When Michael McCathren and his marketing team at Chick-fil-A decided to revamp their email marketing program last year, they wanted to break away from the typical strategy employed by many restaurants and retailers: Blasting out promotions and email coupons.
"We wanted to make an email program that’s more of an experience -- not just an announcement of a new product or whatever that week’s promotion is," says McCathren. "We’re interested in stirring pot of conversation online, and giving subscribers something to share, explore, and interact with."
They adopted a new approach for email messages that combined standard product promotions and contests with broader, brand-related content. They also increased the ways subscribers could interact with those messages by adding social sharing features, store locator buttons, and online calendar reminders for events.
Since making the changes, they’re averaging open rates around 30% and clickthrough rates around 15%. We spoke with McCathren, who now goes by the title "Conversation Catalyst," to learn how their new approach is generating those results.
Here are four tactics the team used to spur subscriber interaction with their promotional emails:Tactic #1. Clean up the email database
Because McCathren’s team wanted to create closer relationships with their email subscribers, they needed a high-quality list. But the team had originally attracted opt-ins through email sweepstakes and other contests, and was housing those names in three different databases.
"It was kind of a mess," says McCathren.
They consolidated those names into a single database and focused on list quality, purging hard bounces and other bad addresses. In the end, they reduced the size of their list by approximately 30%.Tactic #2. Provide multiple engagement points in each email
Product promotions and special offers remained an important element of the teams’ email messages. But they wanted to include additional content and calls-to-action that would appeal to a range of interests within their subscriber base.
The email template was designed to highlight a primary offer, such as a contest or a promotion related to a specific menu item. But smaller boxes within the email message highlighted these additional messages and features (See Creative Samples link, below).
- The team expanded product-related content by featuring links to menus and nutritional information.
- They included interactive features, such as:
o Find a store buttons
o Add-to-calendar button for special events and contests
o Forward to a friend link
- They also frequently featured brand-related content intended to broaden subscribers’ relationship with the company, such as:
o Links to a webpage dedicated to the company’s popular cow mascots (who encourage consumers to "eat mor chikin")
o Links to news about a corporate scholarship program
o A link to a motivational/leadership training webcast sponsored by the company
"[Customers] may not understand why Chick-fil-A stands out when they’re driving down the street, but through email we can communicate these things that keep us top of mind," says McCathren.Tactic #3. Promote social sharing
The team made linking email to social media channels a priority for 2009. They were inspired by the discovery in August 2008 of a customer-created Chick-fil-A fan club on Facebook that had roughly 25,000 members.
They established a partnership with the creator and began promoting the club through their email messages:
- Initially, the team included a blue button in messages that said, "Become of fan of Chick-fil-A on Facebook." Clicking the button took visitors to the club’s Facebook page.
- After several months, they began using different language on the button, such as "Find us on Facebook."
The email campaign became a key driver of fan-club signups. In less than one year, the number of fans grew from roughly 25,000 to more than 1 million.
That success encouraged the team to expand the social-sharing features in their messages. In addition to a Facebook link, they’ve used:
o Follow us on Twitter
o "Share this with your networks," a button that links to the AddThis bookmarking and sharing service Tactic #4. Use surveys to get qualitative feedback
As McCathren and his team began changing their email templates and trying new content strategies, they wanted more than just email metrics to tell them if they were on the right track.
To get direct feedback from subscribers, they sent email surveys that asked questions about:
o Email frequency preferences
o Email subject matter preferences
o Customer behavior after receiving emails
The answers provided some startling insight. For example:
- Only 1% of recipients said they received emails from Chick-fil-A too often. Roughly one-third said that Chick-fil-A wasn’t sending enough
- Almost 50% of survey respondents said they forward and share the emails they receive. That number was especially significant, considering that few emails contain coupons or other hard offers that tend to drive email forwarding.
- 75% of survey respondents said they had visited a Chick-fil-A store as a result of seeing an email.
"That was a surprise to everyone here, and internally, all of a sudden email got a lot of support and budget," says McCathren. Useful links related to this article:
Creative Samples from Chick-Fil-A’s email program
Share-to-social Buttons Increase Email Interaction: 6 Steps
Brightwave Marketing: The agency that manages Chick-fil-A’s email strategy