How One Smart Promotion Strategy Boosted Applebee’s Sales by 20%

Posted by Surround Integrated on November 4th, 2016

In a world driven by Facebook and Twitter—where your smart phone is essentially an extra limb on your body—the way a restaurant shepherds customers through the door has drastically changed.

But it’s the advent of new tactics—the opportunity for brands to connect with customers in greater numbers and depth—that empowers a restaurant with historically high sales potential.

In the restaurant industry, survival of the fittest comes down to merging time-tested strategies with modern technology.

Keep up, or get out of the way.


Applebee's logo featuring a red apple and the brand font in green lettering

Serving good food

to good people.

Applebee’s is one of North America’s most famous food chains, boasting almost 2,000 locations and counting. Their success is undeniable, but like any strong business they are constantly raising and redefining standards.

In 2016, Applebee’s decided to reach more customers by combining a coupon promotion with modern digital marketing. They were well versed in the former, but needed our help with the latter.

Applebee's calculation of 20% sales boost identifying 5300 unique visitors plus 28% visitors requesting coupon plus 50% coupon redemption rate
By focusing advertising on people who demonstrated interest in their brand and utilizing an automatic drip email campaign, Applebee’s was able to shatter the industry average of coupon redemptions by five-fold. We’ll tell you how we provided accurate retargeting and long-term customer engagement to help this restaurant chain generate numbers that others dream about.

How do you take a successful food chain

and make it more  successful online?

First, we had to understand what customers value and don’t value. Putting ourselves in the shoes of diners, we realized a few truths:

  1. Make it easy
    “Don’t waste my time. Give me a coupon that’s easy to grab.”
  2. Make it relevant
    “If I’m interested, I’ll bite. Especially when it’s lunch time.”
  3. Make it memorable
    “Sometimes I forget I have a coupon. Remind me once in a while, but not too much.”


Game afoot, we began developing a landing page and database that addressed these values—and streamlined the program for Applebee’s to manage.

Let’s Make It Easy

The traffic we generated for Applebee’s would go to a landing page where users could request a coupon.

Applebees mobile app on cellphone featuring a 50% off your next tab coupon with download.
A little conversion science goes a long way: mobile optimization, putting the 50% offer in large font, and pointing an arrow to the download button—these were just a few ingredients that made it easy for the user to quickly grab what they came for.

Let’s Make It Relevant

We needn’t fire out coupons with a shotgun, nor exert effort on folks who lack interest in the brand. The right move was simple, yet critical:

Engage with customers who care.

In order to receive the coupon, they would have to enter their information and sign up for the Applebee’s newsletter. 

This not only solved for relevancy, but also allowed for future interactions with the customer.
Moreover, Facebook email retargeting ensured that only those who had previously demonstrated interest in Applebee’s would get the offer. This ultimately yielded a whopping 28% of visitors requesting the coupon.

But we couldn’t ignore another piece of the puzzle:

On Darwin’s Island, you have to adapt.

By tracking downloads by the exact day of the week and time of day, we could intelligently adjust campaigns for optimal performance. We scheduled our mobile ads to the precise times we discovered customers interacted with the promotion—e.g., during key lunch time periods.

Coupon requests, however, were not the only means for success.

Let’s Make It Memorable

To keep users from forgetting about their coupons, we implemented a drip email campaign: one reminder after a week, another the day before expiration.

These reminders proved extremely effective in boosting redemption rates. The sweet spot is what mattered—one reminder would’ve fallen short, a third too obtrusive.

A System that Works

Tactics in order, we began creating a database that would generate a unique coupon code for each email address submission.

The software acted as both a database and application to validate and redeem these coupons. It streamlined the process of searching for the code and tracking if the coupon is valid, invalid, or expired.

Applebees bonus insight excerpt indicating the $20 off coupon showed average customer spent over $50 on their meal, this showed coupon deals did not have a negative impact on customer spending.

 Upping the Ante

Applebee’s needed more than just a sales boost. A 50% coupon redemption rate had effectively punted the industry average to the moon—but we were looking at the bigger picture.

Once a customer redeemed a coupon, he or she received an email 2 hours later requesting feedback via a survey. The customers received another voucher as appreciation for completing the survey. 58% of coupon redeemers completed the survey—at once creating loyalty with the brand and providing valuable data for Applebee’s to improve upon.

What We Learned

Seek New Loyalties

Headshot of Applebee's Case Study featuring Surround Marketing's Kat Serediuk, Account Manager.
“A key learning point came from evaluating our target audience within this promotion. To avoid individuals who are already loyal customers of Applebee’s—and build on a strategy that increases the restaurant’s new diners—we would look to remove marketing to email lists and retargeting current email subscribers.”


Follow the Customer Journey

Surround Marketing's headshot picture of Tiffany Armstrong, Project Manager for Applebee's Case Study.
“In every scenario, mobile beat desktop and direct mail. That’s just how customers journey nowadays—phones are their lifelines. To ignore that would be to compromise all of the stellar results we achieved. I insist on not only optimizing all promotional materials for mobile, but also utilizing technology that tracks mobile-to-store conversions.”


Make It Work, Then Make It Global

circular picture frame with headshot featuring Surround Marketing's Geoff Whitlock, CEO
“Marketing is less an art and more a science, so you always need a proving ground. We developed this system for three locations in Winnipeg, but now that it has passed “the test,” Applebee’s is ready to expand the program nationally. Because our campaign proved successful, Applebee’s can look forward to millions of impressions on popular websites, mass awareness in target areas, and thousands of more coupon redemptions in the future.”