I’m constantly amazed at how many restaurants (and hotels, bars and cafes too) I visit that make absolutely no effort to sign me up to their database.
I ask myself – why?
- Is it awkward and uncomfortable for them, maybe feeling like hard-sell?
- A worry it’s too complicated, or brings legal issues?
- Not enough staff resources to manage the process?
- Not sure what to do with the data when it’s captured?
I encountered one simple approach at a busy hotel in the Lake District in England a couple of years ago. It was a homemade sign stuck on a pillar at the bar, inviting customers to join the mailing list and enter a free prize draw for a weekend for two at the hotel by filling in a hotel database card with their name and email address and depositing it in a container. The card was obviously homemade, and the container a pint glass from the bar.
Judging by the number of completed cards crammed into the glass, customers were more than happy to participate. Crude, but obviously effective. I chose to test them out and submitted my details. I didn’t win, but have received an occasional marketing email from them ever since.
As unsophisticated as it first appears, this sort of approach neatly handles many of the questions I posed above.
Awkward and uncomfortable? No. Customers simply decided for themselves whether or not to participate. No staff are involved, and no hard-sell.
Complicated? Hardly. Often the best approach is the simplest, and basic cards (and tent cards) are low-key, while being capable of gathering a surprising amount of highly specific data. They work for you automatically 24/7, and are certainly not costly either.
Legal Issues to tackle? A voluntary opt-in to join a mailing list means any legislation is largely satisfied. To be extra compliant you should indicate what methods of contact will be used (eg mail, text message, email) and let them choose their preferred method.
Insufficient staff resources? I suppose it could be an issue, but we’re probably only talking several hundred contacts per season, and any teenager can enter data into a spreadsheet for pocket money. Or the work could be outsourced to an appropriate service. Believe me, a voluntary opted-in database will more than repay such a relatively small cost.
Not sure what to do with the data? Again, this may require more thought, but doesn’t all marketing? If you’re promoting an event or offer in a local newspaper or radio station, isn’t it better to tell your actual customers too? You’re going to get a far higher response rate from people who actually know your business.
We have one client, a small country hotel, who has taken four years to build an voluntarily opted-in database of 1000 contacts with just 500 email addresses, using a simple tent card. Yet their email campaigns regularly generate a return of 1000%!
Don’t underestimate the importance of a suitable incentive (aka bribe) for customers to join. The ubiquitous ‘meal for two’ just doesn’t cut it. Make it something appealing and attractive. If budget’s an issue, reduce the prize draw frequency to once or twice a year and up the value.
And don’t start the process if you can’t or won’t follow through. I often see the frequently-used invitation to drop a business card in a box or vase at a bar or restaurant counter. Equally simple and effective, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done so without ever hearing again from the businesses concerned. Not only a wasted opportunity, but customers remember when they don’t hear from you. It portrays a shoddy, inefficient and uncaring image.