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Applebee’s taps power of social gifting to engage consumers on mobile

The Kansas City, MO-based casual dining chain is giving consumers a way to custom-design their cards by occasion, send a delivery animation that electronically unwraps the card to reveal the amount, or add a personal photo, video or audio message and schedule its delivery. The gift-card program shows how mobile social can be deployed to generate lively moments that drive brand engagement.

“Our overall objective at Applebee’s is to bring our brand into the flow of life for our consumers,” said John DeCastro, Applebee’s director of gift cards. “We want them to be able to engage with our brand on their terms, whether that’s sending gift cards, finding locations, reviewing menu items or ordering food for pick up.”

Gift cards on top
With its gift-card revamp, Applebee’s is tapping into Americans’ growing affinity for gift cards.

A new survey from CashStar found that most consumers prefer receiving gift cards to physical gifts, but often feel guilty admitting they want them.

Tapping an affinity for gift cards.

CashStar’s findings fit with the recent National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, which found gift cards to be the most requested gift item for the eighth straight year.

Sixty percent of the more than 1,100 U.S. consumers in the survey said they put gift cards from their favorite retailers, restaurants and brands on wish lists this year.

Yet 30 percent said they feel guilty asking for them. The reasons included a dislike of asking for anything (62 percent), a feeling that asking for a card is the same as asking for cash (61 percent) and a lack of personal spirit (45 percent).

Gift givers, on the other hand, indicated that being asked for a gift card for the holidays makes shopping easy.  Seventy-eight percent said their reaction would be, “Great, that’s an easy gift to buy and check off my list.” And 55 percent said they prefer receiving gift cards versus physical gifts.

The most appealing thing about receiving a gift card, according to respondents, is the ability to treat themselves to something they really want (77 percent), followed by being able to buy things they really need instead of being given more stuff (66 percent) and being able to purchase an item that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford by applying the gift card.

Applebee’s gift cards are redeemable at nearly 2,000 Applebee’s locations nationwide.

Their rollout complements Applebee’s introduction of an eGifter-supported group gifting option that lets a group add dollars, a beverage, dessert or an entrée to a gift card.  A photo-book option allows senders to assemble animated pages with multiple photos.

The site also supports corporate gift-giving.

The new cards will be launched with a promotion that lets consumers buy a $50 card and get a free $10 bonus card through year-end.

Applebee’s is proving to be a deft user of mobile to boost brand engagement.

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

Enhancing brand
Through restaurant-specific codes, Applebee’s guests could register for the Tap Room using their smartphones by simply texting a code.

Mobile gifting is growing.

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.

“Mobile gifting is an area that is growing at a rapid rate, as consumers appreciate the convenience, speed and flexibility by sending and receiving mobile gift cards,” Mr. DeCastro said.

“These added features create a more desired consumer experience and take out brand beyond our competitive set to evolve a digital gift card to more than just an email.”

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.