• Problems with Dairy Queen's Referral Program (and Solutions)

    Recently, I found myself at the Blizzard Fan Club page for Dairy Queen, http://www.blizzardfanclub.com.  It's summer here in Chicago, and I'm a sucker for ice cream.  What drove me there was a promotion they were offering if you signed up for their fan club.  I was happy to sign up. 

    I was also excited that they asked me to refer my friends or family at the at the end of the process.  It was easy, they just asked me for some email addresses.  My wife likes Blizzards, so I gave Dairy Queen her email address.  About 10 minutes later, my wife sends me an email and asks "What the heck is this?"  It turns out Dairy Queen sent her an email (which I expected) but it was extremely vague. 

    Here is the entire email:

    FROM:                  mdorian@referralcircle.net

    SUBJECT:             Matt wants you to visit BFC.

    BODY:                  Dear Friends,

                                Matt (mdorian@referralcircle.net) wants to invite you to visit BFC.

    That's it!  Nothing more!!  I was shocked.  There's a few glaring problems in their process.

    PROBLEM 1:

    What is BFC?  Dairy Queen is using their own acronym to introduce a new potential guest and potential raving fan to their website.  My wife had no idea what BFC meant.


    Easy.  Replace BFC with, "The Dairy Queen Blizzard Fan Club."

    PROBLEM 2:

    There was almost no text in the email.  I trusted Dairy Queen to engage my wife and provide some value to her.  Instead, they're just sending a single sentence asking her to go to a page.  Ultimately, they want to her to their site, but this "cold email" wasn't at all engaging enough.


    Add some text in this email.  Explain to her the benefits of going to this page.  Dairy Queen is selling ice cream.  In my opinion, this stuff (almost) sells itself!  One mention of ice cream, chocolate, or summer, and they've got her attention.

    PROBLEM 3:

    There was no way for me to include a custom message to my wife in the email.  I would have liked to add a few sentences in the so I can add my perceived value too.  Dairy Queen blew an opportunity to let me sell my wife on their behalf.


    In the form I used to refer my family, I would have liked the ability to send a personal message to them.  Simple.

    PROBLEM 4:

    When my wife clicked on the link, she was taken to the fan club web site.  BUT, it's not clear what she was supposed to do when she got there.  I referred my wife because I wanted her to sign up for the fan club.  The page she was directed to is very busy and it's not clear what Dairy Queen's motive is.  They should be very clear that they want her to sign up for the club.  When she got there, she was expecting to "do something."  Instead, she closed her browser.  Dairy Queen missed the opportunity to tell her what to do.

    PROBLEM 5:

    Dairy Queen never re-engaged me for referring my friends, and never said thanks.  They just found an influencer among their guests and they didn't take advantage of it.


    Dairy Queen should have sent me an email when I referred my friends and said "Thank You."  If they really wanted to "wow" me, they could have rewarded me at that time or when my referral recipients brought in their promotion redemption.  This would encourage me, the influencer, to keep influencing others.

    Have you signed up for the Blizzard Fan Club?  What was your experience?  Do you have a similar story with another business?  Tell us about it!

  • Collecting Email Addresses to Start a Restaurant or Hospitality Email Club

    The number 1 question we get asked by restaurant and hospitality businesses is "How can we start collecting emails to start an email club for our business?"  It can seem like a daunting task but it really doesn't have to be.  A few simple methods will allow you to effectively communicate with your guests through email, to keep them informed and drive them into your establishment. 

    The biggest factor preventing owners from getting started is FEAR.  A lot of owners worry that that using this platform will become a nuisance to a guest receiving an email and it will be categorized as junk.  Our experience yields the exact opposite reaction from your guests.  A good email club only consists of members that specifically ask to be part of the club.  By signing up, they're telling you that they want to be emailed news and promotions about your restaurant.  As a matter of fact, your raving fans are looking forward to receiving that email from you.

    Here's some tips to get started collecting emails for your email club:

    1) ASK! - The single most effective manner for gathering email addresses it to simply ask your guests.  It's so simple, but too many businesses neglect to openly ask for a guest's email.  This can be integrated into a variety of processes, but everyone should be trained.  Wait staff, cashiers, and all people handling the front end of your business should all be actively asking for a person's email address before or at the point of sale.  This is best done by verbally mentioning it to them and giving them a sign up slip that they can use to fill out their information.

