Promotions | December 2010 | By Robert Lillegard

Cheap Marketing Tips that Work

When it comes to marketing on a budget, there’s a fine line between terrific and terrible.
There is a fine line between terrific and terrible cheap restaurant marketing ef
image used with permission.

In the teeth of the recession, Back Yard Burgers developed a new, slimmed-down marketing strategy. The roughly 200-unit, Nashville, Tennessee–based chain cut costs across the board, developed a slick-looking website, and created a social media strategy centered on Facebook and Twitter.

But Ken King, a senior consultant with National Restaurant Consultants Inc., says this was a disaster.

“Their same-store sales in some stores are down as much as 20 or 30 percent,” King says. “They’re just not reaching the public at all.”

Marketing on a budget isn’t an easy thing. Although some concepts have been able to reduce their expenses while gaining sales, others have discovered that cutting can be dangerous. Figuring out the balance requires careful planning and a willingness to learn from the mistakes of the competition.

Cheap Marketing Gone Wrong

Experts say that quick serves should never use a cheap marketing strategy that compromises the brand image. John Keuning, creative director for Out There Advertising, has worked on several campaigns for the Steak Escape chain. He says that while easy-to-make coupons can get people in the door, it will cost a concept in the long run.

“Get out there and highlight the benefits of your product, but don’t do it by discounting,” Keuning says. “As soon as you start discounting to get traffic, people will start to expect that they’ll get that deal every time.”

Another common mistake operators make when marketing is to stick to their strengths. One expert says streamlining marketing so it only focuses on one main item can be a serious blunder. As CEO of the Pacific Management Consulting Group, John Gordon has seen chains struggle because they ignored certain dayparts, like breakfast and afternoon snacks.

“The reason why McDonald’s has been able to take their commanding position in the fast food hamburger segment is that you can get snacks and food items of any type at any time of day,” Gordon says.

“If you’re not going to be putting an insert in the paper, send workers out. Either sweat equity or money, it’s going to take one or the other.”

Finally, quick serves cannot skimp on the implementation of marketing efforts. Although no one sets out with the intention of doing a half-hearted job, some companies end up budgeting so little for marketing that they’re unable to complete what they start, says Melissa D’Aloia, account executive for Out There Advertising. She says that was the case with Out There’s initial efforts on Facebook.

“A couple years ago, when we entered social media with Steak Escape, we didn’t dedicate enough resources to it,” D’Aloia says. “It didn’t really have much of an impact.”

The lesson for operators, D’Aloia says, is that it’s better to carry through with a small-scale plan than come up with a big plan that operators are not ready to pay for.

Cheap Strategies That Work

As Back Yard Burgers discovered, saving money on marketing isn’t simply a matter of cutting back. Instead, it involves rethinking the whole idea of marketing.

King says one of the most efficient cheap ways to get a customer interested in a product is to hand him a sample. Free food generates warm feelings toward a brand, and it gets customers hungry for more. Garbanzo, a Denver-based Mediterranean concept, used this strategy with great results in its stores, King says.

“Talk about guerrilla marketing,” King says. “When you walk through the door, an employee hands you a falafel ball. Look at Chick-fil-A—they invented that model by having a girl handing out a piece of fried chicken in the mall.”

Attention-grabbing signage can also be a successful cheap marketing method. Simple signs that advertise new products or encourage a combo meal are one of the most effective methods of generating additional business, Gordon says.

“Point-of-purchase (PoP) materials are No. 2 or No. 3 in the total scheme,” he says. “In-store PoP posters [and] outdoor PoP is right behind television and radio.”

Loyalty programs are now entering the world of cost-sensitive marketing as well. Though card-based loyalty programs failed to capture the mass public’s attention and were costly investments, new technology is making loyalty easier—and cheaper—than ever to implement.

QR Loyalty, which launched publicly in September, helps brands build loyalty with a vehicle they already have well in stock: receipts. The company provides a specialized QR code on receipts for customers to scan with their smartphones. As consumers collect points by scanning, operators collect information on their purchase habits.

“It enables the restaurant owner to remarket to those customers knowing what their preferences are,” says Nigel Malkin, cofounder of QR Loyalty. “If you have someone who only orders chicken or vegetable dishes, you know how to market to those customers. That kind of customer data is incredibly valuable.”

