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Relevance and Email Marketing

Restaurants are always trying to get more from limited resources. With already slim margins, brands are constantly negotiating with suppliers, promoting off-peak day parts and streamlining in-store operations to incrementally improve the bottom line. Yet, many overlook the pent-up value locked within their own guest email database.

Email is already among the most effective marketing channels1, despite the fact that 55% of consumers do not open and read messages regularly because of perceived irrelevance2. In other words, more than half of email marketing’s potential revenue is lost because marketers do not cater to their audiences effectively.

Understanding the Data

The cornerstone of relevant email marketing for restaurants is understanding individual customers on a mass scale. The volume, accuracy and flexibility of customer data is paramount. There are three key forms of customer data available to your email program: demographics, preferences and behaviors.

Demographics

Demographic data is the basic, matter-of-fact information about an email member. Personally identifiable information like name, gender, address, Facebook account and birthday fall into this category.  Finances, education and relationship data are also key demographics.

Preferences

Preferences encompass the likes and beliefs of each member:  all of the qualitative data that weighs on dining decisions. Does a guest favor chicken over beef? Will that same customer respond to the red or the blue creative? This form of information is often provided without resistance from your audience. Yet, it represents their personal ideals and may not exactly reflect their true response.

Behaviors

Guest behavior is easily the most powerful data for email marketers. It includes all the relevant value of preference, with the reliability and concrete accuracy of demographics. Plus, it is the easiest form of data to collect, as customers often do not realize they are even providing it. The biggest hurdle is ensuring your brand has the proper tools in place to capture and apply the chosen data points.

Collecting the Data

There is a bevy of ways to capture guest data and enrich your database. Every interaction a customer has with your brand presents an opportunity to learn more about them. Below are a few effective ways to go about it.

Collect at Registration

Data is always collected during the on-boarding process. Identify the standard information you need to receive from a new e-club member and include those fields on your registration form.

Offer Account Updates

Provide ample opportunity for your existing guests to update their account information. Make sure the process is simple and subdued, but available on most communications. If your customer chooses to update the data, take the opportunity to ask for a few additional metrics as part of the process.

Utilize Append Services

There are services able to take your customer information and add a wealth of available data to the records. An email address, for instance, can lead to mailing address, age, gender and social media usage.

Integrate Your Business Applications

Every time your customers make a purchase, open an email, or write an online review, you have the opportunity to increase the intelligence of your CRM records. Ensure that your restaurant’s key business software — like POS system, email marketing platform, online reservations platform, loyalty program and social media monitoring solution — are feeding your customer database.

Just Ask for It

Email surveys, comment cards, and social media polls are all wonderful ways to elicit customer data. Use any means available to allow your customers and their friends to provide opinions of your restaurant’s products and services. The process is simple, straightforward, and often appreciated by your audience.

Applying the Data to Email

Marketing icon Peter Drucker once said, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him/her and sells itself.” The next step in the engagement process is to take your ocean of customer data and channel it into performance-driving relevance. Below are a few ways this theory can be applied to email marketing.

Personalization

Personalization takes an otherwise generic email marketing message and dynamically customizes information to match a member’s individual data. This includes procedures like inserting your closest location’s address in the footer, swapping artwork by gender, or changing the offer from steak to seafood by preference. The goal of personalization is no longer to make a mass email look as though it was sent to just one recipient: spammers spoiled that party. Instead, the intent is to make any flexible content increase the campaign’s chances of driving the desired response from each and every e-club member.

Segmentation

Where personalization alters the details of a single message, segments require separate communications. The key to successful segmentation is to group on the basis of powerful ideas, creating cohorts that predictably behave quite differently from one another. These groupings include big picture concepts that leave little room for ambiguity, including:

  • Motivation to dine in your restaurant
  • Level of engagement
  • On and off-line influence
  • Frequency and average check

Here is an example of where segmentation adds value: one customer may frequent your restaurant because of the exceptional happy hour specials at the bar, while another guest comes for the family friendly service in the dining room. It would be difficult to craft one killer email campaign that effectively influences both of these patrons at once. Instead, with segments based on guest behavior, you can effectively message these audiences separately and increase your overall response rate.  Segments also provide the flexibility to target only specific portions of your database. For instance, you may reward a frequent patron with an exclusive offer not available to the e-club at large.

Automation

Putting the right message in front of a receptive audience also requires impeccable timing. Automation takes the leg work out of this otherwise tedious process. Its most simplistic application is triggered messaging: systematically delivering predefined email messages at a particular date and time, like a guest’s birthday or anniversary.

Whereas triggers send a one-time message, a decision tree is a collection of emails that respond to various points of choice in a communication series. Think of it as one of those Choose-Your-Own-Ending books you read as a child.  Your audience’s actions dictate their path, thus helping to improve the ongoing engagement of your restaurant’s email marketing program.

While the path to email relevance has been explained herein as a linear process, in practice it is not a simple “point A” to “point B” operation. Collecting the data takes time. Testing, monitoring, and analyzing performance requires activity. Of course, the economic law of diminishing return does indeed apply: it’s easy to lose yourself in the mound of data, over-segmenting till the benefits of “mass marketing” erode away. Start with the customer data you already have and put a plan in place to manageably build a more robust program over time. Diligently test various messages, segments and triggers. Quickly eliminating those that do not generate an above-average return, and implement those that effectively drive the black. When executed correctly, a moderate amount of additional effort can result in significant gains for your business.