Case Study: Blimpie Closes the Loop With New Mobile Gaming App

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BlimpieMerchant: Blimpie
Location: Nationwide
Size: Nearly 1,000 franchised restaurants
Platform: Blimpie Run mobile app
Results: 36% opt-in rate for the Blimpie eClub
Bottom Line: By including gamification features in a mobile app, brands can provide added value to customers and incentivize social sharing among millenials.

“For a restaurant company like ours, millennials are hugely important,” says Steve Evans, vice president of marketing at Blimpie, the quick-serve restaurant with nearly 1,000 franchise locations. “They tend to be a huge customer base for years to come, and all the research that we’ve seen shows consumers make their brand choices — and their brand loyalty — early on in life. If you get people in their earlier years, they’re still open to change.”

Of course, reaching the millennial generation is a challenge, given that customers in this group are less likely to turn on a TV than a smartphone. “Millennials are not like any other previous demographic that you market to. If there’s no value to them, you’re dead in the water,” says Evans.

To overcome this obstacle, Evans and his team recently launched a new mobile gaming application called Blimpie Run. Customers can win prizes for playing the game and connecting the app to their social media accounts. “Millennials love to brag. They love to showcase what they’re doing with their friends, so it easily allows customers who are playing the game to post their high scores on their Facebook walls and challenge their friends,” says Evans.

Social sharing has become a major component in Blimpie’s digital marketing strategy, in part because it serves as a form of “free” advertising, and also because it offers Blimpie a way in to a customer’s online life: “If they download the app because they want to play the game, it gives us the opportunity to socially share that and then that will go viral. When they download the app, it allows them to opt-in to our eClub, which gives us another touch point. If they’re not playing the app that day, they may get an email from our e-mail club, which allows them to see coupons,” says Evans. “By closing the loop, it allows us to get our brand messaging to them and stay top of mind in the areas and times where we want.”

In the four days after Blimpie’s new app went live, Evans saw a 36% opt-in rate among customers who were prompted to join eClub, Blimpie’s email marketing program. Evans says the number is “huge” and points to a continued push into mobile marketing. “Kahala [Blimpie’s parent company] has multiple brands, so one of the beauties is you can try something with one brand, evaluate it, tweak it as necessary, then use those key learnings, and some of the framework from a technology standpoint, and roll that out to other brands,” says Evans.

Calculating the ROI of a social campaign is challenging, but Evans says it starts with sitting down and defining the goals of a project. “When we sit down and decide to do a project, the first question we ask ourselves is: ‘How is this going to drive sales and drive traffic?’ That’s our No. 1 goal,” says Evans. “For us, one of the ways you can do that is by staying top of mind with customers. Customers need to be reminded. Sometimes it takes the same message five, ten, fifteen times to get customers actually making decisions.”

In addition to eClub opt-in rates, Evans is keeping a close eye on the number of downloads, social shares, and unsubscribe requests. He has plans to create a separate Blimpie mobile app sometime in 2014, which will integrate with the company’s loyalty club. “Then the next evolution is hopefully layering in SMS text messaging, as well as push notifications,” says Evans. “It would allow us to communicate things, if they’re within a six-mile proximity of a location and there’s a special, or if there’s a new Blimpie app that they might want to download.”

The decision to launch a mobile gaming app before a traditional branded app was strategic for Blimpie, since Evans believes interactive games provide more value to his millennial customers. “I look at some other brands, and [they launch] more standard brand apps first, like their menus or locators so you can find the closest store,” says Evans. “We would rather provide a more fun, interactive game as our first app to roll out, and then follow it up with more of a brand app with an integrated loyalty and frequency club.”

The Takeaway
From a marketing perspective, the key to reaching millennials has to do with providing value. For Blimpie, this value comes in the form of an interactive game that customers can play on their mobile devices for the chance to win prizes. Blimpie has also managed to incentivize social sharing by providing avenues that make it easy for mobile app users to showcase their performance on social networks like Facebook. Evans and his team plan to keep a close eye on the performance of their new app, with plans to use the data they gather to refine their marketing tactics when launching apps for other restaurants under the Kahala umbrella in the coming years.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

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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.