A Book From 1999 is Still Right About Food & Restaurant Marketing

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Technology and marketing change so much every day that an online article about it can become irrelevant within a matter of minutes. 

So, imagine my surprise when a book from 1999 totally changed my perspective on everything.

Even though it was published almost 2 decades ago, marketing genius Seth Godin's book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers rings true for brands today. Especially for restaurants and food brands. 

It's a quick read, and it's written broadly enough to apply to many types of businesses. But, if you haven't read it in the 19 years it's been on the market, I'm going to take a wild guess it isn't going to happen. 

So, I'm going to break it down for you. 

Even in 1999, at the dawn of the internet, Godin realized how much was at stake. Consumers were bombarded with more and more advertisements every day, and the internet was only going to pour gasoline on the situation. So, instead, he proposed a different method for businesses to reach consumers — permission marketing. And, spoiler alert: it's going to help you crush it in growing your food business. 

In this Permission v. Interruption Marketing guide, you'll learn:

  • What is interruption marketing?

  • What is permission marketing?

  • What food marketing method is best for my restaurant, food brand or food product?

  • How do I implement these strategies in my food business?

Let's do this!


What is interruption marketing?

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Commercials. Billboards. Magazine ads. Pop-ups. Banner ads. Random direct mail. 

Interruption marketing is everywhere — the number is widely debated, but most estimate that we're exposed to anywhere between 4,000 - 5,000 advertisements PER DAY.  You know why that number is so shocking? Because you don't notice most of them anymore. The truth is, we're getting really freaking good at tuning it out because most of it isn't relevant to our lives.  

How many times have you seen a commercial for a car you're never going to buy? A magazine ad for a perfume you'll never wear? A pop-up for a product you can't even use? 

These companies are relying on what I like to call the "Throw Everything At The Wall And See What Sticks" method. By airing an expensive commercial during prime time, they comfort themselves by knowing that SOME percentage — no matter how small — may be enticed by the message. 

Not only is interruption marketing expensive and nearly impossible to measure, it's annoying. It's viewing marketing as a shouting contest instead of a conversation. It's requiring your customer to halt their day and listen to whatever you want to say whenever its convenient for YOU. 

It's outdated. Seth Godin knew that in 1999, but many, many restaurants and food brands still aren't listening. 

What is permission marketing?

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“Rather than simply interrupting a television show with a commercial or barging into the consumer’s life with an unannounced call or letter, tomorrow’s marketer will first try to gain the consumer’s consent to participate in the selling process." - Seth Godin

Tomorrow is here, folks. Technology has come with its pitfalls, but personalization isn't one of them. Permission marketing turns promotion on its head — making all of that clutter an asset.

Permission marketing is selling and marketing to people who have OPTED INTO that relationship. Or, as the book's title suggests, turning strangers into friends and friends into customers. 

Permission marketing is like dating. To start, you offer something interesting enough for customers to agree to a first date (free information, a discount, etc.). Next, you slowly get to know each other, earning more permission over time. It's simple — once someone has agreed to pay attention, it's easier to teach them about your product or service. 

We're talking about ditching commercials and print ads in favor of something a little more personal. Something that can really build trust and loyalty. Tools that can turn strangers into friends. We're talking about opt-in communication here: mostly email, social media and blogging. 

How does this help my food business?

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To explain the core of permission marketing in action, we're stripping away the digital world and going to go back to 1908 — to Proctor & Gamble and good ole' Crisco. 

Long story short, P&G needed Crisco to take off, but there weren't TV shows and magazines to rely on, so they needed to get creative. Here's what they did. 

1. They paid the train lines to use and advertise Crisco in concessions served on board. 

2. They held "high society" tea parties in major cities — inviting "leading ladies" and only serving products using Crisco with the tea. 

3. They created and promoted free cookbooks, and inside were helpful recipes — all touting the benefits of, you guessed it, Crisco. 

Once mass media emerged, Crisco made the switch. But, at the time, the most successful campaign was the free cookbook. The exchange of free information led to brand loyalty beyond their wildest dreams. 

The bottom line is that people want to buy from companies they trust. You build trust by sharing free and useful information before a sale — telling your story patiently to each customer that's willing to listen. Frequency, reliability and trust will always outweigh exposure and reach. 

Implementing Digital Hospitality

If you own a food brand with a physical presence, like a restaurant, you're probably already doing this in-person. Successful food brands were founded on hospitality, which is defined as "the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors and strangers." You banter with guests, answer any questions and always deliver what is needed — often before it's requested.

All we're encouraging you to do is extend that courtesy to potential guests online through permission marketing. Digital hospitality is simply that — it's the exchange of helpful information, entertainment and goodwill online. It's committing to potential customers before they're in the door. It's hanging your hat on relationship building instead of blasting meaningless marketing messages. 

With the new technology available, you don't have to print a free cookbook and ask folks to write in and request it like P&G did in 1908. You can start now. 

Stay tuned next week when we breakdown suggested permission marketing channels and how to use them — from websites and blogs to email and social media. 


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