How Firehouse Subs Inspires Customer Loyalty with Email Marketing
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How Firehouse Subs Inspires Customer Loyalty with Email Marketing

How Firehouse Subs Inspires Customer Loyalty with Email Marketing

Franchises face a host of unique marketing challenges, but at the top of almost every franchise’s list is the issue of attracting – and keeping – customers. It makes sense: If you can’t successfully build a following of loyal customers and bring in a steady stream of revenue, all of the other challenges don’t really matter.

Firehouse Subs knows this struggle all too well. In their crowded market, competition is fierce, and restaurant franchises need every edge they can get to stand out from the many options customers have for their next meal. Fortunately for Firehouse, the brand has discovered an incredibly effective tool for connecting both new and existing customers with its 800 locations: email marketing.

For Firehouse, email marketing largely falls to Matt Olsen, senior manager of digital marketing. How does one person manage this critical task for more than 800 locations? Below are three ways any franchise can improve customer relationships with email marketing, along with examples of how Olsen has single-handedly put these tips to work for Firehouse Subs.

1) Audience segmentation

When you send a marketing email, your ultimate goal is to get people to open it and take some sort of action, right? In today’s crowded inboxes, that absolutely requires a personalized experience. If an email feels too generic, it usually ends up getting deleted – or worse, marked as spam. So how do you develop emails that consistently get opened and spur customers to action?

The first step is segmenting your audience. With effective segmentation, you can be sure that your email is getting to only the specific group you want to reach – and not annoying the subscribers it doesn’t apply to.

For example, whenever Firehouse opens a new location, the company sends an email to potential customers that includes the news of the store opening, along with coupons to entice them to come in and eat. In these cases, Olsen simply segments Firehouse’s subscriber list based on ZIP code. Potential customers within a certain distance of the new store get the email; others aren’t bothered with it. After all, if the new store is in Massachusetts, sending the emails to customers in Florida provides no value to the customer or the company – and might even cause some of those Florida customers to unsubscribe.

2) Reward loyal customers

Why does anyone subscribe to an email list in the first place? Quite simply, they want something of value in return. Rewarding subscribers with exclusive offers and useful information keeps them interested in – and opening – your emails. So, when you send those segmented, personalized emails, make sure you provide some value! Firehouse sends an automated welcome email to all new subscribers upon signup. It contains a personalized message and creates a sense of urgency by giving recipients a compelling offer that expires two weeks from the day they signed up.

Welcome emails are perhaps the most important first touch a company can have with potential customers. They have four times the open rate and five times the click-through rate of other email messages, and they set the tone for what’s hopefully a long relationship with new subscribers. In Firehouse’s case, the results are stunning, with their welcome message being opened by an almost unheard of 76 percent of subscribers.

Firehouse also sends subscribers personalized birthday messages, with a reminder that they get a free sub on their special day. Aside from the welcome email, this festive greeting is one of the most successful messages you can ever send: it generates a 50 percent open rate on average.

3) Automate when possible

After reading the first two tips, you’re probably wondering how one person can manage all of this personalized customer marketing for an entire franchise. This is where automation comes into play. Olsen and Firehouse use an automation suite to run both the welcome and birthday email campaigns. After the initial setup, autoresponders keep the campaigns running, so Olsen can focus on more pressing marketing initiatives. They save time and generate big results: a win-win for any marketer.

Bringing it all together

Used together, these three tips can help franchises of all sizes produce efficient and effective email marketing campaigns. Firehouse’s “Hearty & Flavorful Challenge” provides a great example of these ideas in action. To promote their new under-500 calorie menu, the company needed to engage customers across locations, ages, and marketing channels.

The first step was for customers to register for the challenge with their email address. The company then asked users to complete various challenges by posting photos of themselves on the campaign’s website. To scale these efforts, Olsen set up autoresponders to fire off personalized emails to each participant based on the number of challenges they completed. For example, Firehouse could target people who signed up for the campaign but who hadn’t participated and send them an email with incentives to complete the first challenge. On the other end of the spectrum, frequent participants could get different rewards and health tips each time they completed a challenge.

This personalized, engaging content made the campaign a huge success. Almost 2,000 people participated, uploading more than 5,000 total photos. The email campaign portion was particularly successful, with an 83 percent open rate and a 48 percent click-through rate.

By using these tools together to create compelling email campaigns, franchises can maximize marketing’s most powerful channel to keep customers happy (and coming back for more) at every location.

Colby CavanaughColby Cavanaugh is senior vice president of marketing at Emma, a digital marketing platform that makes it easy to create beautifully designed emails that drive results.

Published: May 9th, 2017

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