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.

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Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Marketing & Promotions, Story