E-Mail Drives Diners to Max and Erma's

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Casual dining chain Max & Erma's received a click-through rate exceeding 20 percent from a "mystery" e-mail marketing campaign it ran in March that aimed to drive traffic to its 82 restaurants in 16 states.

The campaign was designed by its interactive agency, Optiem, Cleveland.

Optiem created a monthly HTML newsletter last August powered by software from ExactTarget, an e-mail marketing software provider, designed to drive online traffic to the Max & Erma's site, maxandermas.com, and to encourage foot traffic.

The e-mail newsletter, called Max & Erma's Hometown Happenings, is sent monthly to 5,397 opt-in recipients who signed up to receive it on maxandermas.com during the past year.

The newsletter is segmented by geography, with a different one for all 17 main markets where the restaurants are located. They are: Atlanta; Chicago; Indianapolis; Lexington, KY; Louisville, KY; Detroit; Grand Rapids, MI; St. Louis; Charlotte, NC; Columbus, OH; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dayton, OH; Toledo, OH; Pittsburgh; Green Bay, WI; and Norfolk, VA.

"The newsletter is geared to the local community, so there are happenings in the e-mail that relate to that specific geography," said Clyde Miles, executive vice president of Optiem.

It also contains a "Forward to a Friend" feature. When a recipient forwards the e-mail, he is entered to win a gift certificate. There is a new winner monthly.

In March, the newsletter contained a survey known as "The History Mystery," as Optiem posed a question about Max & Erma's history, such as what year Max & Erma's opened in Dayton. Recipients were given a choice of four years and provided a link to the Max & Erma's Web site where they could find a clue to the answer. Those who submitted the correct answer got an e-mail informing them they won, and if they provided their address, they would receive a coupon via postal mail to be used in the restaurant.

"It's a full-circle promotion," Miles said. "The thought here is to take people from the e-mail to the Web site, back to the e-mail and then to the restaurant. It basically allowed people to interact with the brand and learn a little bit more about Max and Erma's."

Of the 5,397 e-mails delivered, 2,578 were opened and 1,183 individuals clicked through. Of the click-throughs, 930 people answered the question, with 645 giving the correct answer.

Miles said ExactTarget's software lets Max and Erma's see who had the right answer "so we can associate the correct answer with a specific e-mail address and do the fulfillment on the back end of the gift certificate. They can say, 'Hey, you won! What's your address?'"

Max and Erma's also could track revenue generated by the campaign as a result of coding on each coupon.

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