Ring the Dinner Bell

A new e-mail marketing program is helping southeastern Wisconsin restaurants and specialty retailers build relationships with customers and increase repeat business.
Data Dog Interactive Marketing, a Milwaukee-based marketing firm that specializes in e-mail marketing, recently launched the program, called Dinner Bell.
Data Dog establishes a Web-enabled database for a business to enter customer information. Once the database is created, Data Dog designs and immediately sends a personalized thank you note to the customer’s e-mail address and follows up with monthly incentives to return to the retail business.
The incentives range from coupons for birthdays, holidays and anniversaries to customer appreciation sales.
"Our core competency is to help businesses capture customer data, including e-mail addresses, and to develop a communication program between the customer and the business," said Johnathan Crawford, president of Data Dog, which operates from an office in Walker’s Point. "The e-mails provide a little sense of finesse in making the customer’s experience positive."
The Dinner Bell program costs $125 per month per location, which includes the database, management, the design of the campaign and monthly e-mails.
"Everyone thinks of e-mail as this Web thing, but it is really just a communication channel," he said. "Every business could use Dinner Bell for different reasons to target its demographic. The principle behind Dinner Bell is to establish and solidify a relationship with customers."
Crawford said Dinner Bell could be an ideal tool during a company’s slow months to remind customers to stop in. Businesses such as Bartolotta’s Pizzeria Piccola in Wauwatosa and Broadway Paper in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
The Data Dog program is used in conjunction with Bartolotta’s Chef Notes and Broadway Paper’s monthly design tip.
"Dinner Bell is a marketing insurance policy on a restaurant or specialty business’ future," Crawford said. "It is easier to get someone to come in who has been there before. You just need to give them a reason to come back and to remind them you are still in business."
Crawford said he first got the idea from a similar program Data Dog created for Port Washington-based Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp. That database sends mass e-mails to customers with incentives and new products.
The Allen-Edmonds program was so successful that Crawford said he decided to make a more affordable product for the restaurant and specialty retail industries.
"The Edmonds system is elaborate and comprehensive, where Dinner Bell
is based on one premise," Crawford said. "Restaurants and retailers are not as successful as they could be. People don’t come back because they forget. The cost of direct mail can be high, where e-mail is affordable, and in some respects provides an automatic ability to communicate with customers."
Dinner Bell was launched officially in early July, but Crawford had already signed on Broadway Paper, Bartolotta’s and a handful of other customers, including: Potawatomi’s Dream Dance, Milwaukee; Heinemann’s Restaurants, with seven locations in the Milwaukee area; and Charcoal Grill, with nine southeastern Wisconsin locations.
Peggy Burns, president of Heinemann’s Restaurant, said although she recently opened an eighth location in the Milwaukee area, Heinemann’s is still a small business that can benefit from an e-mail marketing tool to establish repeat customers.
Through the monthly e-mails, Heinemann’s offers free desserts or salads on birthdays and anniversaries "When Johnathan approached me, I thought it was a great idea," Burns said. "It is a wonderful help to a small business that already does everything at once."
Burns said the restaurant locations have received a positive return rate since incorporating the e-mail system in February and has received positive feedback from customers.
"It has been very easy for us to use and that is the reason it is appealing," Burns said. "We sat down with Data Dog and went through the entire year to determine on a basic level what we wanted to promote, whether it was a holiday or an ice cream month. Data Dog designs something every month and runs it by us before programming it to be sent out."
Broadway Paper has a full-time graphic designer who creates the monthly e-mail for Data Dog to place in the program and send to the customers on the mailing list.
However, customers also have the option not to use Data Dog for graphic
"We are very happy with Dinner Bell and hope the e-cards keep customers interested in the store," said Jennifer McClellan, Broadway Paper’s graphic designer. "We have used the program for about three months and have had customers come in with the coupon or looking for products we had suggested in the design tip of the month."
McClellan said Broadway Paper has a separate mailing list for direct mail, but was looking to join the trend of e-mail campaigns when the company was approached by Data Dog.
Crawford plans to have 50 restaurants and 100 retailers on board using the Data Dog system within the next year.
The price will increase for businesses with a larger customer base, because it can be difficult to target people’s interests.
"The worst-case scenario is that the customer gets a thank you note and a card on their birthday," Crawford said.
August 6, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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