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Applebee’s Tap Room SMS program reinforces neighborhood-bar push

Applebee’s has teamed up with Pabst Blue Ribbon to create the Tap Room mobile SMS program, an opt-in offer service that rewards patronage and links with a user’s social network to reinforce the chain’s positioning as a neighborhood-bar.

Through restaurant-specific codes, Applebee’s guests can register for the Tap Room using their smartphones by simply texting a code. SMS programs are a great way to enhance the fast-casual experience by creating direct response campaigns and will allow the brand to develop more personalized relationships with its customers.

“SMS goes as well with fast-casual restaurants as hamburgers and fries. Consumers are loyal, but they love offers,” said Jeff Hasen, a mobile marketing consultant from Seattle.

“There is nothing better than text for reaching out to get opted-in mobile users to come in more often. The immediacy of text, with SMS read within minutes, then acted upon, puts this at the top of the fast casual’s mobile list.”

Tapping user inboxes
While Applebee’s is largely considered a dining establishment, it is also focused on creating a convivial bar atmosphere. The Tap Room messaging strategy is smart not only because it gently nudges the consumer with a friendly forget-me-not, but also seeks to make the consumer feel part of the community, and appeals to a younger clientele as it brings a new generation to Applebee’s.

Through Tap Room, guests receive a combination of national and local offers, ranging from Pabst Blue Ribbon giveaways, regional food and drink specials and charitable opportunities in their area.

Once guests are registered they can also access their social media platforms and link to special offers, inviting their social network to engage with the brand as well.

The program is available for franchisees to adopt on a national basis, with plans to become a nationwide program, as almost all franchisees have opted in according to Mike Hurt, Applebee’s director of beverage and late night.

A study performed by Neilson found that 95 percent of smartphone users conduct restaurant searches. Of those, 90 percent convert within the day – meaning they go out to eat – and 64 percent covert within one hour. With such a high turnover rate, restaurants must ensure they remind the consumer of their offerings so as not to get lost in the decision.

Get the 411
There are a couple of targeting parameters within SMS that are particularly useful for restaurants. Aside from geographical targeting, the timing factor is also important.

Longhorn Steakhouse ran a campaign last year during the Fourth of July holiday that epitomized the personal, real-time nature of SMS.

Longhorn SMS

The Grill-11 campaign allowed patrons to opt-in and receive grilling tips and tricks, recipes, and more to ensure holiday BBQ success. But the most interesting feature allowed people to text for grilling advice, and they would actually receive a personal phone call directly from a Longhorn grill master who provided real time support.

This is a great example of an SMS campaign that elevates the customer experience for this business segment, as good promotions do not have to always be related to selling or marketing offers.

Unique advantages
SMS campaigns are unique in that they take advantage of the natural behavior on the phone, and can be a great way to connect with customers to send coupons, promotions or updates about new products. SMS is a great push mobile tactic to get an immediate response from the customer, however it may not be the best experience.

SMS is limited to 160 characters of plain text. It is difficult for many brands to communicate an effective message in such limited space and messages can be perceived as unbranded and generic.

Ford ran an ad campaign last year which invited viewers to text a short code to learn more about their latest model, and localized offers. After texting the shortcode with a “zip” code, prospective customers received a bland message back detailing a financing offer and including the phone number of a local dealer. The same message was pushed for weeks, and while it did include an opt-out facility, the promise of delivering the latest model information was never fulfilled.

Conversely, platforms like Rich Media Messaging eliminate the disadvantages of SMS and incorporate device specific images and video along with features like social sharing, calendar downloads that really enhance the user experience and take these campaigns to another level.

Plus size fashion retailer, Avenue, partnered with Iris Mobile on a nationwide mobile campaign that involved sending opt-ed in customers’ weekly messaging promotions inducing them to patronize Avenue retail shops. By using RMM, Avenue achieved a 97 percent open rate of messages and a ROI of approximately 6,600 percent.

Applebee’s Tap Room initiative provides a well-placed effort to reach consumers with relevant content.

“Before executing an SMS campaign, we must first understand the customer, their needs and how we anticipate they will respond to the content,” said Cezar Kolodziej, president and CEO, Iris Mobile.

“When we really know the customer, we know how to reach and engage with them, resulting in a valuable, pleasant experience and improved brand perception.”

“Otherwise, just like with any ill-conceived marketing campaign, we risk decreased brand perception, low engagement, and a wasted investment,” he said.

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York