.

If your partner is another retail business, putting on a joint event or running a joint promotion is a novel way to generate excitement for both locations. Set up a referral program with hotels, movie theaters, and fitness clubs in which their guests qualify for a discount at your restaurant.

The objective is to closely associate your name with your partners, and to demonstrate your commitment to them and their success. You’ll benefit from the repeated exposure to their customers, the perceptions of being a vital part of the community, and the good-will feelings of being a local supporter.

2. Personal selling.

Putting a face on your business makes your brand more likeable and trustworthy.

Nothing engages your local community like a personal touch. Go around to local businesses with samples and menus and introduce yourself to the person in charge. Make sure they know how much you’d like their business and support, and exchange contact information so you can stay in touch.

When your representative distributes fliers and door hangers in the neighborhood, don’t just anonymously leave them on doors and cars where they’re likely to be overlooked or tossed in the trash. Try to hand them to people in person whenever possible. A smile and a personal greeting will be remembered and appreciated.

3. Public relations.

Use local media to get “free advertising.”

You want Ocho to appear in the newspaper as frequently as possible, so develop good relationships with editors of the food section in local newspapers and reporters with local business beats.

Offer them a special behind-the-scenes look at your business, invite them to exclusive tastings of new menu items, or pitch them human-interest stories on your founder, employees, and loyal customers. Always include a personal note when forwarding press releases to them. Offer to contribute bylined articles on timely topics like nutrition or food safety.

Local-store marketing is about developing long-lasting relationships with the people, organizations, and businesses in your community. Promoting your brand in this way not only gives you great exposure at no cost, but it also positions you as a leader and a trustworthy, valuable member of the community.

There’s a final “P” that’s essential to local-store marketing: Persistence. Local-store marketing may be inexpensive, but it requires a long-term commitment. It’s an ongoing process that builds awareness and traffic over time, not overnight. Develop a six-month plan and stick with it. Then take stock of what worked, adjust what didn’t, and recommit for another six months.

Get the answers you need to build a strong brand! Brand New Perspectives is now taking your questions. If you are an owner, operator, or company executive with an issue or idea about brand building, complete the question form and brand expert Denise Lee Yohn will respond in an upcoming column.


This is spot-on. Particularly the final part about persistence. I've worked with franchisees on LSM for several years, and the primary barrier to their success is their frustration when something doesn't work right away. If they give away food or samples at an event and get no return, they often think it was just a waste of money, rather than looking at it as a long-term commitment that builds a foundation for future business over time. Convincing franchisees and small-unit owners not to get dejected or frustrated and to make the long-term commitment to LSM isn't easy, but it is necessary.Thanks for a great article!

Persistence does indeed pay off! Keep the faith!

This really made my day. Thanks for picking my question out of the lot. Our second location just had a soft opening last week so your words of advice and affirmation could not have come at a better time. Full steam ahead!

This really made my day. Thanks for picking my question out of the lot. Our second location just had a soft opening last week so your words of advice and affirmation could not have come at a better time. Full steam ahead!

xcellent info.. thank you!!

Great Article, Denise. You hit it spot on with developing relationships within your local communities and being persistent. We have been preaching those things for nearly 2 decades to our franchisees and those who have taken it to heart and are executing it properly have not only been more profitable, they have also weathered the 'storm' of the past few years in much better shape than those who haven't warmed up to the LSM ideas that we have been promoting. Right on!

Denise - very informative article. I am a principal in a one store (2nd in the works) taco concept. We are located in a large college town. I really like what Chipotle has done with their student brand manager program. Do you think that, or some variation, of that marketing program could be helpful to a small growing restaurant?Thank you,Derek

This is perfect. Mike you are absolutely correct, local store marketing is essential for the franchisee. The USPS has launched a program, Every Door Direct Mail specifically for businesses to target the community they are serving. We have created a web tool within a 5 mile radius of any location. Persistence and patience will pay off in the long run. The return on your mailing investment and life time value of your customers will keep your establishment in the green. If any franchisee needs further assistance please contact me.

Hi Dear,I am a struggling franchisee for one of the Ice-Cream brand.I am interesting into doing EDDM , please share me more info.Recently, i signed up with Door hanger which will cost me almost 500 bucks for two drops for upto 7500 to 1000 houses.

There are some forms of mass media vehicles that allow for very precise targeting of your customer base both demographically and geographically (down to zip codes) that can be effective without too much out of pocket cost such as web based music services like Pandora that reaches subscribers via internet and mobile devices.

Love your second point. It is so important that the restaurant manager get out of the office and out in the community to introduce him/herself and his /her restaurant to potential guests. People are more likely to buy from someone they know and trust.For some managers ths is a hurdle - they feel totally comfortable talking to guests in the restaurant, but once they step outside of their comfort zone, they not so self assured. We always suggest for the first few outings into the community that they take another key employee with them. That way they don't have to walk into neighborhood businesses all alone. With practice they can quickly build up their confidence.

Mobile marketing is another proven way to successfully drive local area marketing for businesses. At Mobivity, we specialize in this sort of marketing for QSR's and fast casual restaurants and have seen results with Chick-fil-a, Wendy's, DQ, Qdoba, etc all over the USA.

I agree with you Denise, partnerships are one of the most beneficial things you can do to improve local marketing. This is especially true if you can get a partner that is totally complimentary to your abilities and assets. Beyond that, I think you guys should also not neglect print media for local marketing. See this: . I think with the right partner helping you with targeted local marketing via printed materials, you should get a long way with a local marketing campaign.

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Denise Lee Yohn

Denise Lee Yohn has been inspiring and teaching companies how to operationalize their brands to grow their businesses for more than 20 years. Denise shows business leaders how to transform brand-building from a costly, discrete, subjective activity into the most integral way of managing and growing a business.

World-class brands including Frito Lay, Jack in the Box, and Jamba Juice have called on Denise, an established speaker, author, and consulting partner.