Integrate direct mail with Web-based strategies to expand your marketing reach.

Direct mail is a highly flexible tool in any pizza restaurant’s marketing arsenal. Tangible and eye-catching, a well-designed direct mail piece promotes brand awareness and boosts your pizzeria’s credibility with your customers. Although email marketing may be less expensive, many marketing professionals still prefer to include direct mail in their marketing campaigns, saturating selected neighborhoods in specified ZIP codes with pieces ranging from simple coupons and special offers to full-color brochures, fliers and postcards.

A great deal of thought and planning needs to go into any direct mail marketing campaign. Let’s look at the three key components of a successful direct mail program:
Making an offer they won’t refuse. The first step in creating a successful direct mail campaign is to define the offer itself. It must be clear and compelling yet affordable. The goal is to incentivize a new customer to visit your pizzeria, and the more aggressive the offer is, the better it will work. Forget free drinks or measly 10% discounts—instead, focus on the “center of the plate,” such as a free pizza, a “buy one, get one free” offer or even a complete free meal.

Timing is everything. Your offer should be timed to drive business into the restaurant when customers are most likely to respond. Typically, that will be during your peak season, but that’s not always helpful, of course. If business is already brisk during peak season, additional incentives may be unnecessary and even inadvisable—your pizzeria may not be able to handle the added traffic, and the customer could end up having a bad experience. A second choice would be to promote your pizzeria as you’re heading into the “shoulder season”—that is, just prior to the peak season. (In our experience, attempting to extend the peak season rarely delivers an acceptable ROI.)

Defining your trade area. The trade area for most pizzerias should be a radius of about four miles from your location. For “destination” restaurants, a larger mailing radius may work, but most of the traffic will come from nearby neighborhoods. If you choose to test a wider mailing radius, it’s critical to map the responses and verify that the outlying targets are, in fact, responding and that this broader approach is cost-effective.

Saturation vs. Demographic Selection

Getting your direct mail piece into the right customers’ hands is a big challenge, and it will require research and careful planning. There are two ways to set up a successful mailing list: saturation mailing and demographic selection.

With saturation mailing, you’ll mail out the same offer to every residence within a defined geographic mailing radius. That approach will cover all income levels and all types of housing. If the neighborhoods surrounding your restaurant reflect the demographics that you want to reach, this can be a very cost-effective way to mail. Otherwise, you’ll want to consider demographic selection as an alternative.

Demographic selection allows you to further refine your mailing list. You can establish selection parameters based on housing type, household income, presence of children and other demographic factors. This approach allows you to rule out those areas of the city whose residents don’t fit your customer profile and will improve your ROI significantly. The U.S. Postal Service is an excellent source of demographic information; its Every Door Direct Mail program allows you to acquire demographic data, map out specific target areas and choose mailing dates, all from your computer. Additionally, many private direct-mail companies offer demographic and market information services.

The Online Activation Strategy

Getting a direct mail piece in the hands of potential customers is one thing. Getting them to actually use it is another matter entirely. The piece can simply convey a special offer without a coupon, activation device or expiration date. However, I don’t recommend this type of offer. There would be no way to track the redemption rate if you can’t determine whether or not customers came to the restaurant because of the card. In fact, any printed promotional offer should have an expiration date to provide a sense of urgency, place a time limit on customers’ ability to redeem the offer, and prevent confusion and confrontation in your pizzeria.

The most effective way to activate a targeted offer is with an attached coupon or a “Bring in This Card” requirement. This approach provides you with a method of tracking activation and reduces the opportunity for customers to fraudulently copy or share the offer with others.

Every printed promotional offer should have an expiration date to provide a sense of urgency, place a time limit on customers’ ability to redeem the offer, and prevent confusion and confrontation in your pizzeria.

But there’s another approach that integrates direct mail and Web-based marketing for added benefits and exposure. In this case, the direct mail postcard offer should drive customers to go online to a special website created just for the promotion or to a designated section of your pizzeria’s existing website. Here, the customer can download the coupon using any Web-enabled computer or smartphone. First, though, the user should be asked to provide his name, address and cell phone number. Then, he can print out the coupon and take it to your pizzeria to redeem the offer. (In addition, he won’t be able to go back and claim a second coupon—once he has entered his data, he will be locked out of the coupon page.)

Data capture isn’t the only benefit of an online marketing strategy. During the process, the customer can also be asked to “like” your pizzeria on Facebook; the “like” will immediately be posted on his Facebook page and shared with his friends, thus greatly increasing your exposure. In turn, these other Facebook users can “like” your pizzeria, and the process continues.

Hence, when one direct mail recipient redeems your offer online, he can help you reach literally hundreds of additional prospects!

When one direct mail recipient redeems your offer online, he can help you reach literally hundreds of additional prospects simply by “liking” your pizzeria on Facebook.

With online activation, customers also can be asked to opt in to receive future communications from your pizzeria. However, operators should always have a qualified attorney approve this opt-in language to prevent future legal actions related to privacy issues.

Finally, I recommend that all coupons be marked with a specific activation code that can be used at your pizzeria’s point-of-purchase to activate the discount offer and help track activations in your POS system. This will allow you to track the success of the promotion, determine how many coupons were activated and from what areas, how soon they were activated after the mail drop, and what additional purchases were made along with the promotional offer.

Special Offers

Promotional mailings can be used to advertise a new menu roll-out, weekly specials, or new pizzas or appetizers that you’ve added to your existing menu. Meanwhile, there are several different types of specialty pieces to consider for your direct mail marketing strategy. These include:

Birthday mailings. A birthday piece should be personalized for the recipient. The card should congratulate the customer on his birthday and offer a special birthday pizza or meal “on the house” anytime during his birthday month. Typically, the card—preferably a 6”-by-11” laser-printed piece—must be presented at your pizzeria to be redeemed, but, as previously mentioned, the card’s message can also encourage the recipient to print out a coupon from your website, thus allowing for online data capture, opt-in and coupon printing. Due to the special nature of a birthday card and the accompanying offer, redemption rates are usually very high. Since this is a monthly program and the number of customer birthdays may vary from month to month, quantities will vary, but a monthly average can be determined for budgeting purposes.

New resident mailings. A new resident mailing targets every new resident in your pizzeria’s defined trade area, preferably within a few weeks of the recipient’s move-in date. This laser-printed, customized 6”-by-11” card should be personalized for the recipient and include a map of your restaurant’s location. Ideally, it should offer a free meal to the new resident with a short window of redemption to create urgency. Activation can be achieved by bringing the card to your pizzeria or, again, the recipient can first be directed to your website for data capture, opt-in, Facebook promotion and coupon printing. As with birthday mailings, the actual number of new residents will vary each month, but estimates can be used for budgeting purposes.

Business-to-business mailings. This piece targets all of the businesses within a defined radius of your pizzeria’s location. You can restrict the recipient list according to the size and nature of the business to make sure it doesn’t land in a competitor’s mailbox. You can mail to the entire list each month or break the list down into smaller portions for monthly mailings. This card, too, would be personalized and should feature multiple detachable coupons that can be used by several employees.
Direct mail is a time-tested strategy for increasing traffic and reinforcing brand awareness. Some operators may feel tempted to abandon the snail-mail approach these days and focus strictly on Web-based marketing, but it’s smarter to integrate both direct mail and Web marketing to expand your reach and increase your odds for success!

Tom Feltenstein is a restaurant marketing consultant and the CEO/Founder of Tom Feltenstein’s Power Marketing Academy.