Fast-food chain cooks up contest to create database

In today's highly competitive fast-food industry, restaurants are increasingly using promotions and special offers to lure customers away from competitors. In its latest loyalty-building exercise, North American Chinese restaurant chain Manchu WOK made its first foray into database building with the launch of an Internet contest.

In today’s highly competitive fast-food industry, restaurants are increasingly using promotions and special offers to lure customers away from competitors. In its latest loyalty-building exercise, North American Chinese restaurant chain Manchu WOK made its first foray into database building with the launch of an Internet contest.

Customers visiting Manchu WOK stores across North America between Aug. 6 and Sept. 30 were issued with ‘Wok the Web and Connect to Win’ cards when they purchased a combo and soft drink. They could also request a free card without making a purchase. The cards directed consumers to the Web site, www.manchuwok.com, where they could enter a personal identification number to be eligible to win JVC audio/video equipment. There was also the option to enter by phone.

All entrants were required to submit a name, home address and e-mail address, and they were asked which store they had visited to obtain the contest card.

‘The main purpose of this contest is to build up a database so we can develop one-to-one communication links with our customers,’ says Clare Jones, marketing manager at Markham, Ont.-based Manchu WOK (Canada). ‘We hope to increase customer loyalty and establish an ongoing relationship with customers.’

During the eight-week period, 1.9 million contest cards were distributed in 170 participating stores in North America, including 76 in Canada. In its first few weeks, the contest was attracting more than 1,000 entrants each day. Six weeks into the contest, 56,000 people had already entered, and around two-thirds of these contestants were in Canada. Of these entrants, 20,000 gave permission for Manchu WOK to contact them in the future. Jones says the higher levels of sign-ups in Canada could be due to better in-store compliance and P-O-P advertising in the Canadian stores.

Manchu WOK has yet to establish a concrete plan for making use of its new database. However, Jones says the initial focus is likely to involve sending out surveys to all customers who have agreed to accept correspondence. The survey will include basic demographic questions, as well as questions about menu preferences and purchasing behavior.

‘This way, we can find out what appeals to our customers and tailor our promotions to meet those demands,’ says Jones. The chain currently promotes a different menu item each month. Jones says that Manchu WOK hopes to find out which meals and promotions are most popular in specific locations and use that information to influence future promotions.

‘The fast-food industry is extremely competitive right now, especially for us because we are based in food courts,’ she continues. ‘Our competitors are directly beside us, so if we can get a leg up on them, we will hopefully win those extra customers who are deciding what to have for lunch.’

Jones admits that Manchu WOK knew very little about its customers prior to this contest. ‘We knew that our customer was mall-based, but now we have obtained more demographic and geographical information,’ she says.

Further down the road, the chain will be able to make use of the database to implement direct mail and e-mail marketing initiatives on national and local levels; some of the e-mail initiatives will be specifically aimed at Internet users.

Jones believes that this is one of the first times a fast-food chain has built a customer database using the Internet. ‘It is quite unusual for a fast-food chain to build up a customer database, but taking the unique approach is often what makes a promotion successful,’ says Gordon Simons, president of Paris, Ont.-based River View Ideas, which created and designed the contest.

The Web site proved to be by far the most popular method of entering the contest. Around 46,500 of the 56,000 entries made by week six were made that way.

One of the short-term goals of this contest was to drive customers to the Manchu WOK Web site, where information about meal offers and restaurant locations is available. As an added incentive, the restaurant chain offered a coupon, which could be downloaded from the Web site during the contest period, to receive a free soft drink with any meal purchase.

When entering the contest, customers were also offered the chance to subscribe to Manchu WOK’s electronic newsletter, WOK Talk. The newsletter is sent out via e-mail on a monthly basis and contains information about specials and promotions.

One winner was selected every day during the eight-week contest to receive JVC audio/video equipment, including portable CD players, VCRs, DVD players and camcorders. At the end of the contest, a single winner was selected for the grand prize of a JVC home theatre system.

Jones says that Manchu WOK is considering introducing a loyalty program in the future, although this is not an immediate aim of the promotion.

‘It is difficult for us to do loyalty plans because we don’t have a site at store level for swiping cards,’ she says. However, she continues: ‘If we can get the technical equipment in place, we may consider this means of marketing in the future.’

Toronto-based Eternity Web Designs set up the Web site and data tracking system for this promotion.