Contrary to what some believe, social media has not eclipsed email as a way to connect with customers – far from it. According to a recent McKinsey report, 91% of all U.S. consumers use email daily and the rate at which emails prompt purchases is estimated to be at least three times that of social media. In fact, Scott Shaw, CEO/Founder, Fishbowl (provider of digital marketing platforms for restaurants), reports that email is more important than ever. “Email continues to be the ‘go-to’ marketing medium for restaurants that want to talk to their customers one on one on a regular basis, sending information and offers based on their interests and purchasing profiles,” says Scott. Simms Jenkins, CEO, BrightWave Marketing – an email marketing-focused agency and author of The New Inbox: Why Email Marketing Is the Digital Marketing Hub in a Social & Mobile World, agrees. “At the end of the day, email drives revenue and engagement more than anything else and the return on investment is high. Plus, that’s where people are – they’re on email.” What some experts consider current email marketing “musts”:

SEGMENTATION
“Email is all about segmentation today – doing better, smarter marketing using email messaging based on recency, frequency, and spend, all of which can be captured by technology,” advises Scott. Janet Hall, VP, Marketing, Fishbowl, says that customizing the look and tone of emails based on the unique segments of your list (gender, age, location, prior purchases, click-through behavior, etc.) is key. A recent e-Marketer study reports that segmenting customer email lists increased open rates 39% and lowered unsubscribes by 27% on average.

RELEVANCY
Email message volume is soaring. Consequently it’s essential that email content is meaningful to the recipient. “Personalizing emails – using the person’s name in the salutation – is a given, but you can’t stop there,” advises Simms. “The content needs to personalized as well.” Restaurants are catching up to retail, using data to send smarter, more relevant emails, says Scott. Open rates or click-throughs can be used to customize content. With the proper tracking software, restaurants can email bounceback offers to guests who redeemed a coupon, or reminder offers to those who have not yet redeemed. According to Scott, one client with 100 stores recently saw additional revenues of $1MM due to simply reminding guests that they had three days left to redeem a birthday offer. One casual dining chain drove a 2% systemwide sales lift by targeting inactive eclub members who had not visited in six months.

“Email is going to deliver far more revenue per user, so use social channels along with your loyalty program to build your list and send exclusive, targeted offers via email. – Simms Jenkins, CEO, BrightWave Marketing

FREQUENCY
Simms says that frequency is one of the most debated topics for which there is no right answer. “Sending too many emails has the biggest impact, causing customers to emotionally or literally unsubscribe.” Fishbowl reports that 54% of email subscribers unsubscribe because emails are too frequent; 49% because content is “boring”; and 25% due to irrelevant content. Simms adds that automated emails – welcoming those who sign up, birthdays, anniversaries, and re-engaging those who haven’t been in for a while – are no longer a luxury; they’re a must for a well-rounded and effective email program.

ADAPTING TO MOBILE
“Almost half of every hour spent on a smartphone is on email, so it’s crucial that emails display well on mobile devices,” says Simms. A 2013 BlueHornet email marketing survey reported that 80% of consumers delete a mobile email when it doesn’t look good and 30% unsubscribe, up from 18% in 2012. Using Responsive Design, which automatically displays content for optimal viewing and navigation across a wide range of devices including smartphones, is important, according to Janet, who adds, “People don’t want to read too much content on their smartphones, so copy must be concise and graphics limited to ensure downloading is fast.” Intriguing, brief subject and header lines are more important than ever.

SOCIAL INTEGRATION
Scott recommends using social channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr – to drive email enrollment. An example, he says, is adding a tab on Facebook with a link to an email sign-up page, along with an incentive (i.e, appetizer or dessert). He says contests/sweepstakes can be a great email acquisition tool. Fishbowl created a sweepstakes for a client that led not only to an increase in subscribers by 453%, but Facebook fans as well. Sweepstakes participants had to both “Like” the page and provide an email address (via a button added to the Facebook page). Information about the sweepstakes was posted across all social channels.

METRICS
It’s key to know your open and click-through rates. Historically, email measurement has been only open rates, but now, according to Scott, technology allows measuring results all the way through to restaurant visits. “For example, we can measure how many people use a welcome offer and measure their first year spend, if they’re dining when redeeming offers.” 

Published bi-monthly by American Express, Restaurant Briefing is an online resource for restaurateurs. To view current/past editions and for a free subscription, visit restaurantbriefing.com

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