Loyalty Marketing, from Interview to In Box

Back when I wrote for a telecom trade pub, we spent many issues and years reporting on the coming of VoIP; voice over IP.  And VoIP did come — to home and business telephones — but not so you’d notice, if you bothered to check, for several years more.

The publication you’re currently reading is trying to foretell, among other things in the restaurant industry, the coming of big-data-informed, social-media-promoted loyalty marketing.  That evolving story made the cover of our second print issue of Restaurant Technology Magazine, back in December 2013.

Today, not three months later, I receive a loyalty-driven marketing email from Panera, with all the viral social media bells and whistles, the personalization, the hashtags and the day-part sensitivity we’ve been learning about. As well as the beauty food shots we described in our “Screen Capture” issue, out this week. When I first clicked around this morning, I was shown beckoning screens of bagels and oatmeal; after one in the afternoon, it showed me soups.

Panera a loyalty marketing early adopter

Panera is one of the early adopters of loyalty-marketing, one of the first to issue a mag-stripe card with which to track customer purchases. I dutifully present mine (or my phone number) every time I show up for lunch, coffee and/or Wi-fi.  The email I just got has invited me to compose an “Ode to my Panera Favorite,” for the chance to win Panera gift cards.  And the “favorite” that it pictures in this email is, indeed, what I’ve ordered most over the years — the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad.  Coincidence?


Or are they actually fitting this email template to match my favorite Panera lunch?  I’m actually kind of tickled.  “You know me,” I get the feeling, even though I know it’s a computer that knows which “favorite” to plug into each email frame, if indeed it is personalized.  (That I’m more likely than most card holders to actually write an “Ode” and share it, since writing’s what I do, has got to be coincidental.)

Like we’ve reported elsewhere, Panera is inviting us to “share” our composition up on the universal bulletin board of Facebook.  And it’s giving us a hashtag to use — which will work on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. In this way, when Panera  searches on that tag and cross checks the social media IDs it finds there with those of its registered loyal customers (perhaps through LevelUp, see that story in Issue Two, pg. 10),  it knows who’s accepted the invitation/challenge, and enters them into the drawing for the gift card.

And if you’re not literarily inclined? Panera’s email also invites the recipient to vote for his/her favorite Panera dish, for the chance to win free servings, for a year.  And to let Facebook know you voted, of course.

The Ode campaign is just the latest in a series of Panera weekly drawings. Another asks you to snap, hashtag and share a picture of yourself sharing a favorite Panera item with a favorite friend.  Scroll down a little further on the contest page and there’s the kind of colorful, animated grid we examined in our look at web site design in Issue Three; squares of customer-generated tweets and pictures. Elsewhere there’s an introduction to Panera’s master baker, a real person with a real name and a video back story.

Hashtagged tweets and posts close the marketing loop, just as mailed boxtops closed it for Kellogg’s and General Mills, back in the day. With one important difference: Boxtops didn’t tell all your customer’s friends in the process.