i just robbed a bagel shop

I walked into a Bruegger’s Bagels shop, I handed the clerk a piece of paper that told him what I wanted, I watched as he filled the bag, and I walked out of there — all in less than 30 seconds. I quickly walked back to my car, glancing over my shoulder to see if the cops were on my trail.

OK, so technically, I didn’t rob the shop — I had actually used a coupon from my Sunday paper to get 6 free bagels — but it felt like I had robbed them.  And that’s because I have never been to that Bruegger’s location before — and although I’m sure I will enjoy the bagels, it’s highly unlikely I will ever return there — simply because despite being the only location within a reasonable driving distance of my house, it’s not convenient for me to get to — and the promotion didn’t give me a reason to go out of my way to do so.  So, if in running the coupon, the company’s goal was to prompt additional visits/purchases, it has essentially wasted 6 free bagels on me.

This incident got me thinking about all the other free or nearly-free offers I’ve seen from quick serve restaurants (QSRs) lately:

I’m curious to see how these offers play out.  On the one hand, they may drive short-term traffic and stimulate trial of new products; on the other, I question whether they’re prompting future incremental purchases, or increased loyalty, or even goodwill.

Although QSRs aren’t hurting as much as their more upscale counterparts, the restaurant industry as a whole is suffering and so I can understand the desire to get “butts in seats” — but at what price?  Giving away food to unlikely future customers doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  Tactics that are more likely to have a more sustainable impact on the business are ones that:

  • are integrated into the brand platform — of the 4 promos mentioned above, only the Jamba Juice one seems to relate to the chain’s overall brand strategy.  Jamba’s brand essence is “positive energy” and their “oatmeal for a buck” promo was promoted as a bright spot in the dismal economy. The headline of the ad/coupon reads, “Slow economy, bad. Slow-cooked oatmeal for a BUCK, awesome.”  The tone and manner (e.g., the “Jamba Economic Boost”) reinforces the brand personality.  Integrating a compelling offer with a brand message makes the promotion more differentiating, more memorable, and ultimately more brand-building.
  • present the optimal customer experience — part of the concern I have with the Bruegger’s promotion is that it didn’t facilitate a brand-building experience.  I wasn’t joking when I said I was in and out of the store in 30 seconds — the transaction didn’t make any kind of impression on me (except for perhaps speed of service.)  If the goal of the promotion is to appeal to new or lapsed customers, it’s likely not to succeed because the promotion wasn’t designed to communicate anything new or different about Bruegger’s.  And surely the chain has more impactful product offerings than a simple bagel — by offering a complimentary or discounted new product, they could have delivered a better customer experience and perhaps made a return visit more likely.
  • invite customers into a relationship with the brand or reinforce an existing one — beyond handing out coupons for additional purchases (which some chains did), these companies could have used the promotions to develop relationships with their customers.  Perhaps they could have asked customers for an email address so that future offers and information could be sent directly to them — or invited customers to follow the chain’s Twitter tweets so they can be notified of breaking news and deals– or even enrolled customers in the chain’s loyalty program and automatically crediting their accounts with points for that day’s visits.  That way, the promotion gives the business a way to grow its customer base and gives the customer a reason to return again and again.

It seems to me that not all ways to do traffic-driving promotions are created equal — why not turn a “withdrawal” from the bottom line into a “deposit” in the brand equity bank?

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