    2) IN-STORE SIGNAGE - Promote your email club through signage in your establishment.  Direct the user to a sign up basket or fishbowl where they can sign up right there while they're in the store.  Other ideas are to provide a website address where they can sign up or a QR code on the sign to allow them to sign up immediately on their smart phone.

    3) PACKAGING - Affix a web URL to any packaging you may have to allow them to sign up for your email club.  If you have carry-out menus, they should be there.  Leftover bags?  There too.  Carry out packaging?  Yup.  Disposable cups?  You guessed it.

    4) YOUR WEBSITE - When a user comes to your website, you should have a clear action that you want that user to take when you get there.  For us, it's to start a free trial of our tools.  What is it for your website?  One of them should be to collect their email address for your email club.  You should have a way for them to sign up and you should be encouraging them to do so visibly on your website.

    5) YOUR CURRENT INTERNET MARKETING - If you already are doing any sort of email or Internet marketing, you should be asking users to join your email club there too.  This includes your Facebook page, Twitter page, and allowing a user to refer any emails they receive to a friend so they can sign up as well.  You are asking those people to refer your business, right?  (That's a subject for another blog!)

    Once you do have a substantial set of email address (50 is a good start), you are able to start marketing to your email club as another channel to drive revenue, build trust, and excite your guests!

    One last thing that we need to mention when discussing this topic: All emails in your email club should be gathered via an opt-in process established by your business and they should never be shared outside of your business.  Emailing people who have not explicitly asked to be on your club is an excellent way to lose your guest's trust.  Oh yeah, it's illegal too.  So, however you collect email addresses, make sure a customer requested for you to email them.

    What things work best for your business to collect email addresses?  Or, what challenges have you been faced with?

  • Unlocking New Revenue Streams In Your Restaurant With Your By-Products

    Business is fun.  You get to create things, help out others, and be rewarded for doing so.  In the restaurant and hospitality business, you often get to witness the joy you're bringing your customers first hand.  Sometimes though, it's easy to focus on the stress of owning and operating a business and not the positive aspects.  It can be a drag on you, especially the items in the business that nobody sees.  Doing the books, putting together a marketing strategy, stocking shelves, etc....  Wouldn't it be great if you could take all those "behind the scene" tasks and extend their value beyond your routine?  That's exactly what we did inside of our business.

    A little history about us, we started as a restaurant.  We were writing a business plan for a small restaurant that would use technology to drive it's marketing through word of mouth.  Using our restaurant operations and technology experience, part of our marketing strategy was the foundation on which Referral Circle is now built upon.  It wasn't the focus of the business plan, as that revolved all of the aspects of our business, marketing just being one piece.  However, in building out the plan, we wanted to ensure to use of our by-product, our word of mouth marketing system, to add more value to the overall business venture.  We saw value in the marketing system that we built for our restaurant plan, and saw how it could bring more value to other businesses and to the community as a whole.  There was opportunity not just in our restaurant , but in the by-products of our work we were performing to operate our restaurant.  (FYI, the restaurant never did open, but there's still plans to revive the plan eventually!)

    Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson of 37Signals wrote about this in their book, Rework, as well:  "When you make something, you always make something else.  You can't just make one thing.  Everything has a by-product.  Observant and creative business minds spot these by-products and see opportunities." (pg 90).

    So, are you doing the same for your restaurant or business?  Have you evaluated how the by-products of your restaurant can be used to add value to your business and your community?  Have you developed your own system that could bring value?  Are you educating?  Here's some ideas:

    • Write a book or blog
    • Create a cookbook
    • Distribute your homemade sauce or cookies to the local grocer
    • Consult for other restaurants
    • Take the experience you create at your restaurant and bring it to new venues
    • Teach at a local community college
    • Re-purpose food overage
    • Partner with other businesses and take advantage of your mutual unique talents to benefit each other
    • Start a marketing website and sell your home grown tools (that's what we did!)

    Chances are very good that you have a by-product in your business that you're not utilizing.  Put it to work for you.  If you can increase your revenue through it, that's great, but also consider the impacts to your community and local economy as well. 

    What suggestions do you have?  Tell us your ideas!

  • Getting Started with Social Media for Restaurants

    Social media can seem scary to a lot of business owners.  It's not really as complicated as it looks and it doesn't have to take a lot of an owner's time.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, it's likely that you're trying to do too much without the right help.  Find a professional that can help you both put together your social media campaign and then have them teach you as they do it.  Don't push it off on your children or an intern, this is important, it's best to get off on the right foot.  Getting started is always the hardest part.  Once you've launched a few campaigns with some help, you'll be better qualified to determine if you'd like to take over or continue to use your outside help.  You wouldn't try to construct your own billboard on the highway, would you?  Well, this is the same concept, except it has the potential to reach a much wider audience!

