Sell more pizzas by focusing your marketing on three areas of influence-;within your four walls, four blocks and four miles.

All marketing is local, and it begins inside the four walls of your pizzeria and extends to the real estate that’s a 10-minute drive or walk from your place of business. This is the idea behind the system that I call four-walls branding and neighborhood marketing. You can tap into the true potential of your business by focusing your marketing efforts within your own trading area—the customer base that is right there in your backyard. Businesses, schools, churches, community events and even fellow retailers become your promotional allies in building cost-effective, tactical programs to capture consumer dollars within your reach. My philosophy is, think local, think small!

Start With Your Employees

With four-walls branding and neighborhood marketing, your marketing messages are conveyed on a one-to-one basis: first to your employees, then from your employees to your guests, and finally from your guests to their families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. This marketing approach is intimate and personal—it’s the polar opposite of slick and impersonal mass-media advertising. You start by hiring, training and motivating your employees, then leading them to go beyond the idea of service and embrace your own belief in hospitality. Here are some ideas to consider for your employees:

  1. Solicit their opinions. Administer frequent internal customer surveys. Find out what they think, need, want and feel. The surveys must be self-administered, confidential and anonymous. You want your employees to know that their opinions matter.
  2. Make them feel special. Recognize their birthdays by sending them cards and gift certificates. Give them something special on their wedding anniversaries. Enclose inspirational messages or notes with their paychecks that express how much you appreciate them.
  3. Offer rewards. For performing high-quality work, meeting schedules or simply for showing up consistently and on time, award staff members a “Get Out of Work Free” card that’s redeemable with seven days’ advance notice.
Insist that cooks or chefs step out of the kitchen for meet-and-greets with the customers on a regular basis.

Learn From Your Customers

Even if you serve the best pizza in town, offer the best value and provide top-notch service, keep in mind that your guests can eat anywhere. If they choose to eat at your pizzeria, you should value that relationship and work to build upon it. Treat your customers as authorities, as unpaid consultants. Don’t be afraid to ask their advice or their opinions about your operation, such as how you might change or improve it to meet their needs. Feel free to share inside information with them, from recipes to marketing ideas. The more your customers understand your business, the more they’ll respect what you’re trying to do.

Above all, keep open the lines of communication with your customers. Mount a perpetual communication process with them to establish your pizzeria as a trusted business and a safe haven. After a new customer walks through the door and gives you his basic information—including name, email, address, birthday, etc.—follow up with that person in the next five days to one week via email (or, for those that prefer it, snail mail). This message should accomplish four things: 1) Thank them for their business; 2) Resell the value of your company; 3) Reassure them of the prudence of eating at your pizzeria by emphasizing, for example, the freshness and quality of your ingredients and presenting your pizzeria as a respected business in the community; and 4) Offer something unexpected and special to show your appreciation for their patronage.

Such a follow-up message essentially “programs” the customer to take another look at your pizzeria and make a second visit. After the second visit, perhaps send another email that includes an offer for a free appetizer or soft drink with his next visit. The goal is to continually reinforce the customer’s buying decisions. Make it clear to him that you genuinely care about him and that you see him as more than a walking dollar sign.

Want to draw attention to your restaurant on a slow day? Set up a fake picketing line in front of your pizzeria, with employees and their friends holding up signs that read, “I love working here!” and “Our food is fantastic!”

Face-to-Face Beats Facebook

Everyone’s talking about social media these days, and with good reason. Social media is a cost-effective way to reach a large audience. But face-to-face marketing still beats Facebook marketing every time. With that in mind, you can do some specific things to boost your marketing reach within your own four walls and create a positive personal experience for every guest who walks through the doors. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:

  1. Everything in your restaurant must be clean and well-kept, including the staff. A sparkling-clean bathroom is particularly important!
  2. Recruit great people first. Skills can be taught. The No. 1 responsibility of a manager is to recruit top-notch employees with a positive attitude.
  3. Staff should be trained to identify new customers and tell the manager about them.
  4. Insist that cooks or chefs step out of the kitchen for meet-and-greets with the customers on a regular basis.
  5. Empower certain staff with extra pay and distinctive uniforms. Your front line is your bottom line.
  6. Encourage employees to surprise customers with coupons for their next visit, such as a free order of buffalo wings or a free kid-size pizza for families.
  7. Recognize and reward long-time employees on their date-of-hire anniversary.
  8. On Friday nights, have your servers wear a $10 bill with a pin that says, “If I’m not smiling, this Hamilton is yours.” If the emplooyee still has it at the end of the night or shift, he gets to keep the $10.
  9. Create personalized business cards for your employees with titles like “Server Extraordinaire” or “Craft Beer Guru.”
  10. Send out an employee newsletter and acknowledge birthdays, accomplishments, new hire introductions, new store offerings, etc.
  11. Use signage at the hostess stand for new menu items. Use the inside of the bathroom stall doors to promote in-house events or specials.
  12. Create a “Worst Seat in the House” and give anybody who sits there 50% off their meal.

Around the Block

The next step in your neighborhood and four-walls marketing campaign is to venture outside your restaurant and get out into the nearby community. Your pizzeria is likely surrounded by retail stores, office buildings and even other restaurants, and everyone who works in these businesses—as well as their customers—are potential guests for your store. You need to take the time to get to know them and give them a reason to visit your restaurant. Here are some ideas:

  1. Introduce yourself to every business owner, manager and resident within 10 minutes of your location. Hand out your business cards, menus and coupons and let them know you want to serve them some pizza. In fact, I’d recommend calling the business in advance and offering to serve a full lunch to all of its employees.
  2. Drop by a neighborhood block party with a hot bag filled with pizzas or appetizers.
  3. Advertise your pizzeria at the nearest bus or train stops and include walking directions that will lead customers straight to your door.
  4. Create a fake “parking ticket” to place on cars outside your restaurant, enticing potential customers into your pizzeria.
  5. Set up a fake picketing line in front of your pizzeria, with employees and their friends holding up signs that read, “I love working here!” and “Our food is fantastic!”

Go the Extra Mile

Finally, once you’ve built up your marketing efforts within your own four walls and within the surrounding four blocks, it’s time to spread out a little further—within four miles of your restaurant. Consider these tactics:

  1. Hire 15 people to take samples of your pizzas to area businesses, along with a lot of menus and coupons.
  2. Purchase a new residents list every month, and send each person on the list a coupon for a free pizza.
  3. Welcome new businesses to the neighborhood with samples and/or coupons for a free one-topping pie or order of wings at lunchtime.
  4. Give your delivery drivers magnetic business cards to hand out to customers. The cards should bear titles like “The Road Warrior” and “Have Pizza, Will Travel.”
  5. Announce new menu items via email to all of your customers and include a mouthwatering photograph.
  6. Surprise a local doctor’s office with a free lunch and copies of your menu.
  7. Rent a food booth at a local festival and give out slices of your most popular pies.
  8. Take photos at local school sporting events, post them on your walls and host a “Find Your Face” promotion.
  9. Sponsor a discount day especially for local firefighters and police officers in your area. Encourage them to bring their families, and make everyone feel welcome.
  10. Provide special coupons to nearby theaters and require guests to show their ticket stub when they come in to redeem the coupon.

Tom Feltenstein is a restaurant marketing consultant and the CEO/founder of Tom Feltenstein’s Power Marketing Academy. Visit tomfeltenstein.com.