Everything I Need to Know About Marketing I Learned at the Dairy Queen


Share on LinkedIn

During down business cycles marketing budgets are often reduced, if not cut out altogether. You’re asked to do more, with less money. At times like these, I always go back to the basics, to the core fundamentals I learned about marketing in a very unlikely place — a Dairy Queen franchise in Centerville, PA.

#1 Thank Your Customers
A genuine smile and a heartfelt thank you brought people back time and time again. In business, we often forget the importance of the simple Thank You. When your employees talk to your customers on the phone, do they thank them for their business? Do your sales people send out handwritten Thank You cards? Do your senior executives take the time to place an impromptu thank you call? We often get caught up in elaborate marketing campaigns and forget about the power of a simple Thank You.

#2 Make the Customer Feel Special
I’m sure you have a favorite restaurant, a place where they greet you by name. The owner of that Dairy Queen franchise not only knew everyone in Centerville by name, she often had “goodies” for certain customers behind the counter. She’d cut out a newspaper article about someone’s child, so that they had an extra copy. Or, she’d pick up a book on a customer’s favorite hobby. One of the best ways to let a customer know they are valued is to send them something specific to their interests and goals.

#3: Put Your Mark on It
This Dairy Queen franchise was out in the middle of nowhere, yet it had direct competition, another Dairy Queen franchise less than 10 minutes away. While Dairy Queen is a great brand name and provided excellent products, the owner couldn’t rely on that brand alone. She had to distinguish her franchise from the other franchise. She put her team’s skills to use: one woman was an artist and quickly our Dairy Queen became well known for the beautiful cakes. Because products in our industry are standardized (title insurance is title insurance, an appraisal an appraisal), you need to put your special mark on it to stand out from the competition. Talk to your employees, what can you add to the product or service delivery to make your mark?

#4: Build Your Referral Network
I cursed those nights when the little league teams were lined up out both doors, long lines of screaming kids waiting for their cone; but those nights were excellent for business. The owner gave all little league coaches discounts on team cones. Sure, the cones didn’t make much money, but the parents and siblings of those little league players often ordered items that did. And the general goodwill this effort built in the community went a long way towards gaining more customers. Now is the time to build a solid network of referral partners and develop incentives that encourage the referral. Those incentives do not necessarily need to be financial—share information, pass along a referral to them, give them some market insight—and they will then likely do the same for you.

#5: Use the Power of Word Of Mouth
And speaking of community goodwill, the power of word-of-mouth is always the strongest marketing tool you have. For us, word-of-mouth is the industry trade press. During these difficult times, the trade press has cut back as well and need help developing content for their publications. Write an editorial. Craft a “how to do something better” piece. Highlight a vendor or product you use, it will help with the referral network as well. Leveraging both local and national trade publications is the least expensive marketing program to implement—all it costs is your time.

#6: Small Daily Efforts are More Productive than Big Ones
Many of my co-workers called the owner a slave-driver. If we had even one second of downtime, we were expected to clean—something, anything. And by the end of the evening, when the doors closed at 9:30, the entire place was spotless and we could go home. Those nights when the little leaguers where lined out the door? We’d be there until 10:30 at night cleaning up and it would cost the owner more to pay us. The same concept applies to marketing—consistent, low budget marketing every other month is less expensive and more effective than one big campaign. Spend your money on postcards, letter campaigns, sending small gifts, email newsletters, press releases, and other items—rather than blowing the entire budget on one big ad or event.

#7 Ask if They Would Like Sprinkles
Much like McDonalds and French fries, extra toppings at the Dairy Queen meant extra profit. In our business, there are two ways to ask if they would like sprinkles—when thanking them for the first order, ask them for the next one and cross sell your other products to your existing customers. We’re often so focused on marketing to prospects, we forget to market to our existing customer base. Use email announcements, newsletters, train your front-line employees, send letters; do everything you can to continually market yourself to your customer.

#8 Have a Big Sign
The Centerville Dairy Queen was on a long straight stretch of road, with a sign so large you could see it a mile up the road. This gave passersby a chance to react and decide to stop in for an ice cream. A smaller sign and these drivers might have just passed on by. The same applies to our industry. Be visible. Get your name out there. This doesn’t mean a full page ad in Mortgage Banking Magazine. (Although this would not hurt, I’m sure you have better ways to spend your money.) There are very cost-effective ways to “have a big sign.” First, your Internet presence, have a professional looking Web site, register in all the free or low-cost web directories you can find, join industry forums and blogs. Second, attend local, regional and national trade shows. Get your people out in the street… on a budget of course. If exhibiting is out of your price range, a lot of traction can still be gained by attending and being seen.

As you read this, your probably thinking, “These are really sales or account management tips.” And they probably are. But when markets decline and budgets are tight, the most cost effective marketing campaigns are designed to support your sales team and generate more business from your existing customers. In today’s mortgage environment, “new” leads are few and far between… your best investment is to market to your existing customers and your sales teams existing relationships.

I’m sure you’re thinking – did this really work for that Dairy Queen? Yes! It’s been 25 years since I worked there and the place is still open and busy every time I pass by. And the competitive franchise? It’s been closed for years.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Raelin Musuraca
Customer Experience Strategist, Musuraca LLC
Raelin Musuraca is versatile and energetic customer experience strategist with twenty years practicing marketing, digital strategy, and user experience. She has led multidisciplinary teams in the development of award-winning marketing and customer engagement programs.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here