Best of 2012: How One Small Business Turned Lemons into Marketing Lemonade

by Ken Mueller on December 24, 2012 · 3 comments

For the next two weeks I’ve decided to re-post some of the most popular posts from the blog. This particular post originally ran back in May.
When my friend Claudia Scimeca shared this on Facebook from someone else’s feed, I knew I had to share it as well, and also use it in a blog post.

Creative Small Business Marketing

The picture pretty much says it all, but I just love the creativity that some small businesses show, and without the assistance of any marketing consultant. I have no clue where this restaurant is located, but I sure wish I did. I’d love to talk to them, and even check on their Yelp page. And, as Claudia stated when she shared the photo, this is a great example of the old adage,

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

But, despite all that, here are a few reasons why I REALLY like what they did:

1. It shows a sense of humor – If there’s one thing I like, it’s a good sense of humor, especially when someone has a sense of humor about themselves. A lot of businesses, when faced with a bad Yelp review, would obsess over it. They’d be paralyzed. Even if it’s in the midst of dozens of very good reviews. Let’s face it, we all hate criticism. How would you react if someone told you one of your kids was “the worst”? You’d want to prove them wrong, right?

2. It shows faith in their products – I’m betting that plenty of customers actually like the meatball sandwich, and order it often. The business owners are stepping out in faith and saying that they stand behind their products.

3. It takes a risk – Most of what we do as small businesses would be categorized as “safe”. Even our risks are calculated risks. We do what is easy. But what if…what if that meatball sandwich really isn’t all that good? This restaurant is walking around with a bulls-eye, taking the risk that others might feel the same way as the one guy on Yelp.

4. It builds community – If I’m a regular customer of this restaurant, and I like their food, I’m going to rally around them. I might just eat there more often as a public declaration that I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to think or like. In times of adversity and negativity, you find out who your friends are, and in this case, your loyal customers might just step up on your behalf.

5. It draws new customers in – If I’ve never eaten at your restaurant, this sign might be just enough to intrigue me. I might just walk through your doors, and if so, I’ll likely order the meatball sandwich. One, because I love a good meatball sandwich, and two, because I’m processing through the first few points of this in my head and I know you think that sandwich is pretty good. If it is, you’ve won me over.

6. It promotes positive online reviews – Taking all of these points into consideration, by mentioning that one bad review on Yelp, the businesses is inviting all of us to check out their Yelp account. We’ll go there looking for the bad review. We’ll want to see what this one guy had to say, and probably chuckle under our breath. And since we are there, we are very likely to leave our own review, and we will probably not only be positive, we might just extoll the virtues of the meatball sandwich.

And of course since this looks like it’s from a small, local business, there’s a good chance others who go there know the guy who posted the review. If they try the meatball sub and like it, guess who they are going to ridicule. Poor guy doesn’t stand a chance. If enough people give him a hard time, he might go back and amend or remove his negative review.

7. It’s free – This didn’t cost the business anything, short of the time it took them to write the sign. I don’t know if they did anything beyond this, but something simple like this can be just as effective, if not more so, than spending a lot of money. And while I don’t know where this business is, I’m betting the person who first posted the photo does. And so do their friends. Facebook has helped get the word out.

It’s a simple little sign, and I have no idea how long they thought through what they were doing, but I’m betting it didn’t take them much time. They just acted, and did so brilliantly. Sure, it could backfire on them a bit, but I doubt it. And they could probably play this up a bit more and expand on their marketing efforts. Would something like this work in a print ad, billboard, or commercial? It just might.

Congratulations to this small business, wherever they are. You did a good job!

What sorts of subtle marketing ingenuity have you seen from small, local businesses?


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Ryan Derousseau
Ryan Derousseau

This is a really great way to deal with the review. However, I'm not sure it's a great, long-term strategy. I wonder if they ever tried to reach out via Yelp? Sometimes bad reviews on Yelp can give the restaurant a chance to showcase their skills at providing a friendly, inviting atmosphere by showing concern that the person had a bad experience and offering a way to fix it. It can go a long way to appeasing the bad review, and maybe even getting the review taken down.

That said, maybe this restaurant knew the patron, and also knew it was a hopeless cause. In that case, well done.



This made me laugh out loud. I love the balls of this. Great eye catching marketing that jumps off the sign. Love this.


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