The debate on free

Nov. 12, 2009 | by Sandy Lechner

*Sandy Lechner is President and CEO of Synergy Media Team

Quite often, I find myself debating with colleagues and customer/partners about the value of giving away free food as part of marketing campaigns. For well-planned customer acquisition and lapsed user programs, my feeling is that the offer should always be free.

Many times I hear, "Giving away free food diminishes the value of my brand." My response is usually laughter, followed by a question: "Are you kidding me?" The goal with free food is to drive qualified prospective customers into your establishment to try your food, service and experience.

I'm not suggesting you saturate an area with offers for free food. I am suggesting that you first identify the age, sex, marital status, socio-economic status, income, etc. of your model prospective customer. You then run that data, within your market area -- usually within a one to three-mile radius of your location -- and wash it against your existing customer data. Then you send a "FREE" offer for those cross-referenced prospects to come in and try your food and experience in honor of their birthdays, moving into the neighborhood or even a holiday.

The next most popular protest I hear is that franchisees, owners or managers don't want to absorb the cost of the free food. Again, I usually laugh -- and make sure I heard them correctly.

For if we use our standard birthday card program as an example and take a model of 1,000 cards sent, the range of cost should be 55 cents to 75 cents per piece, including creative, data, printing, personalization, postage, a  personal URL, and mailing. If you drive a 10 percent return from that initiative, you have 100 new prospects trying your food and experience. At $2 food cost, your cost for the mailing and food is then under $1,000 total, all in. If I told you I could put 100 model prospective customers in your location, trying your food for $1,000, you'd be crazy not to do it, right? Even if 65 percent of the prospects never come back, you've converted 35 new loyal, repetitive fans. If you execute that plan every month, you're looking at 1200 new prospects trying your food, and giving you the opportunity to turn them into loyal, repetitive fans.

We have not mentioned the fact that most prospects will not come in alone. Or that they will most likely buy a drink, chips, fries, etc. to accompany the free offer.

The fact is, no one will become a loyal, repetitive fan until they have sampled your food, service and experience. You have absolutely no shot of doing business with someone who has never been to your location or tried your food. With marketing dollars at an all-time premium, you have to drive results with every penny you spend. The more compelling the offer, the more response it will drive, period! The more targeted your list and message, the more response it will drive, period!

There is no question that we are in an age where data is king. The more you know about your prospects and customers, the better your opportunity to effectively communicate a compelling message to them. All of our mail boxes are filled with mail products that offer $3, $4, and $5 offers to the masses. You must separate your concept -- by standing out, personalizing and communicating compelling and timely messages to the properly targeted audience. In the instance of reaching new customers, that means giving food away to get myriad returns.

Sandy Lechner is president and CEO of Synergy Media Team, which provides fully integrated print, mail, marketing, and fulfillment management solutions, and specializes in QSR and fast casual multiunit and franchise systems. You can reach him at or 954-414-0304.

Topics: Marketing

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