The Ten Fundamental Pillars of Pizza Marketing

There is no silver bullet when it comes to marketing your pizzeria, no magic piece of advertising that will ensure your success. Rather it is a well thought out plan made up of many small pieces all working together to build long term, lasting sales increases. It took years to build my original pizzeria from $2,000 per week in sales to $24,000 per week in sales, but it was solid steady growth that lasted.

Think of marketing as a series of pillars holding up a structure. The more pillars that you have, the stronger your structure (or pizzeria). There are ten indispensable marketing pillars that every pizzeria should have in place from day one. They are simple and easy to implement and once you get them started they will mostly run on autopilot.

Make time for marketing. Whether you can spend 2 hours a week or 2 hours a month, you have to set aside the time to build and maintain your business. Your chain competitors have an entire marketing machine behind them. Why do you think so many of these chains are so successful when they serve such unappetizing food? It's the marketing and it isn't that hard.

Pillar #1: Database Marketing

This one will assume that you have a POS in place and you are keeping track of your customers transactions. I say this because in today's market if you don't have some type of POS that tracks your customers and automates your kitchen you are destined to fail. Database marketing refers to a mailer or email that is sent to your existing customers that reside in your POS database. They have already tried your product at least once, you have their address or email, and you know they like pizza. Tracking your carryout and delivery customers is easy and these customers are willing to give you their phone number and address each time they order. Your dine in customers are a little harder to convince to give you their personal information. The easiest way is to ask them to join a loyalty program. Most quality POS providers out there, such as Foodtec Solutions, offer integrated loyalty programs. Having a loyalty program is not a guarantee that you will be able to track every dine in customer, but it is the best you can do. If your POS does not have an integrated loyalty program there are several companies out there that offer stand alone systems at reasonable prices. If you don't have a POS I would recommend you make it a priority.

There are four different "events" which should trigger a database mailing from you. New customers and three different levels of "lazy customers" - those that have not ordered in 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. New customers should receive a "Thank You" bounce back offer and Lazy Customers should receive some type of offer to entice them to come back. The Lazy Customer mailings should get increasingly more generous with the 90 day mailing being a last ditch effort to save an otherwise lost customer. Remember it is much easier and cheaper to save an existing customer than to try and find a new one.

Most of the POS systems offer the ability to generate mailing labels or export data to a program that can generate mailing labels or emails based on the different events mentioned above. Your loyalty program should also be able to do the same. If they don't, look into a new POS or a new loyalty program that can get this done for you.

Great sources of mailers are &

Check out Chapter 8 "Stealth Marketing & Other Dirty Deeds" in my book Growing Pizza for more on database marketing. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.

Pillar #2: Welcome to the Neighborhood!

People are constantly moving in and out of your neighborhood. Each one of them are looking for their new favorite pizza place and you have a golden opportunity to make it your pizzeria! Moving is one of the most stressful events in a person's life, it actually ranks right up there with getting married, divorced, and having children. How about giving a FREE pizza to a stressed out new resident? How is that for a first impression?! A personalized, full color letter & gift certificate, sent right to the potential customer and you don't have to lift a finger! That's what new mover/new resident programs do. They monitor the deed transfers, change of address forms, and so on to identify who is moving into your neighborhood.

Most of the chains are already taking advantage of some kind of a new resident program, so you don't want to let them get a jump on you. With the ever-increasing reduction in newspapers readership, yellow pages, and radio listening it can be hard to get in front of potential customers. So sending a real letter to a new resident can make a big impression that is hard to ignore. This type of a program, once started, literally runs in the background on autopilot. Just design your letter, determine your offer and set the parameters.

There are many of them out there but the best one that I have found and used is Moving Targets - Give these guys a call today and they can get you set up in no time.

Pillar #3: Community Involvement

Opening the doors of your pizzeria is not a one way street, especially for those of you who are operating independent pizzerias. In order for your restaurant to excel you must immerse yourself into the community, understand how the community operates, give back to the community and be a part of the community.

There are 5 steps to becoming part of the community...

