When Gabe Connell was searching for advice on the latest technology available to market his pizza restaurants, he turned to an expert: his 13-year-old daughter. She gave him the idea to market his pizzerias by creating a MySpace profile where customers sign-up to be his friends and receive coupons for special offers.
Connell, owner of Hot Box Pizza, with four locations in Indiana, is only 35 years old. But many of the customers he wants to reach are college age or in their early 20s. One of his restaurants is in West LaFayette, home of Purdue University. Another is in Broad Ripple, a trendy Indianapolis neighborhood known as a haven for residents in the 20-something age range. The others are in downtown Indianapolis and Fischers, Indiana.
Connell and other pizzeria owners are making use of new technologies to market their businesses, including creating profiles on social networking sites and sending text messages to customers' cell phones. Connell insists that marketing by e-mail message is already going out of style among young people who he says don't spend a lot of time watching TV and do not check their e-mail daily.
"It's a different generation. My customers spend more time on Facebook and YouTube than they do checking their e-mail, listening to radio or watching TV," he said. "Traditional marketing doesn't seem to be the way to reach these customers."
Newspaper or radio ads are too broad-based in their reach and too costly for Connell, who wants to target his efforts. The customers he seeks live within his restaurants' delivery zones defined as comprising an area inside a 3 1/2 mile radius of each of them.
That's why Hot Box Pizza has profiles on MySpace, Facebook and Indymojo.com, a local networking site. (Click here to see Hot Box's MySpace page.)
Linda Duke, owner of San Rafael, Calif.-based Duke Marketing, agrees with Connell that pizzerias need to explore new marketing technologies.
"Pizza restaurant operators need to embrace these new technologies to reach busy consumers and offer them another means of communication or service they can choose to make their lives easier," she said.
The role new technologies may play in marketing is evidenced by their representation at the National Restaurant Association Show held in May in Chicago.
"There were more than 200 exhibitors listed with these new technologies," Duke said.
Rob Detrick, owner of Linn's Pizza Bar and Grill in Frostburg, Md., said he turned to social networking sites because traditional forms of advertising were not conducive to marketing the beer delivery service his pizzeria offers.
"It's not something you want to advertise through traditional means," he said.
Like Connell, many of Detrick's customers are college-age and a little older. Frostburg is home to Frostburg State University.
Ease of use
Unlike placing an ad in a newspaper, creating a page on a social networking site takes very little time.
"With newspapers, you talk to an ad exec and then they design it. It's like a two-week process," he said. "But with MySpace, you can go on the site now and put out a bulletin."
Every two months or so, Detrick said he sends a bulletin to new customers that he selects based on their age range, their location within a 10-mile radius of his restaurant or by their zip code.
"We send them an e-mail and tell them if they want to get specials from us that they should sign up to be on our friends list," he said. In two years, he said his list of MySpace friends has grown to 4,600.
"Considering that the population of Frostburg is 16,000, that's pretty good," he said.
He has profiles on MySpace, Facebook, Tagged, and Friendster. He uses a software program, Friends Blaster Pro, that can send bulletins once an hour to his friends list.
"The software automates it. It does all the same stuff that you could do manually, but it does it in greater quantities and faster than you could ever do it," he said.
Though he sends bulletins to new customers occasionally, he cautions that it is not a good idea to reach out too often to these people.
"You don't want to go outside your friends list too often, maybe once every month or two," he said. "When we first did this, we sent bulletins to everybody all the time. We thought everybody would be happy to get our offers. But we got a bunch of angry e-mails."
While Connell and Detrick are both pleased with their marketing via social networking sites, Connell is exploring another new technology, marketing by text messages to customers' cell phones. He started two months ago.
Getting people to sign up to be on his friends list at MySpace is easier than getting them to turn over their cell phone numbers.
"It's much more of a challenge. It's more of a sacred thing for people to give their cell phone numbers," he said.
He wanted his initial offer to be worthy of this trust. He offered them a free order of breadsticks, for which he said his restaurants are known.
"I wanted them to know if we were going to send them a text message it was going to be something of value," he said.
To date, 422 people have signed up to receive text messages and about 200 people have taken Connell up on the breadstick offer.
Connell uses Cellit Mobile Marketing in Chicago for his text message campaign. The company charges 6 cents per message or $225 a month for a three-month commitment to send 2,500 messages.
David Wachs, president of Cellit, said text message marketing "multiplies the value of other marketing methods." For instance, a billboard or radio ad can include a number for people to text to get special offers.
"It's a call to action. Those ads now have staying power," he said.
That's because a restaurant can continue to send text messages with offers to customers.
While Connell and Detrick want to attract younger customers, Duke said these new technologies will appeal to other demographics as well. She predicts these technologies will be embraced by customers as they become better acquainted with them.
"These technologies should be looked at as providing a new service within your operations, just as to-go windows were a few years ago," she said.