A successful franchise's secret to staggering email results

Jeff Slutz

What we learned from Firehouse Subs

As senior manager of digital marketing at Firehouse Subs, Emma customer Matt Olsen is a one-man team responsible for the email marketing of nearly 800 restaurants in 41 states and Puerto Rico. Sounds impossible without an email army, right? But as a savvy digital marketer, Matt smartly uses automation, audience segmentation and strategically timed cups of coffee to keep Firehouse’s email marketing humming for the home office and all of its franchisees. No reinforcements needed.

Automated emails save time and generate big results

Matt is well aware that welcome messages have 4 times the open rate and 5 times the clickthrough rate of normal emails, so he created a welcome autoresponder for anyone who joins the Firehouse email list. The welcome message gives subscribers an offer, and through creative use of personalization, automatically generates an expiration date two weeks from the day the person signs up. 

Matt also uses an autoresponder to send a birthday message 
to subscribers reminding them to show their ID on their
birthday at a Firehouse location for a free medium sub. After
the initial setup, the autoresponders do all the work, engaging Firehouse customers without Matt having to give the emails
a second thought.

“The autoresponders provide a little bit of immediate value to
our guests, bring guests into the restaurant and get guests
fired up for our emails,” said Matt.

They work, too. The birthday message has a nearly 50% open
rate and the welcome message has an astounding 76% open

Audience segmentation provides a valuable, personal experience

So what happens when one of the nearly 800 Firehouse locations has a specific email request? That’s where segmentation comes in handy.

For example, if Matt wants to send an announcement of a new location opening, he can segment his subscriber list based on a certain radius around that location’s zip code, and send the announcement only to those subscribers within that radius. This helps ensure the email only goes to those subscribers who would find it relevant and avoids annoying, or worse, alienating everyone else on his list.

“The ability to segment and geotarget based on a radius around a zip code is one of the most valuable tools I have,” said Matt.

Automation and segmentation at work: The Hearty & Flavorful Challenge

To introduce their new under-500 calorie menu, Firehouse created the Hearty & Flavorful Challenge. Throughout February, Firehouse used their digital channels to post a series of healthy eating and fitness challenges. They asked people to register for the challenge using their email address and then post photos of themselves completing each challenge to the campaign’s website. Matt then set up an autoresponder to send a special offer or health tip to each person who completed a challenge.

“Emma really was the engine on the back end pushing that content out to our subscribers so that I could focus on other aspects of the campaign,” said Matt.

Those other aspects included audience segmentation. Matt was able to tailor messages for subscribers depending on their level of engagement with the campaign.

“I could segment out people who had signed up, but hadn’t yet participated, or people who had participated once, or people who had participated five times,” said Matt. “This let me communicate with them accordingly and create a personal experience, which was a huge help to me and the overall campaign.”

The campaign was a hit. There were over 5,000 photos uploaded from nearly 2,000 users, along with strong repeat engagement on the campaign website. Emails performed very well, too. The average open rate of the autoresponder emails was 83%, and the average clickthrough rate was 48%.

Let me repeat that. Open rate 83%, clickthrough rate 48%!

The takeaways

Automate for all occasions. Automated emails are perfect for welcoming new subscribers, sending annual birthday greetings (don’t forget about half birthdays, too!) or engaging followers of a campaign. Just set them up, and let them do the work for you.

Don’t be afraid to get personal. Segment your email list based on demographics or response history and tailor your content accordingly to provide a personalized experience. This creates a relationship with subscribers and inspires the kind of brand loyalty that will have people getting tattoos of your logo. (Note: don’t get tattoos of logos).

Reward loyal customers. A big reason the Hearty & Flavorful Challenge was so successful is that Firehouse rewarded participants with small offers or health tips. People subscribe to your email list because they expect to get something in return, so provide them with discounts, tips or exclusive offers that will keep them coming back for more.




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