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Food Trucks: Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box


Photo by Elvert Barnes via flickr

On Wednesday around noon, half of the 10th floor at Ogilvy Washington made a mass exodus to the corner of 20th and L, all in the name of grilled cheese served out of a truck. Not many things make a large group of very busy people suddenly crave the same lunch and wait outside in the cold for it. While gourmet food trucks are nothing new in cities across the US, the excitement surrounding them hasn’t waned. Why? Because their whereabouts are unpredictable, they exude an air of mystery and you can personally beg them via Twitter to go to your neck of the woods, not Virginia.

Like many of the clients we work with, food trucks’ entire business models are built on social media and word of mouth. It’s their lifeline. But with more mobile businesses staking their claim on street corners, these entrepreneurs can’t just tweet about their coordinates or shortages of bulgogi steak and call it a day. Thanks to new technology and mainstream acceptance of the trend (restaurants and fast food chains are getting in on the action), food truck entrepreneurs are thinking outside the box to keep customers coming back for more. Here are some online and offline tactics we’re seeing:

Online:

– Mobile Meteor just launched a new app (it works with an existing Twitter account) that optimizes food truck websites for smartphones, so they can reach new customers who may not use Twitter as regularly. A Google map feature with their exact location will automatically appear on the mobile site. With half of all Americans expected to own smartphones by the end of 2011, it will be interesting to see how many trucks go this “route.”

–  Huge corporations see the value of reaching consumers through food trucks — Virgin America worked with Loopt and rebranded two taco trucks in California with specials to market the airline’s new flights to Mexico.

– Food trucks are joining forces on tracker sites, like Food Truck Fiesta (DC) and Mobile Cravings (which covers about 30 cities), making it simple for fans to get a quick glimpse at the daily food truck scene.

Offline:
– Trucks are hosting unique events, often with partners, to expand their fan base and build loyalty. Seattle’s Skillet, doesn’t just care about your lunch. They care if you have a hot date, or at least something to do on Valentine’s Day. They’re teaming up with two other local vendors to host a street food style v-day. Unrelated  they sell bacon jam.  Just thought you should know.

– Rather than let the Twitter-challenged resort to fast food chains, Holton Farms (a farmer’s market on wheels) has a 1-800 number, which provides info on the truck’s location when it’s on the move. So, going “old school” to reach people outside of social networks (lots of offices block them!) isn’t a bad thing.

–  Food trucks are using social media for social good, by getting behind local charities that their followers care about. DC’s TaKorean truck donates 1% of gross sales to local environmental and youth based non-profit organizations and they write about it on their community giving blog. So, the more tacos I eat, the more I can help people? Done and done.

Although social media is the driving force behind sales it’s important to work with a mix of online and offline mediums to grow, reach a diverse audience, and continue to build business.

Would you use an app to track your favorite food trucks, or stick with Twitter?

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