  1. Connect with the Community: Join clubs and organizations that will allow you to network with other community oriented individuals.
  2. Integrate Into the Community: Be a real part of the community. Shop local. Send you children to the local schools. Attend a local church. The community needs to know who you are.
  3. Support the Community: Wisely and strategically give back to the community. Don't blindly throw your money away to those who ask. Instead find those local groups and charities that are doing great work and making a real impact in your community and give them your support.
  4. Partner with the Schools: Schools are eager and happy for anything that you might be able to offer them. Besides, its the kids who decide where the family is eating tonight anyway. For a ready to go School Partnership program click here.
  5. Use Your Imagination: Giving doors prizes, cash, and hanging up posters in your pizzeria is not the only way to support the community. Think outside the box.

Don't snub the community. You need their support and their patronage.

Check out Chapter 3 in my book Growing Pizza for more on connecting with the community. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.

Pillar #4: Direct Mail

I am absolutely not a fan of continually sending coupons and offers out to a blanket area (carpet bombing). Sending coupons out over and over to the same neighborhoods will train your customers to love your prices, not your food or service and will eventually lead to decreased sales. With that being said, I still believe a saturation mailing (carpet bombing) to your market once a year is a good idea. A saturation mailing will help remind everyone that you are there and alive & kicking. It will help pick up some new resident customers, provide everyone with a new updated menu to hang on the fridge, and make everyone hungry.

One important note on saturation mailings - whatever you do, do not mail the entire market all at once! You will get slaughtered and provide bad service to many of your customers. Instead, mail to "sectors" once a week until you have hit the entire area. Grouping them into the same areas will also make it easier on your delivery drivers.

The USPS offers a great program called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) that is inexpensive and easy to use. Some of the better print shops out there are integrated into the EDDM system and can handle the printing and the mailing for you at great prices. If you use Grande Cheese then I would hands down recommend their Grande Solutions @ Work program.  Otherwise check out the guys at Both of these companies can handle your mailing from start to finish.

Pillar #5: 4 Walls Marketing

Marketing to your customers while they are inside of your pizzeria is an often-overlooked method of marketing. You have pizza lovers inside your pizzeria so why not take advantage of the many different avenues to market to them while they are a captive audience? Here is what I call the three 4 Walls Marketing Opportunities.

  1. Communication Opportunities: These are the opportunities that arise throughout the customer's experience where you can communicate with them. Box toppers, take out menus, posters, table tents, sign ups, on-hold messages, bathroom signs, etc... Don't miss an opportunity to tell your customers what is going on, coming up, or why they should be ordering from you.
  2. Experience Enhancers: Everyone expects to come in to your pizzeria, give their name and payment, and in return get a pizza. Maybe they take it home or maybe they dine in, but what happens in between is an opportunity for what I like to call Experience Enhancers. It could be something as small as giving waiting children a free drink, a ball of dough to play with or doing a few tricks with the pizza dough. It could be a conversation with the manager or having an open kitchen so customers can see pizzas being pulled from the oven and cut in front of them. These little things are what leaves a lasting impression on customers that will set you aside from the competition.
  3. Appearance Essentials: You have 4 walls in your pizzeria, along with a ceiling, floor, windows, etc... why not take advantage of these blank canvases. Awesome murals painted by local artists, a reclaimed tin ceiling, local artwork on the walls, and comical signs are just a few ways to make your pizzeria have its own character. Just about every chain pizzeria has a cold, institutional feel to it - make your pizzeria feel warm and inviting.

Do a complete walk through of your pizzeria and see where and how you can take advantage of marketing to your customers every step of the experience from pulling into the parking lot to sitting on the toilet.

Check out "Within Your Walls" in Chapter 6 of Growing Pizza for more on 4 Walls Marketing. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.

Pillar #6: Customer Service

Let's face it - customer service at most restaurants today pretty much sucks. Most everyone goes into a restaurant with the expectation that service will be less than stellar - they are just prepared for it. For whatever reason food service jobs have now sunk to the lowest of the low. No one wants to be making food for a living and they want to make sure you know just how much they hate their job - and you. It can be boiled down to "Customers = work. I hate work. Therefore I hate customers."

So how does customer service become a fundamental marketing piece? If you simply excel at giving great service people will talk about you! It doesn't take much these days to outshine your competition with great service, and when you do your customers will really notice it.

There are three main areas where I see most operators fail at giving great service.

