Mac’s sets loyalty program wheels in motion

While fluorescent-hued slush drinks from the cornerstore might have once been the ultimate choice for the after-high-school crowd, these days, there are many other bevvies competing to quench teens' thirst.

While fluorescent-hued slush drinks from the cornerstore might have once been the ultimate choice for the after-high-school crowd, these days, there are many other bevvies competing to quench teens’ thirst.

Recognizing this, Calgary-based Mac’s Convenience Stores responded to the heightened competition with a summer Internet marketing campaign for Froster, its proprietary frozen carbonated drink. The venture has not only boosted sales, but also enabled Mac’s to gain more insight into its fickle 13- to 17-year-old target – laying the groundwork for a future loyalty program, according to Todd Hayman, director of merchandising.

‘In the convenience store industry, there’s a shop on every corner,’ he explains, adding that the likes of Tim Hortons are now also peddling frozen refreshments to consumers. ‘There’s mom and pops, gas stations, drugstores. All the channels are blurring, and everyone is being more convenient and going after a customer that is exclusively ours. So teens have many choices, and we want to make sure we’re their preference.’

The campaign, which ran May 28 through September 4, was linked to an in-store promotion, whereby customers received a card when they purchased a Froster. A scratch area on the card unveiled a number, offering them a chance to become a Froster member online at www.froster.ca. As a benefit, they were entered into draws to win prizes, such as CDs, PlayStation 2′s or skateboards. Meanwhile, grand-prize winners, announced on September 4, received a trip for two to see one of three acts: Outkast, Treble Charger or Christina Aguilera. If consumers e-mailed friends about the promotion, they increased their chances of winning.

‘It really has provided us with a large sample we can pull information from, and allowed us to get to know our customers better,’ says Hayman, who reports that 50,000 customers keyed their card numbers into the site, which lured about 100,000 unique visitors in total. On average, browsers also viewed 17 pages, spending almost six minutes on the site, and 17% of them returned at least once more. The portal was also customizable, offering boredom-prone kids the option to choose their own background colors and music.

In order to become a member of the Froster database, participants were required to supply basic details, such as age and sex, as well as information regarding their beverage purchasing patterns. Once they did that, consumers could then complete a 50-question survey, which gave them three additional entries into the grand-prize pool, as well as a crack at more giveaways. Hayman says about 10% of visitors completed the survey, allowing Mac’s to acquire particulars about their favorite activities, food preferences and purchasing habits, as well as feedback to both the Web site and store environment. It is a vast improvement over the data collected by the chain previously, according to Hayman.

‘It was very basic stuff, like age and the number of Froster purchases versus other beverages. It went back a long time, so it wasn’t relevant anymore.’

Hayman adds that details gleaned about the Froster’s secondary market surprised the chain, because it found the demographic was comprised of people who are 25 years old and over. While Mac’s, which is owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard in Laval, Quebec, won’t be investing in beer-type creative targeted at twentysomethings any time soon, it does realize that this discovery dictates how it should market Froster going forward. ‘We could target to a slightly older crowd, because the [primary group] is very aspirational.’

Mac’s relied on its relationship with two music industry companies to promote the Froster initiative. Three TV spots ran on MuchMusic, while an icon on www.muchmusic.com directed consumers to the Froster site. Mac’s other major partner, BMG Music, which gave the chain access to CDs and bands, also added a link to its site, www.bmg.com.

In Mac’s 850 stores, spreading from Ontario to Western Canada, point-of-purchase materials helped build awareness, while in Ontario, a Froster-branded trailer made the rounds at beaches and other teen hot spots, where it was sampled to 100,000 kids, as well as handed out 300,000 Froster cards.

The integrated effort paid off, resulting in a 30% spike in sales over the previous year, but another major objective was to create a database for a loyalty program the convenience store company intends to debut in a year or two.

‘We’ll probably run one more campaign similar to this, where we can drive more sales and create some more buzz, and then we’ll look at loyalty,’ says Hayman, who hopes to install real-time communication technology in stores before that, so consumers can find out how many points they have at point of sale. The venture would offer instant-win prizes, and include a Web component where teens could go online to check their status.

‘Clearly, we want to be a destination for teens,’ says Hayman. ‘The benefit of a loyalty program is that we will gain a loyal consumer base, and make the drink relevant and cool to the target group. There’s a lot of beverages out there – Coke, Pepsi, Fruitopia – we want to be top of mind, and we want to double what we’re selling now.’

In the meantime, Mac’s will continue to follow up with Froster members, for instance, by asking them to participate in focus groups in order to get feedback for upcoming campaigns.

Throughout the time span of the Internet strategy, participants also received a monthly e-mail newsletter that delivered information on prizes and pro-

ducts, and after the campaign wrapped, the chain planned to contact those who registered the most number of cards with an e-mail, presenting them a prize as a thank you for being such great customers. In the fall, Mac’s will also likely launch an e-mail couponing initiative, says Hayman, although this is still in the planning stage.

‘We’re going to test the waters on that as well. [Overall,] our future plans are to improve, and to focus on areas where we didn’t get the response we wanted to.’