You don’t have to flip too many channels to know about the popularity of police shows focused on the science of forensic evidence. Watson would have followed behind Sherlock with a spectrometer if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a modern day author.

Success leaves clues…clues you can use to engineer more success. Many pizza operators take a shotgun approach to marketing their businesses by using marriage mail, newspaper inserts or carrier route mailings. A phrase that has served me well in marketing my business is, “Your future customers resemble your current customers.” It’s true that proverbial birds of a feather do flock together. Your business appeals to a specific subset of the population as identified by demographic, geographic or lifestyle characteristic.

A survey is a great tool to uncover those variables usable in creating a niched target market for your next promotion. On many occasions we have asked about address, age, gender, radio and television station preference and how first time customers discover us. The results of our first survey lead us to rent a list of men, 25-55, within three miles of our restaurant that lived in a house versus apartment, with at least two people in the household. We also asked our list broker to break down the list by birth month of the man.          

With the list in hand, we created a mailing piece good for a free meal on the recipient’s birthday. We achieved more than a 17 percent response from a cold list without the perception of heavy discounting. Why? Let’s look at the offer. A free meal is as about as strong an offer as you can run and on all accounts should pull well. If you run a “Buy One Pizza, Get One Free” ad in the paper, your response will be high because of the strong offer, but you’ll create a coupon addict. They’ll be on the lookout for your next “buy one, get one free” offer and will not return without one. This forces you in a downward spiral of discount dependency.

By insisting on the birth month of my super-targeted recipient, I tied my offer into a special day that most people do not usually celebrate alone – forcing spending above the offer. Since the offer was tied into a birthday, that only happens once a year, my target did not expect another free meal the next month. This promotion serves the purpose of getting first time visitors in for a free sample meal and leaves it in your hands to wow them back with your great food and service. Because of how they were acquired, you have kept the coupon crowd at bay.

This strategy works even better with catering prospects. The two questions I always ask at the end of a catered event are, “Who booked this event?” and “Why did they book this event?” The answers will lead you to a flood of new catering business. The “who” refers to the type of company that ordered the event as well as the title of the person at the company. Examining the “why” is an insight into the type of events you cater.

Imagine you just finished catering a meal at a construction site. You would discover that the project manager of a commercial general contracting company ordered the event. If you asked “why,” you’d be educated to the existence of Topping Out Parties, a celebration for all the subcontractors on a large building project once the roof is completed. The “who” and “why” questions have led me to focus on different catering niches to attack, from pharmaceutical reps bringing in lunch for doctors’ offices to high school athletic directors booking sports banquets.

Hopefully, you maintain a list of your catering clients or will if you’re just getting started. Companies like Dunn & Bradstreet can take your database and create reports that identify the industries you appeal to the most and the average number of employees. Microsoft Map Point will allow you to import your database and place a push pin on their map to identify the geographic location of your customers. If you lack the resources, you can do it manually. The clues of your current customers will allow you to identify the profile of your future customers without wasting mass media dollars.

You don’t have to be a Sherlock to figure out how to leverage your past events into future business. Armed with the “who” and “why” will allow you to be a catering specialist for these niches and not a generalist. And as in the world of real doctors, the specialist always makes more than the generalist.

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