Malkin says QR Loyalty’s pay-for-performance program costs slightly less than 1 percent of an operation’s gross annual sales after adding up its licensing fees and the rewards given out, but that it can generate a sales lift of 5–10 percent.

Of course, operators who truly want to streamline their marketing can trade time for money.

“If you’re not going to be putting an insert in the paper, send [workers] out,” Keuning says. “Do doorhangers, put them in windshields, etc. Either sweat equity or money, it’s going to take one or the other.”

Some local stores become destinations for kids’ birthday parties, some provide food for events, and some have special incentives for mall employees. This September, a Steak Escape location in Sacramento, California, had success by commemorating an important moment in its own history.

“[They] chose to do an anniversary celebration and they had their entire crew fired up about it,” D’Aloia says. “Through that excitement they have seen their store sales increase in a very slow month over 20 percent.”

Cheap marketing strategies ultimately depend on the quality of the product. Poor service or mediocre food can drive even the best-marketed property into the ground. On the other hand, a very good company can pull off the ultimate frugal marketing move.

Just ask Mary McLeese, brand manager for Five Guys Enterprises. The burger-and-fries chain became a national name solely by word of mouth.

“We do not advertise at all,” McLeese says. “[And] we advise our franchisees not to advertise. If you concentrate on the customers and concentrate on the food, it will grow naturally.”


Love the article and the magazine. My take is this: It's not about being cheap. It's about being effective. And effective doesn't necessarily mean expensive. Great creative thinking across the blue sky should always include close-in, easy, relevant, surprising, arresting and less-expensive ideas. The skill comes is weighing what will deliver against the objectives and at what cost. That should ultimately drive the decision.

"Difficult to measure" does not equate to "lacks value". I believe this is what you're implying. Also I don't think I've ever heard or read anyone in the Social Media field advising us to scrap other marketing efforts. Definitely didn't get that from reading this article. Social Media has nothing at all to do with driving new customers. If that's the first thing you're asking it to do then you have zero understanding of the beast. It's not hard to get educated about it either, as the Social guru types tend to be very social and leave tons of real time front line advice on blogs and Twitter. In the end it might be riskier to play it "safe". If you wait to dig for gold after asking everyone else how much there was, what have you done?

Interesting conversation and tips, particularly for SMEs and start-up companies with limited budget. However, there are new solutions these days to save money for companies that lack resources, time and expertise to develop their marketing activities. SME have now started to outsource their marketing entirely to agencies. Dan

This article explains the risk of cutting funding foradvertising in the fast food industry. In the article it is emphasized thatcheap advertising is never good because it will make the company look cheap andmake their products look cheap. With a new generation of advertising, it doesnot have to be so expensive. In todays society social media and advertising acrossthe internet are much cheaper than many other alternatives while still be beingvery effective. One of the best ways of advertising is just to have aoutstanding and unique product. The five guys enterprise are not well knowbecause of their advertising, but they are well know because they have a highquality product. High quality product will for the most part sell themselvesdue to word of mouth. While cheap advertising is not easy, it is getting easierover time, and there are ways of doing effective cheap advertising.

Here's some cheap and effective advertising!!here's the link was a Celebrity Publicist for 13yrs.I will make YOUR product famousCOST: $75 a week!  YEP! Thats all!!Here's what we do:EVERY WEEK 7 new online accounts created50 posts madeOn the following types of sites:COST: $75 a week! YEP! Thats all!!Here's what we do:EVERY WEEK 7 new online accounts created50 posts madeOn the following types of sites:Social MediaMake relevant posts designed to increase buzz Engage followersClassified ad sites like CraigslistQuestion and Answer sitesAnswer industry related questions in a way that sets your brand up as an expertLocal Search Citation / Business ListingsIndustry related ForumsMake posts in forums in a way that advertises businessAnswer Questions/ Offer expert adviceReview SitesEncourage Happy Customers to place reviewsBlogsPost interesting and highly searched, industry related content These sites are just the ones I recommend, they can be altered, whenever and as often as you'd like I, and my team will do ALL this for only $75 a week. No contract, no sign up fee.... IMAGINE- After just 1 month (4 weeks) of our service- HOW MUCH MORE content your brand will have out there!This is the absolute BEST way to advertise/market/promote. Have a constant, well managed stream of information that produces quality content. This technique has been used by publicists from the very beginning. It builds on itself, snowballs into a mountain of popularity. Gaining credibility, generating buzz, and increasing revenues. 

Add new comment