Desmond Edwards, VP of Marketing Services, Bloomin’ Brands told attendees at the 7th Annual Loyalty Expo, presented by Loyalty360 – The Loyalty Marketer’s Association, that loyalty marketing has to be fun.

“It needs to be fun,” Edwards said. “If we’re not having some fun from a marketing standpoint, we’re missing the mark.”

During his session with Andrew Robbins, President and co-founder of loyalty technology provider Paytronix, Edwards discussed invaluable lessons learned from loyalty pilot programs and Bloomin’ Brands’ ongoing quest to make the customer experience memorable every time.

Restaurants have a wide audience appeal, but frequency of visit in this space cannot be compared to that of coffee shops or fast casual restaurants.

“Our challenge is to therefore keep customers engaged in an era of casual dining promiscuity,” Edwards said. “That’s where the loyalty pilot comes into play. Our goal is to remind customers of their dining options within the Bloomin’ Brands family (Outback, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, Flemings, and Roy’s) and have them rewarded for that choice in a simple, but meaningful way. We center our pilot program around the visit because that’s where we shine, in creating great dining experiences when customers come to visit.”

Edwards said many companies often fail to have constant interactions with their loyalty members. Brands have the opportunity to drive program awareness and influence purchase behavior by communicating with their members and reinforcing the value proposition and benefits they offer.

“Out of sight equals out of mind,” he said.

Edwards described the tone and atmosphere projected for three of the restaurants in Bloomin’ Brands.

Carraba’s (authentic, genuine, warm, and vibrant): VIP events, online ordering, uncorked app, mobile, email (responsive design)

Bonefish Grill (innovative, independent, polished, unique)

Outback (fresh, real, spirited inspired by the 1986 film, “Crocodile Dundee”): Offers a broad, innovative menu with universal appeal beyond signature steaks. Uses Outback365 app, revitalized website, online ordering, social media, and mobile (responsive design)

In this age of dining promiscuity, Edwards said there are many dining choices that complicates the restaurant landscape.

“Where to go is complex,” he said. “Loyalty is on the menu, but it’s complicated. It’s complicated and takes time. Customers look to other customers to help them decide.”

Bloomin’ Brands’ Dine Rewards program offers a variety of choices (brunch, lunch or dinner) and an enrollment incentive (join and receive $10 off your next visit) to get people started. Go to any of the company’s five brand restaurants three times and receive 50% off your dinner on your fourth visit.

Robbins offered nine critical lessons learned from launching pilot loyalty programs with brands in the past:

Keep it as short as possible: Time is the pilot’s enemy

Avoid pilot creep: Limit the scope to what will make the enterprise successful

Get executive buy-in: Why should we do this? How much will it cost? What’s my return? How should I feel about this?

Set clear and measurable goals: Up front and stick to them. “We can’t run scared because of what the competition might do,” Robbins said.

Use benchmarks: (top-performing stores: bottom-performing stores)

Develop success stories early: (Enrollment is above the 75th percentile; loyalty members are five years younger than our average guest; 70% of our best guests were never in our eClub

Leverage design of experiments: Our high frequency guests are now coming in 34% more frequently; track visit rate of the high frequency guests

Prove ROI directionally, not absolutely

Ignore emotion at your own peril: “Emotions and beliefs are masters, reason their servant; Ignore emotion, and reason slumbers; trigger emotion, and reason comes rushing to help,” a quote from Henry M. Boettinger.

Loyalty Expo was held March 17-19, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida.

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