New Orleans bistro's targeted mailing reaps responses, industry award

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As New Orleans winds down from its Mardi Gras revels, a landmark restaurant is reveling in the results of a direct marketing campaign that has tracked solid responses and garnered industry kudos.


In a business-to-consumer drive, Mr. B's Bistro four-part campaign dropped 42,000 pieces to a list of consumers culled from the 244-seat restaurant's mailing list of nearly 12,000. That list was merged/purged with a list generated by American Express that identified frequent diners and corporate-credit-card holders in 10 ZIP codes.


Dubbed the "in the bag" program, the campaign featured four mailings, each with its own measuring tool, that helped record a 4 percent to 5 percent response rate and increase customer counts.


"We have received an incredible response to the mailing and through reactions and by seeing the numbers of customers that came into the restaurant after a mailing," said Ashley Houk, marketing director for the restaurant that is part of the Brennan Family Restaurant Group. The group also owns and operates Brennan's and Commander's Palace in New Orleans.


The series was themed around a promotion using brown-bag mailers that looked like lunch bags and were filled with different promotional materials.


Coinciding with Mardi Gras, the last phase of the campaign featured "The Favor Is in the Bag" that played on a Mardi Gras tradition of providing revelers with party favors. Mr. B's mailing included a doubloon-style coin that was redeemable for a dessert.


"Doubloons are coins that are thrown during the parades, and so we wanted to create a Mr. B's wooden doubloon that reflected the class of the restaurant and highlighted the tradition of Mardi Gras," Houk said.


The accompanying postcard highlighted another Mardi Gras tradition: "krewes," or social groups that host various events and parades. The mailer read: "The lunch krewe means business."


The program was launched in April with "The Secret is in the Bag," which introduced a private reservation hotline and revealed the telephone number on a Rolodex card.


"The mailing was sent to local business clientele and national contacts," Houk said, "and through it, we tried to reach the businessmen and women by providing them with a private phone number for business lunches."


Calls to the phone line and an increase in customer traffic helped track a response for the campaign.


"The secret was the phone number, and we used the number to track the response through calls to the line," Houk said. "We received about 400 calls on the first mailing, but our business in the immediate period after the drop also saw a sharp increase." Houk said traffic jumped 3 percent after the mailings.


In June, the "Lunch is in the Bag" mailing reinforced the private reservation hotline and included a scaled-down version of the Mr. B's menu.


In October, the "News in the Bag" mailing helped promote the restaurant's selection by weekly dining-out guide Gambit Weekly as the best downtown lunch spot and introduced the "B-In, B-Out" lunch special.


"We used that mailing to highlight the news and to remind customers that we can provide speedy lunch service," Houk said.


Houk said she had considered dropping the piece through an insert with the weekly publication but opted not to because the readership did not match the list of targeted diners.


The restaurant's efforts earned it an Addy award last week from the Advertising Club of New Orleans.
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