Two years ago, Friendly’s, the East Coast chain best known for its ice cream, started making plans to have all its restaurants remodeled. When individual locations held celebrations for their respective reopenings, Friendly’s executives went table-to-table, chatting with customers. And they found that in more cases than not, emails drove people to the events.
Friendly’s has since made the Best Friends of Friendly’s – or BFFs, as the brand refers to its email list – a much bigger priority, asking consumers to sign up upon purchasing food at the restaurants.
For a week last year, the chain saw success with an email-heavy promotion centered around a combo: $2 for a burger and its signature Fribble milkshake. Research revealed that restaurants with 1,100 BFFs drastically outperformed those with less than 1,000.
“It’s not a question whatsoever whether or not [email marketing] works; it’s a question of how to make it work the hardest and make it the most effective,” says Bill Chiccarelli, field marketing manager at Friendly’s. “The fact is, it’s tied in with people who are saying, ‘I like you enough to give you my email address. Tell me when you’re doing stuff and I’ll be loyal.'”
Email marketing is a delicate balance, he adds. While it’s important to email your customers regularly, it’s equally important not to email them too much, to where they feel so inundated with your brand that they don’t want to hear from you anymore.
To ensure engagement, Friendly’s offers a lot of incentives to stay subscribed. BFFs are the first ones to hear about in-store events, like when New England Patriots players and cheerleaders made appearances after Friendly’s partnered with the football team, and receive special promos. In addition to a free birthday sundae, new BFFs get a 25 percent off voucher for their next visit, as a bonus.
Chiccarelli evokes the famous 20-60-20 principle, which dictates that 20 percent of people will like and dislike your brand, with the bulk of consumers falling in the middle. He looks at email as a powerful stream to the first group.
“If you’ve got enough television weight or radio weight that you can own the airwaves and you’re hitting everybody, that’s terrific, but it’s not realistic,” he says. “There are very few companies that can afford to do that, but with email, you can talk directly to the people who identify with your brand.”
People tend to identify with a particular Friendly’s restaurant, rather than the brand as a whole. As a result, each location has its own mailing list, all of which are cumulatively so valuable that all Friendly’s marketing has an email component.
“If you’re doing something locally, you don’t want [customers] finding out some other way and asking, ‘Why did I give you my email address?'” he says. “I think the best way to connect with them is to make them feel special, when they’re finding out about something earlier than everybody else. It’s going to continue to make them feel like they’re your best friend and not just another consumer.”
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