  1. Lack of Training: It really is this simple. You have to train your staff on how they are expected to act and treat customers. You must have a system. You need to train them, test them, and then hold them accountable to your standards. Do you have a script for answering the phone and greeting walk ins? Do you have a training manual for your front line staff? Can your phone people properly address a mistake and take care of it on the spot without involving the manager? Can your staff answer 95% of all questions a customer has without having to get a manager? Do they all know the menu, specials, and upcoming events? They should!

  2. Failing to Recover from a Mistake: There are three things your need to do in order to properly recover from a mistake - apologize, fix the mistake, and make up for the mistake. You just ruined someone’s dinner, lunch, birthday, anniversary or business meeting. The least you can do is give a sincere apology, replace the food (or a refund/credit) and then give them something to bring them back one more time (gift card/coupon). Don't be stingy here. Make the discount appropriate. Don't give away a free pizza when you only ran over 5 minutes on a delivery and on the flip side don't give a 10% discount on your next order for a burnt pizza. There have been many times where I have given a customer their entire order to them for free and also given them a $100 gift card. It costs so much money to attract a new customer, why not spend a few bucks to save an existing one? 

  3. Over-promising and under-delivering. A customer walks in to pick up a pizza. You turn to grab it and realize that it's not there. You double check and sure enough they ordered one, but you just never made it. The guy is ticked and you immediately blurt out that you will have him one made in 7-8 minutes. You know full well that it will take about 12 minutes to get it in and out of the oven, but you hope to ease his anger by making him think it will only be 7-8 minutes. So what happens in 12 minutes?  You end up disappointing the customer not just once, but twice! This is called over-promising and under-delivering. Standard service at most restaurants. Instead you should have told him it would be 15 minutes. Once so he can decide for himself if he has the time to spare and secondly you will look like a hero and will have outdone yourself when it comes out in just 12 minutes. This is called under-promising and over-delivering.

Take customer service seriously. Always aim to exceed your customers expectations and you will easily outshine your competitors. You will even turn a potentially negative word of mouth event into a very positive word of mouth event.

Check out "Customer Service is Dead" in Chapter 5 of Growing Pizza for more on giving great service and examples of how I have turned lost customers into positive word of mouth. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.

    Pillar #7: Social Media

    Like it or not social media is probably here to stay. Everyone seems to have a smartphone surgically attached to their face. While you may not like it, your customers are expecting you to engage them with Facebook & Twitter. They are expecting you to be monitoring all the review sites like Yelp!, Urbanspoon, and Tripadvisor. If you fail to interact with them on this level you are missing out on an enormous opportunity to attract new customers, increase existing customer frequency, and take advantage of opportunities to save existing upset customers.

    I believe there are four universal basics for social media...

    1. Entertain Your Fans: Resist the temptation to just keep posting hours, daily specials, and photos of pizza on Social Media. Entertain them with videos of your staff doing silly things or show how pizza dough is being made. Use this platform to get your customers excited about what you do.
    2. Allow your Fans to Socialize: We all hope that feedback about our pizzerias will be positive. Lots of positive comments encourage other people to try your product. But, you will get negative feedback as well. Don't look at it as negative feedback, but an opportunity to do better. People are telling you what they don't like about your business and are giving you the opportunity to improve, change, and correct. Don't stifle negative comments, complaints, or just flat out stupid remarks. Encourage it.
    3. Engage the Customer: Your fan base wants to know that you are hearing them. Take the time to respond to questions, messages, compliments and complaints. Work it into your marketing schedule to actually work through all your social media outlets and review sites and take the time to respond to your feedback.
    4. Don't Take it Personally: Sooner or later you are going to get some very irritating comments, some inappropriate or personal attacks, a clueless customer and a belligerent jerk ranting about how bad you suck. With all your might you have to resist the temptation to stoop to their level. Keep it professional. You may never get to save that customer with the ridiculous complaint, but you can give a very positive impression to the next person reading. No matter how eloquent of a writer you think you are, your negative attack back will always make your look bad. Keep it professional, don't take it personally, and move on. Besides, you can always just delete or ban those "fans" who are way out of line (at least on certain platforms.)

