Red Lobster Uses E-Mail to Get Holiday Sales Cooking

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Seafood restaurant Red Lobster is intensifying its use of e-mail as a marketing and prospecting tool as the holiday season approaches.


"We're trying to emphasize e-mail delivery," said Michael Friedman, Red Lobster's Internet strategy developer. "We're trying to increase the gift card and party platter spend around the holidays."


Six of the company's 19 e-mail messages for 2001 to opt-in members of its database will come in November and December. Red Lobster has more than 200,000 names in its e-mail list. Its Overboard Club database has more than 85,000 names from the United States and Canada, 60,000 of them in the United States.


The company launched its annual holiday "30 Shrimp" promotion this month and is working with BoldFish to promote its Overboard Club through e-mail. This membership club offers registrants menu specials and discounts available at participating restaurants. On Nov. 26, Red Lobster plans to begin its "Pound of Crab" promotion.


Friedman said that Red Lobster does not buy or rent lists of names, though that policy is not set in stone. He also said the goal is to build loyalty rather than create interest through discounts or free-meal offers.


"We're not giving away a Porsche," he said. "We don't give away free dinners every night. Giveaway sites don't do anything to promote our brand. These people know we don't give them buy-one-get-one-free, but they're still coming to our Web site."


The restaurant's online promotions are designed to work in conjunction with its direct mail and television marketing. E-mails go out at least monthly and help drive traffic to its Web site at www.redlobster.com and into its restaurants.


Red Lobster's promotions generally are event driven, said Scott Hetherington, director of marketing communications at BoldFish. For example, on Oct. 11, Red Lobster and other restaurants owned by parent Darden Restaurant Inc. banded together to promote "Dine Out for America," which sought to raise money for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief fund. The company raised $1.5 million for the fund.


"They sent out alerts to Overboard members really quickly," Hetherington said. "There were no outsourcing delays because having the software inhouse allows them much more control. They put together the 'Dine Out for America' campaign and sent it out within a day."


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