Marketing 101: Beat Your Gong and Sell More Candles

A Fifth Century Chinese text advised merchants to draw attention to their goods with some simple marketing: “beat your gong to sell more candles.” Simple advice then, but 1500 years later, the term “marketing” has more forms than the IRS, including: viral, direct, indirect, branding, neighborhood, promotion, guerrilla, “e”, and advertising. Call it what you want to, but don’t forget that the objective of smart marketing is acquisition and maintenance of internal and external customers. This month, let’s discuss a few basics about unit level customer-experience marketing that might help you spend less, and earn more.

Sell the brand internally first.

Just as there is external marketing (advertising) and internal marketing (service), your first objective is to sell the brand both externally and internally. Josh Davies, Training Director for the Denver-based hotel management company Sage Hospitality, says it well: “It is not good enough for your brand to have quality and value for your external customers; your internal brand must provide quality and value for your internal customers, too.” Job one therefore, is to market and sell your product, promise and purpose to your own team members, then to your customers. Fail at internal branding and you have retention, credibility and service problems. So find out what your internal customers value most and hold close in your culture, (not just what the executives and training manuals say are important) and give them more of it.

New customer acquisition benefits you two ways.

Marketing benefits a business two ways: a guest choosing your restaurant over the competition not only means that you get more business, but also that the competitor has less.

Media Marketing makes sense in the right doses.

If your potential diners spend part of their day reading their mail, the local newspaper, consulting the yellow pages, and listening to radio, maybe it makes sense that your marketing message should be in front of them, too. This is not to overlook the priority and importance of neighborhood marketing (see below) but to suggest that you don’t ignore the benefits of advertising too.

Think globally, market locally.

Anecdotal research has convinced us that 60-80% of our potential customer base lives within a 5 mile radius of our restaurants. I’ve never seen authentic research to back this up, but if you believe it, it’s true for you. In any case, we’d be foolish to overlook the potential of “local” store marketing to reach all the potential patrons in our trading area and community, including these influence peddlers:

  • Realtors and local moving companies.
    They know who’s moving to town before anyone else and wouldn’t you like to be among the first to welcome them to your neighborhood with a gift certificate?
  • Funeral directors.
    I don’t mean to promote marketing macabre, but when misfortune strikes and families gather for support and comfort, meals and/or catering occasions may result. Knowing your local funeral directors may provide leads and opportunities to grow business.
  • Apartment and business complexes.
    Target apartment/condo complexes and business parks via door hangers, coupons, flyers, samples, etc. Always get permission from management companies first.
  • Hotel bartenders.
    Every operator tries to schmooze the local hotel concierge to recommend their restaurant to guests, and they overlook one of the key influence peddlers in the hotel: the bartender. Many guests will gather first at the bar after meetings to decide on a dining destination. Most ask the bartender for a recommendation before strolling across the lobby to query the concierge. Gift certificates help access bartenders “share-of-mind”.
  • Radio station DJs.
    Deliver your signature dishes (and clothing if you have it) to morning or afternoon drive-time DJs in hopes of an enthusiastic on-air free “infomercial” plug. As my buddy Jim Buelt says, “the best advertising in the world is a happy customer with a big mouth”.
  • Schools.
    There are dozens of things you could do in your local elementary, middle and high schools to build social capital (and sales). Here’s a short list:
  • Sponsor teams, game programs, scoreboards.
  • Offer fund-raising opportunities on slower nights (give 10-20% of sales to school group that recruits customers for you.
  • Offer VIP cards to teachers
  • Contribute gift certificates to students for perfect attendance, reading clubs, honor rolls, special achievement (redeemable with an adult purchase, ‘natch).
  • Offer tours in your kitchen to pre-school groups (if insurance permits it)
  • Host an essay contest, recipe contest or reading contest for students

Everything is marketing. Especially training. And finally, don’t fall into the trap of spending all your time, money and effort thinking of ways to get new customers into your restaurant and then fail to expend a like amount of time, effort and money on treating them well within your four walls once they choose to visit you. A well-trained staff is the key to maintaining new guests and not losing the ones you already have. The less you spend on training the more you’ll spend on advertising.

By Jim Sullivan

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