Every day I open my mailbox to find about five pounds of junk mail. It must take at least three trees worth of paper to produce each day's pitches for credit cards, oil changes, life insurance, Wal-Mart circulars and coupons for everything from frozen chicken to tires. Rather than take it in to the house, I usually stop at the garbage can and start "editing." About 95 percent ends up in there in the trash.

We are on advertising overload these days from the endless barrage of direct mail, radio and television marketing. If pizzeria owners could find a way to put their message into the hands of customers in an uncluttered environment, then that would be effective marketing. One day this week while I was "editing" the junk mail before I walked in for lunch, I thought about how many pizzeria coupons are thrown away and vaguely remembered an email I got back a month or so ago. When I got back to work I spent about 30 minutes trying to find the email and luckily I hadn't deleted it. It was an email about how Mazzio's was using a new way to distribute coupons.

Founded as Ken's Pizza over four decades ago, Mazzio's Italian Eatery is now a successful chain of over 230 Italian dinner houses. Located predominantly in the Southwest, Mazzio's offers its customers an upscale atmosphere to dine-in, drive-thru windows and delivery. Mazzio's Italian Eatery found a way to put marketing/promotion pieces in payroll envelopes. When employees pick up their check, there's Mazzio's piece.

Mazzio's was looking for a way to deliver their message to consumers without having to throw their incentive offers into the ring with competitors in the common print media channels. As David Poth, vice president of marketing and development, explained, "We needed a conduit to get our message out to the folks that make the restaurant decisions for their families. Traditional channels typically deliver Mazzio's ads or coupons to households right alongside our competitor's. The new program we employed delivers our message to the consumer at work. There are no rivals. The consumer receives our offer singularly, and it's perceived as an employer-provided perk. The toss it away, click it off, change the channel behavior is circumvented."

"We use a print media program (Sales Building Systems, Inc), which delivers client incentive offers directly to these employees via a permission-based, business-to-business-to-at-work-consumer channel," David said. Client's incentive certificates are delivered to the employer and distributed to employees typically via paycheck or by interoffice mail.

For Mazzio's, the program has been a complete success. "When we first started using this marketing strategy in 1993, we were trying to build traffic," David explains. "One strategy for driving restaurant sales is to gain new customers and increase repeat purchases through advertising and promotion. We utilized this program to deliver a free trial offer to at-work consumers."

The system Mazzio's uses also offers a barcode option to track results. Redeemed certificates are returned for scanning and the results are reported back to the client. Otherwise, the client tracks this in-house, usually through POS systems or audit tracks.

"On average, the redemption rate on our initial offers was about 12 percent," Poth reported. "That level of activity is 12 times greater than a standard print event. In March, we send out a series of three to four incentives. Typically, these are buy one-get one free certificates or dollars off type offers. In the fall we promote a coupon calendar that is hugely popular. The calendar features a total of 36 incentives, three coupons per month that can be redeemed at any time. On this particular program, the company (Sales Building Systems, Inc.) has established relationships with more than 1,600 employers who receive over 275,000 calendars. Every year, the nugget for us is the calls that come in from the employers and employees asking when the calendars will be sent out."

Pizza operators can also negotiate directly with local business to offer something like this. Not only is it a great way to target people where no other marketing is interfering with your message, it can also be viewed as a service to the employees from the employer. Start by approaching a small independently-owned business, say a video rental store, and ask the owner about having your coupons or menus put in with the payroll checks. If they don't bite at first, maybe offering the owner a free pizza each pay period so he can "treat the staff to lunch." This will sample your product while you deliver your marketing message with the paychecks. Whether you try it on your own or incorporate a professional service that maintains a database of established employer relationships, the certificate marketing program is definitely a win-win proposition.