Why Food Trucks Need Email Marketing

In Atlanta, Georgia, which is where I live, the food truck phenomenon is taking the streets by storm. Not a day goes by when I don’t get a Tweet or Facebook update on the location of one or more of these trucks. Each time, my stomach starts to grumble, and sometimes I even abandon my original plans to partake in their food.

Food trucks have entered the market at the height of social media. Of the trucks I follow in Atlanta, Yumbii, the King of Pops, Tex’s Tacos and Westside Creamery, none use email to market themselves.  Playing devil’s advocate, they could say, “Why should we? We’re selling out our inventory as it is using Twitter and Facebook. That’s enough marketing for us.”

But is it?  Here are my arguments for why food trucks need email marketing*:

  1. Not everyone is on Twitter or Facebook. According to a December 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, 77% of American adults use the internet. 92% of those adults use email, while only 61% use an online social networking site. While Facebook may have 500 million active users, 50% of which log on in any given day, if you’re not following your favorite truck, you’re likely to miss out on their location or schedule.  Same for Twitter. Even though the service is adding 500,000 accounts daily, according to this report from May 2011, only 8% of Americans over the age of 12 are using it. Using Census figures, that’s ~20 million people. Awareness of Twitter is at 92% of Americans of the same age (12 or older), but adoption is clearly lagging.
  2. Email is shareable. Yes, I know Facebook has its “share” button, which is intended to make it easier to spread items among your network on the site. But the trucks I follow post their daily locations as status updates, which aren’t shareable (i.e. no “share” button for that feature). And when was the last time you forwarded a Tweet? I suppose you could re-tweet the tweet of your favorite truck and cc your Twitter friend as if to say, “Want to go?” But what if the friend you want to make plans with isn’t on Twitter? Or you can’t immediately recall their user name? If you’re using Twitter on an iPad, you can mail a tweet. But wouldn’t it be nicer if the information were already in your inbox? I just know that if I were emailed a truck’s schedule for the week, there’s high probability that I’d forward it to a friend to make plans for a meal.  It’s hard to do that with a Facebook status update or Tweet.
  3. Space limitations. Tweets are restricted to 140 characters and Facebook status updates are generally fairly short. Perhaps this is why posts are done on a daily basis – there’s not enough room to convey an entire week’s schedule in one place. (Though some do say something to the effect of “Our weekly schedule is up – check the website” with a link to the applicable page on their website.)  But they’re missing the opportunity to share more information about themselves that an email affords. An email, in addition to informing the recipient of the week’s schedule, would also allow the truck’s owner to highlight their menu or feature a particular item. In an email message, one food truck owner could even feature another food truck that offers a complimentary menu item (dessert feature in an entrée food truck email, or vice versa). No harm in some co-promotion among food truck friends, I don’t think.
  4. Segmentation. Email allows you to get to know your audience in a way that Twitter and Facebook cannot. As part of the email sign-up process, a food truck could ask for the person’s home and work zip codes. This would allow food truck owners to send subscribers special notices when the truck is going to be in their area. Twitter doesn’t allow food trucks the luxury of targeting, and neither does Facebook (unless you count paid advertising, which I’m not in this case).
  5. Email can be distributed via social media. It’s possible to “tweet” an email and broadcast its contents to your followers or “share” an email on Facebook. However, it is possible to share the content within an email via a “tweet this” button, Google’s +1 or a Facebook share button so a particular piece of information, photo or video to be shared via a social network. Similarly, many email software providers offer functionality that will allow for web-hosted versions of the entire email to be distributed via Twitter and/or Facebook when the message is sent. In some cases, these web-hosted versions have a toolbar at the top that includes a button for Tweeting or sharing on Facebook, so even if someone wasn’t on the email’s original distribution list, they can still pass along the email via social media. Also, when an email is posted to Facebook as the campaign is sent, it’ll likely be as a news item with the “share” option included. As I’ve said earlier, Facebook status updates don’t include that option.
  6. Email can go viral: Thanks to the forward button, an email recipient can send an email to as many friends as they’d like. If you can’t share a Facebook status update or forward a Tweet, a food truck owner is banking on someone to remember to have an offline conversation about their truck. Given the trucks’ success, it’s happening. Tweets can be retweeted, thus they can be shared many times over beyond the food truck’s network, but it’s worth mentioning that an email has the same ability to go far beyond its original distribution list, even without ever being posted to a social network.

* This was not intended to be a “why email is better than social media” post. Rather, I’m aiming to highlight the food trucks’ missed opportunities by limiting their marketing plan to Facebook and Twitter. I’ll admit that social media is better for last-minute change of plans. Food trucks have the benefit of picking up and moving to a new location when sales are slow or the weather doesn’t cooperate. But since their customers use more than one channel to get information, in my biased opinion, I think food trucks should also diversify their marketing efforts beyond social to expand their reach via an email marketing program. A few additional fans wouldn’t hurt should they ever decide to add a second (or third) truck to their fleet.


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