Back in June, pub chain JD Wetherspoon announced the scrapping of their monthly newsletters. The reason? Worry that some considered the marketing approach too ‘intrusive’. Wetherspoon subsequently deleted their email database – customers were encouraged to keep up-to-date with Wetherspoon’s news updates via their social media feeds instead.
While it’s true channels like Facebook and Twitter provide solid ground for alternative marketing campaigns – and are in some cases genuine contenders for supplanting e-mails altogether – Wetherspoon’s purge of their newsletter strategy isn’t necessarily a sign other food and drink businesses should be forgoing them entirely.
For one thing, the pub chain’s target audience are spread over a large area – with almost 1,000 branches around the country, how can you possibly, without the necessary expense, talk about a real ale festival in Tunbridge Wells without sending the same information to someone in Glasgow?
Email segmentation is the answer – newsletter platforms such as Mailchimp are very clever at that. Besides, if it is thought emails are seen as ‘instrusive’, had Wetherspoon’s considered it was the message, not the medium, which needed addressing?
Consider your design
‘A newsletter,’ says Tanya Layzell-Payne, MD of Gerber Communications, ‘should be less about the business saying what it wants to say, rather giving the customer something they will enjoy. The success of a newsletter is not just about great content. Design, personalisation and database management all play a part too.’
Aesthetics is a point we should raise – brands needs to consider graphic design and uniquity. This is something that Sophie Orbaum, the Harts Group’s head of communications, says should be of top priority.
‘Design is definitely an important part of Quo Vadis’ mailers, not least because of our longstanding relationship with the brilliant John Broadley, who designs all our iconic menu illustrations and much of the artwork on the walls at Quo Vadis. Also Julian Roberts at Irving and Co. – John created the header images for The Bugle and The Rocket [members’ and general restaurant mailers respectively], and because of him, they are recognisable and totally unique.’
The emphasis on presentation cannot be understated. Tanya talks about how Gerber worked with Skye Gyngell’s Spring to improve the effectiveness of their newsletters with a redesign. ‘By simply changing the way the content was displayed, adding clearer action buttons, and optimising the design for mobile,’ she says, ‘we increased click-through rates from 1% to 5%. Consequently, Spring has had more bookings through its emails, and has sold more tickets to events through its emails, than ever before.’
Content is king
But of course, while style may be enough to help build a brand’s looks, and certainly draw customers in, it’s substance which keeps them around. ‘We want to offer something more substantial than a chic-looking distraction,’ says Sophie. ‘Our guests and members tend towards the creative and cultivated, and we want to please them with entertaining, interesting, and relevant things to consume. We talk about ingredients in season, new wines we’re excited about, special events coming up like our guest chef series, and tips from Jeremy Lee, and Sam and Eddie Hart, or Sometimes a recipe too, so there’s a sense of value gained.’
This idea that the recipient must have some feeling of exclusivity is echoed by Shelley Sofier, MD of Red Kite PR. ‘“First to know” insight tends to work well,’ says Shelley. ‘For anything from new openings and new menus, insight into the restaurant team and their world, sharing their expertise, seasonal foods, and simple-to-enter competitions or incentive mechanics.’ As much as that means offering something not found anywhere else, it should be reflected in the message’s language too. ‘Tone is important,’ says Shelley. ‘It needs to reflect the restaurant and the people behind it, and needs to speak to recipients in a more personal way – “this is here just for you.”’
Add a personalised touch
As far as personalising messages for each guest – or group of guests – is concerned, the potential is almost infinite. Extending birthday wishes (and complementary champers on their next visit) to a particular guest? Easy. Targeting the regulars with first dibs on the head chef’s next big event? Piece of cake. This all due to the fact newsletter platforms help keep a finger on how guests, and potential guests, are reacting to messages you put out – then acting accordingly. ‘The best thing about email marketing,’ says Tanya, ‘is that it really is possible to track the ROI. You can see results of an email campaign in real time, with online bookings and ticket purchases all attributable to activity.’
While some businesses like Wetherspoon are ditching the newsletter, others savvy to their true value are taking full advantage. The argument about the potential in a once-a-month update being irritating – and maybe even alienating – to your customer base? Sure, a cause for concern. But when done right? Sophie has the answer: ‘Once a month seems regular enough,’ she says. ‘Though we’ve been asked by members for more frequently.’
Image courtesy of Quo Vadis