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Carrabba's exec: SMS, LBS mobile incentives a necessity to engage consumers

New York - A Carrabba?s Italian Grill executive at the Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2011 conference said that offering a mobile incentive via an SMS or location-based services campaign is key to engage new and exisiting consumers.

The Italian concept restaurant chain is using mobile Web sites, SMS messaging and location-based social media to help drive acquisition, engagement and activation. During the ?Carrabba?s Italian Grill: How mobile enhances the restaurant retail experience? keynote, the executive discussed how the company is exploring mobile display and search, as well as customer relationship management.

The conference was organized by Mobile Commerce Daily.

?For me to ask someone to give me their email address requires a certain amount of trust,? said Jamie Miller, brand marketing manager of Carrabba?s Italian Grill, Tampa, FL.?

?To turn around ask someone for their telephone number requires a heck of a lot more trust,? he said.

Leveraging that trust to communicate with customers in a meaningful way is a central focus of the chain?s mobile strategy.

In addition to the personal nature of mobile, other reasons for its attractiveness to Carrabba?s is the number of tools mobile offers as well as its immediate, hyperlocal and addictive nature.

Loyalty tie-in
?If our Staten Island location wants to address peak hours, we can deploy mobile tactics to specifically drive this,? Mr. Miller said. ?That hyperlocal nature is very important to us.?

To drive customer acquisition, Carrabba?s uses any real estate it has, including check presenter inserts and banners in restaurants to communicate about its mobile program.

It is also leveraging its loyalty program, which has more than one million members, to send emails inviting members to experience Carrabba?s mobile Web site.

The company polled its loyalty program members about what components of a mobile Web site are most important to them.

Location information was the number one response, followed by menu information and mobile ordering.

The mobile Web site serves as the hub of Carrabba?s mobile activity.

The chain focuses on ways to provide users a reason to visit the site and then provide content that will motivate them to visit a restaurant.

?I wanted to enhance our user experience with our mobile Web site, making it quick and easy for customers to get the information they want,? Mr. Miller said.

Since the launch of the mobile Web site, Carrabba?s has seen a 22 percent increase in overall Web site traffic, including 76.3 percent new visitors to mobile site.

The chain?s SMS program started with 12 restaurants.

The company sent a text message with an offer once a week to those in its mobile database.

This was done to engage with these customers and learn from them.

?I really wanted to learn things like what offers drove them and what time to end out messages,? Mr. Miller said.

There was a 68 percent redemption rate of deployed offers.

Carrabba?s built a mobile database for each of its locations.

This enabled the company to create offers that address the needs of specific locations, whether it is to drive Sunday sales, bar sales, off-peak sales or catering.

The program was then expanded to include engagement messaging in addition to offer messages, with offers going out once a week.

The offers are sent to recipients weekly messages and asks them what their favorite dishes are.

One of the goals of these efforts was gain insight into whether it was discounting people who are already coming into a location or bringing in incremental visits.

Respondents to a poll asking customers about this indicated 73 percent a mobile offer drove an incremental visit.

?This shows we?re providing value to customers as well as to each one of our locations,? Mr. Miller said. 

Foursquare builds relationships
Carrabba?s mobile efforts also include a partnership with Foursquare, which was introduced last year.

According to Mr. Miller, the goal with Foursquare is to reward silent, but regular customers.

The company introduced an offer providing a complimentary dessert offer to each Carrabba?s ?Mayor.?

This resulted in 22,401 check-ins.

The offer was later changed to a loyalty special offer, giving customers a complimentary appetizer on every fifth check-in with the purchase of an entrée. There were 28,956 check-ins with the new offer.

?Foursquare is a conversation starter and relationship builder,? Mr. Miller said.

Final Take