The Street Food Approach to Small-Business Marketing

The Street Food Approach to Small-Business Marketing

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The Street Food Approach to Small-Business Marketing

Breaking Boundaries Through Scarcity

In a second-season episode the Netflix original series, “Chef’s Table,” Mexico City chef, Enrique Olvera describes the afternoon he stumbled upon a flavor he’d never before tasted. He and a colleague had traveled to Oaxaca where they visited a coffee farm. Olvera was starving after the long trip and headed directly to the kitchen to make himself something to eat. “There’s this guy, Roberto,” he says, “he was making a sauce.” So he tasted it. “It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life because that’s the day I discovered the taste of chicatana ants.”

That’s right, Roberto derived his sauce from ants. Flying ants, to be specific, that only come out in Southern Mexico with the first spring rain and only last four or five days. That scarcity, Olvera argues, is what makes them so special. “To me, that’s the definition of luxury.”

In case this story leads you to believe that Enrique Olvera needs to be more careful about what he eats, think again. Conde Nast’s Traveller ranks his restaurant, Pujol, as one of the top restaurants in the world. Instead, this episode reminds us that when it comes to building a business (in this case, a world-renown restaurant), there are no boundaries, except for those we put on ourselves.

The Street Food of Marketing

Working with small businesses, as we do at Verve Concepts, we know the sparks of creativity that scarcity can bring to our thinking. Olvera says, “If you had food available all the time, you probably wouldn’t have eaten chicatana ants. If you weren’t hungry, you probably wouldn’t have eaten worms.” Likewise, if small businesses had unlimited resources to spend on marketing, they wouldn’t have had reason to come up with the creative ideas that became turning points for their growth.

Consider these examples:

  • The coffee shop that created “Two-fer Tuesdays” to drive traffic to the store on its slowest day of the week.
  • The writer who published his novel online for free, chapter-by-chapter, until he’d developed an audience large and enthusiastic enough to support him financially.
  • The artist who dropped his first album off at the front desk of the local radio station.

Branding on a Budget Leaves No Room for Mediocrity

Olvera, of course, has plenty of money now to eat whatever he wants. And yet, he still describes the flavor of chicatana ants with obvious delight. He doesn’t have to eat them, he wants to.

Likewise, small-business marketing leaves no room for mediocre products or services. If customers don’t like what they get from you, they won’t come back. Like the street food vendors in Mexico City, the competition among small businesses can be fierce. Why buy a taco from one stand when the stand around the corner is tastier?

But even a single taco stand in the middle of a crowded market can stand out.

“In order to produce a taco that is amazing,” Olvera says, “you have to understand how a taco is built. And I’m not talking about diagrams and case studies about a taco. I’m just saying you have to eat a lot of tacos to know how a good taco feels in your mouth.”

In other words, you have to experience your product or service over and over again to understand your customers’ experience with it.

Mexicans, Olvera says, believe the best tacos are street tacos. Which means that the power of street food isn’t in the marketing, it’s in the flavor and texture and intensity of the experience.

If you were to evaluate your product or service like Mexicans do their street food, how would it fare?