If you think you’re in the pizza business, then you’re dead wrong. You are in the marketing business! In fact, the main reason why chains and leading independents are so successful is because they are mean, aggressive, marketing machines.

Because they understand the power and the need for consistent advertising, they make it a priority to employ the best research and creative minds in the advertising world. They pay dearly to make sure the right message reaches their consumers several times a month — consistently each and every month. That’s it! That’s their big secret.

Most chains charge their franchisees monthly advertising fees as a percentage of their sales, thereby committing large budgets to continually build their brand and drown out the competition. If you think about it, it all makes good sense. Each and every one of your clients has many options when ordering food. What makes customers order from a particular establishment is their subconscious awareness and image of their favorite food whether it be pizza, hamburgers, Chinese or anything else.

So, as a small business operator you need to ask yourself, what do you need to do to pop into your client’s mind, and what message do you need to send on a consistent basis to give your establishment half a chance to be considered for tonight’s dinner? You guessed it — good, consistent, effective marketing that allows you to distinguish your operation in one form or another.

In order to increase your brand awareness, you’ll need to establish it as an objective, and be prepared to dedicate some energy to it.  If you want to ensure that your efforts bear fruit, there are a number of steps you must take.

Doing the Research

Creating your own market research is not brain surgery. If you’ve been in business for some time you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Involve some of your employees and business associates in the process and take note of what they say. Ask some of your loyal customers why they keep coming back for more. With good feedback you will slowly develop a better understanding of “who you are,” what your operation stands for in a business sense, and most importantly, who your customers think you are.

If you are starting out, then the approach is somewhat different. Once you’ve decided the location of your new establishment, you need to use the same thought process as above. Organize a meeting with the people you’ve hired. It’s always a good idea to hire people who live in the neighborhood and have local foodservice experience. Their experience will help you develop an awareness of your area of operation that will help you build your strategy.

Selecting a Marketing Partner

The second part of the process is probably the most important. Who are you going to trust? Your goal is to find the right “partner.” Do not rush; speak to a number of potential marketing establishments. They need to have experience and understand the pizza market or at least the foodservice industry. Ask if they have testimonials from satisfied customers.

You need answers to these questions because you want to get it right the first time. Remember, you are about to partner with someone who will help you communicate with your most important asset — your customer.

It’s like going on your first date, and you had better make a good impression. You do not want to jump back and forth between suppliers. You want to develop an open line of communication with your strategist. Once you have found the right partner, express your intention to them. They will treat you completely different if they understand that you are committed, that this will be a relationship for the long haul and that your success will be their success.

The Creative Element

You’ll want to share the knowledge you’ve accumulated from your research. The more educated your creative team is the better. Share the bigger picture, vision and goals. Develop a creative direction that makes you feel comfortable and will carry an image that reflects your quality and service.

I’ve seen many clients accept a direction that they are not comfortable with because the artist will charge them additional fees for changes. When it looks right, you’ll know it. Ask them to show you a complete mock-up in full-color with a mix of beautiful gourmet and lifelike pictures as well as great graphics. Remember people do not read words. We react more positively to beautiful pictures. We eat with our eyes. This process should not be expensive at all; in fact there are companies that specialize in marketing for the pizza industry. They offer free artwork with an extensive photo library. (Don’t worry; they’ll make their money when you keep coming back for repeat print orders).

Getting Results

I found that the most effective route to sell home-meal replacements is direct mail. You can target specific locations and the response is easily measurable. I’d like to share a little story that took place recently that demonstrates this.

We were asked to create a direct mail flyer for a local pizza chain that has about 100 locations in Toronto. Once we delivered the flyers to the head office, I eagerly awaited the delivery to my house since one of their locations is very close to where I live.

Well, it never arrived. When I asked my customer why, his response was: “Some locations do not distribute flyers regularly.” I proposed to my new client to allow me to conduct a simple measuring test. I took it upon myself to send 2,000 flyers to households around my area for six consecutive months. Same households, same time every month.

At the end of that period sales increased 19 percent. This exercise must have sold that location’s owner because I keep getting his flyers regularly. I urge you to test and measure the response. Do not expect the telephone to ring off the hook initially. However, I can assure you that consistency will absolutely improve your business.