Smokey Bones adds social media

Restaurant chain Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill is attempting to merge the real-world socializing that takes place in its bars with online social networking.

After being acquired by private invest­ment firm Sun Capital Partners in January 2008, Smokey Bones, based in Orlando, launched a brand repositioning effort in the fall, focusing on the lively social interaction that takes place in its large bars.

The 2009 marketing initiative behind the rebranding began earlier this month with the launch of a new Web site, Smokey­, which is actually a series of local Web sites featuring information about various restaurant-specific pro­motions and events.

Visitors also see a picture of that loca­tion’s Web host, who is a person working in the restaurant tasked with uploading photos from events, updating the calen­dar, and using the Facebook and MySpace pages created for each location to alert customers to drink specials and other pro­motions. The goal is to encourage visitors to interact with the host the next time they are in the restaurant, thereby bridging the gap between the restaurant’s online and offline efforts.

“This is kind of a social experiment,” said Mark Unger, creative director of new media at Push, the agency behind the rebranding effort. While many other chain restaurants lack an emotional con­nection with their customers, the goal of this campaign is to give every Smokey Bones location its own personality.

The localized strategy “is making the brand more impactful and real than if the agency came out and said, ‘Here you go, this is what we think you’ll like about the brand,’” Unger continued. Already, some restaurants have as many as 300 people signed up for its MySpace and Facebook pages.

Push collaborated with interactive design consultancy welikesmall to create this localized experience.

The effort is supported by a variety of other digital initiatives, such as banner and flash ads on MySpace and Facebook, with approximately 75% of the chain’s media spend going toward non-traditional outlets. Last year, the majority of spend went to radio and TV.

“One thing that was clear about our target audience [for the rebranding] is that they are not necessarily watching TV or listening to the radio” to learn about local activities or promotions, said Pete Bell, VP of marketing at Smokey Bones. Smokey Bones is targeting what it calls “social starters,” the people in a group of friends who initiate gatherings and have a need for social interaction.

One of the big goals is to build the chain’s Bones Club opt-in e-mail program and a new loyalty program with the same name launching in April.

Under the new program, customers will get a card and be able to earn a point for every dollar they spend. At a certain level, additional points will be loaded back onto the card that can be spent in the restau­rant. The program will be supported with special promotions.

To build up the e-mail portion of the club, Push created an iPhone application that lets Smokey Bones employees sign up customers on the spot in the restaurant to receive e-mails.

Also in April, street teams will be deployed to hand out 500,000 pint glasses with the Smokey Bones logo. Inside the glasses will be coupons and information about a NASCAR sweepstakes.

Push will be testing to see how Smokey Bones employees are integrating with the tools that they have been given, with the goal of giving them more marketing responsibility over time. “This is hope­fully going to be a better use of energy than doing a standard 30-second TV spot,” Unger said.

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