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The Transient Business (Food Truck) Local Marketing Challenge

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If you’ve eaten a burger this year, it’s possible you bought it from a truck. Putting it that way might make it sound a little less than appetizing, food trucks are serving everything from handmade burgers to organic salad, and some are even being awarded Michelin stars.

Food trucks are presented with the unique challenge of not having a concrete location by which customers can find them. This is causing consumers to utilize other means to find these businesses wherever they may be at the moment.

Food Trucks and the Rise of the Mobile City

We all know people shop for food and goods using their mobile phones, but it’s becoming increasingly more common to find services as well. You might get food from a mobile truck – for example, or you shop for clothes from a store which appears in one-location one week, and then another the next week. You may also be considering buying a home made out of non-traditional materials, such as container homes.

Consumers are looking for and expecting different kinds of shopping experiences in the urban environment, transforming not only what is bought, but how. For example, here in beautiful Berlin, it’s quite common to have dinner on the Admiralsbruecke. This is a bridge in the hip area of Kreuzberg, where you can split a pizza between friends, watch the sunset, and hear some great live music being played. People typically bring their own food from the next door pizza place – however, food trucks have also been parking nearby, capitalizing on the pre-existing trend for people to sit and eat. Of course, the same can be said for trucks which are almost permanently by the river Spree, and the nightclubs in order to capture the opportunity to get the punters on their way home.

This trend has of course been growing for many years now, across the industrialized world – and street food is particularly interesting for people wishing to sample a broader range of meals. So these food trucks tend to rely on a more agile form of selling.

Temporary Locations – Permanent Invisibility

Google and other search directories do not allow for temporary locations to exist on their Google Maps – so pop up shops have to be discovered either through traditional means, such as word of mouth or targeted advertising, or customers simply have to know that certain areas are likely to have an interesting and lively shopping scene.

Since temporary locations cannot be listed on Google Maps, this means when customers search for burgers or pizzas near them, or shops, there is an increasing proportion of businesses and experiences which aren’t reflected in the online world.

As such, we need to rethink the ways we are working with temporary locations and mobile locations. While some companies may experience such success that they then open a storefront, the fact is, the way in which customers interact with the physical space around them is changing, and we as marketers need to rethink some solutions to this.

Challenge vs. Opportunity

Until we reach a tipping point where pop-up stores and food trucks are represented in real-time on online maps, there are a few workarounds. One would be to create closed website environments which then enable food trucks and mobile and pop-up stores to display where they are, through the help of a store locator. This has the benefit of being displayed in real-time, but of course has the drawback of needing to have a separate website environments for the map.

In theory, this means the truck would need to accomplish one of the following:

  • Be known to consumers so they search for it.
  • Target customers through careful advertising.
  • Inhabit well-known spots for food trucks, and thereby face competition from both other trucks, and locals for parking space.

The other opportunity is to use Facebook Location Pages as an exclusive mapping tool, since this allows for a business to move from location to location very easily. While this provides a somewhat more flexible environment for businesses to be found in real-time, it still has dangers. Facebook moderators and business pages would indeed find it strange that a business changed its location every other day, and they would perhaps even go so far as to discontinue the profile, if it was seen to abuse the community and business standards of the group.

Finally, there is the opportunity to simply treat a city’s “hot spots” as fixed points on a map – and the truck could provide a schedule of when it arrives at each location. Again, this would limit the flexibility of the truck itself.

These are the challenges for the digital location marketing community to solve. One idea would be to provide a broader definition of business areas, in greater accordance with how customers actually treat that location. For example, they might go to the city center to buy clothes or to go to the cinema – but also, to experience new shopping possibilities. While this doesn’t require the city to actually change anything about its physical presence, it may be useful for us to think more about how we designate and structure data to accommodate customer needs.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any real-world experiences to share?

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