    Remember, a good social media marketing campaign involves two avenues.  The first avenue is to give your guests something to talk about.  This may include email marketing, referral programs, exclusive promotions, or content your guests find interesting and make it available on these social media channels.  The second avenue is to listen to the chatter that's occurring on these mediums and respond and interact with your guests.  You should be extending your brand and personality online to make it a fun and rewarding experience for your guests.  The key is to build loyalty, very similar to what you're already doing on the floor of your restaurant today.  Your passionate guests want to talk and refer your business to others.  Having a social media presence gives them a very powerful way to do so.

    The key to being successful with social media marketing (or any marketing) is engage and interact with your guests through the mediums that they are already using.  The first thing to do is find where your guests are lurking, and focus on those spots.  You do not need be everywhere. Instead pick one social media spot that you know your guests are participating such as Facebook or Twitter, and engage with them.  Don't try to conquer the entire Internet, instead go to where your customers are.   This will help minimize your amount of work involved and give you the best results.

    Most restaurant owners end up enjoying the process of social media.  It's very similar to what you're already doing in your restaurant, engaging and interacting with your guests!

  • Welcome to our New Website (and How We Did It)

    Welcome to our new website!  We're excited to have you here.  We'd like to take our first blog post to describe how we built our site.

    First, we used Drupal, a popular open source Content Management System (CMS), to create the overall framework of the site.  CMS allows us to be able to build the site and then allow our staff to be able to log into the site to provide content updates and new blog posts without having to write any code. 

    We REALLY like Drupal as a CMS, as we've built a few sites for our clients with it.  With it, you are able to get a beautiful site created very quickly.  We chose it over other CMS's (such as Wordpress or Joomla) because it has a huge amount of support on the Internet and it can provide a lot of enterprise functionality by using its additional modules.  We even built an entire social network with it!  We've seen groups with other CMS sites (such as Wordpress) quickly out grow them when they want to do more than have static pages and blog. 

    We used a variety of modules to create our site.  Modules are like "plug-ins" for our site.  They allow us to snap in more functionality as we need it.  We added a few modules for different reasons to our site, here's a list:

    • ANTISPAM - This module adds a filter to help us remove spam in our comments.
    • CAPTCHA - We used this module to display CAPTCHA images on our site (those funny verification codes when you submit a comment to make sure you're a real person).  This allows us to avoid automated spammers posting on our site.
    • CKEDITOR - This allows us to be able to make rich text changes to our site when we do things like post blogs
    • FAQ - This drives our FAQ engine on the FAQ section of our site
    • FB SOCIAL - This displays the Facebook widget on the right hand side of the page and puts the "Like" button on our blog posts.
    • GLOBAL REDIRECT - Used for search engine optimization (SEO), this will redirect any "ugly" URL's to a "clean" URL if it exists
    • GOOGLE ANALYTICS - This allows us to track our traffic on Google Analytics
    • IMCE - This allows us to be able to upload and manage images when we do things like post blogs (such as that Drupal image in this blog post!).
    • NODE WORDS - Used for search engine optimization (SEO), this allows us to include meta tags inside of our pages and blog posts to help define our pages and have them found by search engines more easily
    • PAGE TITLE - This allows us to define the title of each page we create inside Drupal.  Without it, Drupal just gives the pages a generic name.
    • PATH AUTO - Used for search engine optimization (SEO), this will create a "clean" URL for dynamic content created on our site
    • SERVICE LINKS - This displays the social media links at the bottom of our blog posts, encouraging users to share the content.
    • SITE MAP - This allowed us to build our site map you can see at the bottom of this page.  This helps with Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
    • TWITTER - This module posts our Twitter Feed that you can see on the side of this page.
    • VIEWS - This allows us to build dynamic lists such as the one you see on this page that shows our recent blog posts.

    Another nice part of Drupal is that it allows you to create Themes.  Themes hold the "look and feel" of your site and can be changed on the click of a button.  Our crack design team at Referral Circle built this theme by starting with the Waffles Theme and altering it as needed.

    Well, we hope you like the site as much as we do.  Stay tuned for more blog posts!