    As with all of your marketing you must make time for it. Schedule a day of the week (or two) to update your social media and respond to feedback. If you are not the most tech savvy person in the world and would rather not deal with it, see if someone else in your family or organization is up to the task. If not there is a great service provided by the guys over at Moving Targets for managing your Social Media and Online Reputation. They will post to Facebook & Twitter for you, monitor your Yelp & Urbanspoon profiles, and much, much more. This isn't your run of the mill social media service. They will interact with you on a regular basis to understand your company and make sure everything that they do online looks and feels just like you were doing it yourself. Best of all, just like everything else, they don't require any lengthy contracts.

    Check out Chapter 7 in my book Growing Pizza for more on taming the Social Media Beast. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.

    Pillars #8&9: Word of Mouth

    Marketing so important that two pillars are dedicated to it! The single most powerful thing you can do to generate lasting, long term sales growth is to get people talking about your pizzeria. Do whatever you can do to make your customers tell their friends about you, ask their friends about you, make people post things on social media about you, and so forth.

    Every aspect of your pizzeria should incorporate a Word of Mouth element into it. Your pizzeria name, your menu items, your oven, your uniforms, your bathrooms, your logo, your community involvement, and so forth. Every single thing that you do is a Word of Mouth Marketing Opportunity - don't waste them!

    For example - the name of my pizzeria is Six Hundred Downtown. Why is it called Six Hundred Downtown? Is it the address? No, but it is located downtown at 108 S Main St. Do they have 600 items on the menu? Nope. So what is it? We bake at 600 Degrees and we are located downtown. It makes people ask questions and when they find out we bake at 600 degrees they are like "WOW! - that's really hot" and they go and tell others about it. It is simple and it works.

    Don't settle for boring names for your pizzas. Why have a Greek pizza when you can have the "Leonidas" pizza named after the Greek King/General made famous in the movie 300. Don't have a meat pizza when you can have the "Smokehouse" or the "Butcher Shop." I know a guy who has "I was a Teenage Vegan Werewolf" on his menu. Do you think people talk about that? Certainly that is something to tell your friends about.

    I have had awesome success with creating door hangers that resemble utility shut off notices and parking tickets. I'm still not sure if I made more people mad than I boosted sales, but I sure made people talk. We didn't just donate to the Relay for Life - we did a Relay for Life Pizza Relay. Four team members running a 1/4 mile track while wolfing down a 1/4 of a 12" cheese pizza made for some great word of mouth for a great cause.

    Word of Mouth Marketing also works in tandem will all of your other marketing. Never miss an opportunity to make people talk.

    I think you get the hint, but for more great ideas check out my book Growing Pizza. I have nearly 20 years of Word of Mouth ideas littered throughout the book. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.

    Pillars #10: Planning

    All the marketing in the world won't do your business any good unless you plan, execute, and review. Start by writing down all your marketing ideas for the next 6 - 12 months and categorize them by frequency. You will have many that must be done monthly such as database marketing and new resident mailings. Others will be every six months, such as saturation mailings and some will be one time events, such as fundraisers. Whatever they are, write them all down and make a list.

    I'm old fashioned in that I still like to use paper and pencil over apps and digital calendars, so I like to take a giant yearly calendar and hang on my wall. I will then write in all my events on the calendar. I like to see my whole year right in front of me. It helps me visualize things.

    Now you will have to plan the planning. You just can't execute a mailing without designing it and having it printed. You will need to order printing, review proofs, meet with community members, line up entertainment, etc... Once this is done you will need to move on to the actual executing of the marketing.

    Your staff needs to be on the same page as you and the marketing. Well before you execute the marketing, your meetings, memos, and procedures all need to be taken care of. You don't want a customer to bring in one of your new mailers just to be greeted with a blank stare or a "whut?" from your staff. Don't lose a customer you just paid to bring into your pizzeria because of your failing customer service.

    Once the marketing has ran its course take the time to review how it went. What was your Return on Investment (ROI)? Be sure to consider both tangible and intangible returns. Having a good POS to help you review redemption of offers is essential in measuring ROI.

    You don't have to do it exactly like this, but you have to plan, execute, and review in some manner. Check out Chapter 9 of Growing Pizza - "Pulling it All Together" for more details on planning your marketing. Click here to buy it now in the Online Shop.