12 Ways Restaurants Can Grow Their Email Lists

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(and why email marketing is often more valuable than social media marketing)

In business, our most valuable and cost-effective customers are the ones we already have. They have already chosen us, so we don’t have to spend time and money acquiring them. We can instead focus on building our relationship with them so they continue to be our customers and part of our community–and so they can be our enthusiastic ambassadors to new customers.

That’s why it’s so important to keep current customers engaged; so they will continue to spend time and money with us, and be our organic marketing force by telling friends, family and their social community about why they love us (either in person or via reviews).

Often my clients are very concerned about their social media presence and either spend an inordinate amount of time on it, or lament not spending more.

But the obsessive focus on social media marketing can be misplaced. The reality is that email marketing, while perhaps not as sexy or instantly gratifying as social media, generally has a much higher return on investment than social media marketing. That’s not to say that social media isn’t important, or that some businesses haven’t done extremely well selling via social media (although that’s the exception). But email marketing is a proven strategy to engage customers and drive sales and referrals (although for most businesses, most marketing professionals recommend doing both, in tandem, which provides the highest value), and usually has a higher ROI.

3 reasons that email marketing is more important than social media:

Email has a higher rate of return on investment than social media: In fact, according to OptInMonster, email has a ROI of $44 for every $1 spent, whereas the ROI for social media is unknown and unproven.

(Almost) everyone uses email: About 90% of people in the US use email daily, vs. 80% who use social media, and email marketing still has a higher conversion, click through and engagement rate than social media.

You own and control your email list. Over the years, I have seen the rules of social media change many times, often to the detriment of businesses. I have seen businesses that built their whole marketing strategy on gathering leads via Facebook or Instagram get devastated financially when the algorithms suddenly change, with no recourse whatsoever. However, with email, while there has been an evolution in how email providers try to limit users’ exposure to marketing emails, making it harder to get seen by our subscribers, the beauty is that you “own” your email list and can decide how, when, and whether to reach out to people on it—directly!

“Email marketing still has the highest rate of conversion when it comes to digital marketing because it gives you a strong call to action and a reason to act immediately–you either do it or delete it,” advises Sabrina Medora, founder of the Back of House Agency, which specializes in digital marketing solutions for restaurants.

Although some experts, including Sabrina, quoted above, and my colleague Antoinette Johnson, founder and CEO of Cohere branding agency advise that it’s not an either/or proposition: “While email is often more direct and actionable, a brand needs to be centered on utilizing both,” according to Johnson.  The ideal strategy is to make your social media and email marketing enhance and amplify each other.

So, how do you grow your email list so you can continue to market to and engage with customers?

Below are 12 ways that restaurants can grow their email lists (note: many of these apply to other B to C businesses, not just restaurants.)

  1. Elevate the email sign-up on your website to make it more prominent—many experts recommend putting it at the top and bottom of the site.
  2. Offer an incentive to join the email list on your website, such as a coupon, free download (like a popular recipe), or another special offer.
  3. Strongly consider using a popup on your website to encourage visitors to join the list before they leave your site. You might find them annoying, but popups are very effective when it comes to growing your email list.
  4. Add catering and delivery customers and in fact, add all leads to your email list immediately.
  5. Include a special offer occasionally in your e-blast and encourage social and email sharing.
  6. Encourage email signup on takeout menus, catering menus, and customer receipts and pair the sign-up opportunity with a reward or incentive.
  7. Add signup link in your company’s bio on Instagram and occasionally ask your target community to sign up in exchange for something of value.
  8. Do occasional social media giveaways that incentivize signing up for the email list as a condition to enter the drawing (Note: these should be generous giveaways, as you want to provide enough motivation to take that extra step.)
  9. Collect in-store customers’ email addresses: Incentivize customers to leave their business cards in a jar (and have a card they can fill out if they don’t have a business card) with a weekly lunch or gift card giveaway. This can also be done electronically on a tablet so email addresses don’t need to be typed in by hand.
  10. At events and demos, collect email addresses/business cards by incentivizing people to sign up with a same-day giveaway (such as a gift card, gift basket, etc.). Just as above, make sure you have a system for getting those names onto your email list (some apps can do this directly from a tablet).
  11. Collect emails from customers who use your wifi in exchange for providing free wifi
  12. Put an email signup link in all team members’ email signatures.

How to Ensure Emails are Effective Marketing Tools for Sales and Engagement

Strategize and Organize: Of course, once you are putting effort into building your list, you also need an email strategy. Develop branding and voice/personality for your e-blasts, and develop a content calendar as part of your marketing calendar. Most important, make sure that emails to your customers provide value and are entertaining, so they are motivated to open your emails and stay on the list.

It’s not about you! “Get in the customer mindset, rather than a transactional mindset. In other words, stop talking about yourself, and flip the conversation so you are addressing a customer need or problem, no matter where they are in the “customer lifecycle,” advises Sarah Montague, Principal Advisor, CMO Group at Forrester Research.

Once is Never Enough: make sure you send reminders for emails with the most important offers and calls to action—that’s often where the big money is (e.g., “last day to save…”)!

“Many people shy away from sending more than one email about a specific promo or event. This is a big mistake. It’s proven that another email as a reminder is a great return on investment. For example, a business I’m interested in sends me a 20% off coupon. I decide I don’t want to spend for one reason or another or I simply forget or ignore it. Three days later, I get a reminder that my 20% off is about to expire. Suddenly, I’m driven to act. More often than not, I make a purchase after the second email is sent,” according to Sabrina Medora of Back of House Agency.

Taking it to the next level: As your strategy develops, your list grows, and you see ROI, be sure to use an email provider that can help you segment your lists based on geography and purchasing habits and their interaction with your e-blasts so you are sending the right marketing emails to the right people at the right time for an even higher ROI. Make monitoring, evaluating, and tweaking the effectiveness of your emails part of your monthly marketing meetings and strategy. (Ask your email provider if they have free or low-cost email marketing experts you can consult with to improve results.)

Make it actionable: Which of the above email list growth strategies will you implement in the next 30 days? Make a commitment by sharing below (or send me an email at aviva@avivalgoldfarb.com…see what I did there?).

Other tips? Do you have any other suggestions for growing email lists and maximizing ROI for emails? Please share below.

Need help? Please let me know how I can help. I love helping businesses grow their sales and engagement.

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for my email list, which is buried way too low on my home page (working on that!) for occasional, relevant blog posts about topics that will help you increase your sales and engagement.

Aviva Goldfarb is an entrepreneur, street marketing expert, and event planner in the food space, helping restaurants and other food and beverage businesses and issues grow their sales and engagement. She is also a business coach, freelance writer, and cookbook author with over 20 years of marketing and media experience. Contact her at aviva@avivagoldfarb.com.

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