Case Study: Pizza Chain Finds New Ways to Build Email Database

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As the director of marketing at Stone Hearth Pizza, a restaurant chain with multiple locations in the Boston area, Alex Chamberlain is always on the lookout for ways to grow her email database. She’s found that the best way to acquire new email addresses is by requiring customers to input their contact information when redeeming limited-time deals and promotions, which Stone Hearth Pizza frequently posts on its company website.

What are some of the biggest marketing issues that you face at Stone Hearth?
That’s a big question. We get inundated all the time with ways in which we can market to our customers. The goal for us is to find our customer and market to them. We’re constantly being sold on ways in which we’re going to get a larger database. Some [companies] are coming to us, telling us who our customer is and how they’re going to get us in front of our customers. We just get hit with a lot of different ways to skin the marketing cat, so to speak. It’s overwhelming, and if we did all of them, it would be entirely too much.

Part of [what] we want is to own our own destiny in our communications with our customers. For us, the goal is to build up our own database without buying lists and without co-opting [lists] in ways we don’t think are fair. We want folks to get the content from us who want it. One of our biggest challenges is building a larger database, and Privy has been helpful in doing that. That’s been one of the biggest selling points. We’ve increased our database by no less than 200 to 300 new contacts [with each deal].

I think the restaurant industry, in and of itself, is really difficult now, from a marketing standpoint. A lot of people expect to get some type of promotion. It’s finding a way to get new customers, do promotions, and thank existing customers for being loyal [without being] overbearing. It’s hard to have your own voice in the wild and crazy group-deal-buying space.

When you’re getting in touch with customers, are you doing it through email or social media?
We do Facebook and Twitter to connect with customers on social media. Those are our two biggest ones. The tricky thing there is that we have one Facebook for soon-to-be five restaurants. We’ve had that conversation: do we start creating social media pages for each specific restaurant, or keep it all under one umbrella? We’ve kept it this way, and I think we will for a long time. It’s just the content management and whatnot. We send promotions and our newsletter monthly — Constant Contact is what we’re using for our email — and then [we use] Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare as well.

How have you gone about collecting email addresses in the past?
The good old-fashioned way. We had a lot of folks who would opt-in by way of comment cards. It was really grassroots and really slow building, but we did get a lot of folks out of the gate. We had some interns who were brought in who were willing to input data. It was really helpful.

I know you’re using Privy to collect email addresses now. Can you walk me through how that works?
We’ve been with Privy from the get-go. Initially it started out as us promoting a deal from our website, which is something that we’ve just revamped. It has become much more dynamic now, with online ordering, following us on Facebook and Twitter, and signing up for our newsletter. Privy helped us create online promotion, so folks could go to our website, see a deal, click on it, and then opt to actually purchase the deal. It has evolved from there. Instead of actually having a transaction take place online, [now] we’re just having customers sign up for deals. When you go our website you’ll [usually] see a deal running. You click on that, and what happens is you’re able to sign up for the deal. Once you do that, you get an access code, and then you bring that into the restaurant and they run the transaction as a deal from Privy.

Do more people sign up for deals when there’s no pre-purchase requirement?
A lot more. I always thought that if there was skin in the game, they would redeem. When we first started running the deals, about 20 people [paid] for a voucher, and they would all redeem. Now what’s happening is we’re getting a lot more people signing up, and a lot fewer people actually coming in [to redeem]. The interesting thing is when these people sign up for the deal, they’re opting in to our website. So they’re going to continue getting promotions from us, whether they come from Privy or not. It’s helping us expand not only our database, but also [other] promotions because they’re getting [marketing emails] from Stone Hearth directly.

How do you compare something like Privy to a traditional deals company like Groupon?
The nice thing about Privy is we can control the deal, the frequency of the deal, and the content that’s in the deal. We’ve done BuyWithMe; we’ve done Groupon. A lot of the content they write is horrible. It doesn’t reflect the company at all. The language is pretty kooky and not funny kooky, not witty kooky, but annoying kooky. [With Privy] we’re able to get creative with deals, push them for a short period or a long period, [and tailor them to] specific to things that are happening. Now the deal structure is completely different from Groupon, and [customers are] not paying for anything until they show up at Stone Hearth. I think more people want to do that. I think they’re more comfortable doing that.

Going forward, what are your goals as far as marketing is concerned?
The big thing for us is just getting to a point where we’re controlling our database and running our own promotions. At this point, that’s all I’m really focusing on. [We’re still using] Constant Contact, but I think we’ll get rid of that and move onto something else. I love Constant Contact; I think it’s a great company and they have great customer support, but there are some other database companies — like Fishbowl — that are more specific to the restaurant industry. The templates at Constant Contact are a little stagnant, and you can’t do as much as you can with some others that are more restaurant-specific. But I love Constant Contact. It’s a great company.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Click here to read more Street Fight local merchant case studies.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.