Subway Franchisees Break Mobile Campaign for Back-to-School Season

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A mobile phone loyalty programby 12 Subway franchisees in Buffalo, NY, is the latest example of how marketers are trying to turn cell phones into shopping tools.

Not only will Subway customers who sign up get periodic coupons and event alerts on their cell phones, they also will be able to send a text message at any time to request information about current specials and receive it on their phones. To redeem coupons, customers enter their cell phone number at the cash register.

"If someone is looking for information and you can provide them with a tool that they can use, that becomes a really powerful thing," said Bob Wesley, president/CEO of MobileLime, Watertown, MA. MobileLime  is the marketing services provider working with Subway on the campaign.

Buffalo has a large population of college students, so the launch coincided with the back-to-school season. Subway hopes the ability to request coupons will provide a strategic advantage with its target audience, who can't be counted on to remember the coupon sent to them during class several hours ago. However, once hunger pains set in, cost and convenience are often top of mind.

This is the only loyalty program being used by QSR Brands, Buffalo, which owns the 12 Subway franchises.

"We ran a series of trials, and we outperformed any other program they tried," Mr. Wesley said. That's why QSR expects the program will exceed the 2 percent to 3 percent promotion response rates it typically sees when using traditional marketing channels.

The company also has its own Web site for its franchises, www.buffalosubway.com, where customers can place orders online.

QSR's other goals for the program include acquiring a database of frequent customers and gaining a better understanding of customer preferences and buying behaviors.

The program will be promoted in-store, in local newspaper ads, via targeted direct mailings and with ads on the Web site of a local radio station.

Using mobile phones in loyalty programs offers a one-to-one connection with customers in real time when they are shopping, Mr. Wesley said. Plus, such programs eliminate the need for customers to carry around program cards on their key chains.

Other uses of the technology include a grocer being able to time messages for dinner specials to when it knows specific customers like to shop, restaurants being able to tell patrons their table is ready or a movie rental store telling a customer a movie is overdue.

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